John's Story - Chapter 5
What happened in Belfast, John?
It’s a bit mixed up. First, I did not like my school. It was a long way, and my Dad or Mama had to walk me there in the morning and home again after school. And I didn’t like the teacher. He taught different things, like geography and drawing.
One day he asked me what the North Pole was. I told him it was a lot of snow and ice. He said it was an imaginary pole. I couldn’t imagine an imaginary pole. Next day he asked the same question. I gave him the same answer. He blew up.
Then there was drawing. I had never been taught to draw in school. He told us to draw a stone fence with a man standing beside it. I could draw the stones all right, but had no idea how to draw a man. When the teacher saw my drawing he thought I was a dunce.
Then one day the class was all excited. It was the day to go swimming. I didn’t know. When we went to the place there was a big pool and they all jumped in. The teacher asked why I didn’t go in. I told him I had no togs with me. He got mad again. I had never seen an indoor swimming pool and couldn’t swim anyway.
I didn’t know any of the other boys. I was lonely. They told me about boys in another school throwing stones at them. I passed the other school every day, and that was why my Dad or Mama came with me. Our school had hardly any playground, and had a wall with an iron fence on top.
We all lived in a flat on the Albert Bridge Road. When we walked to Mass on Sundays we had to be quiet not to wake the Protestants, who went to Church later on Sundays, and were still in bed when we went to Mass.
One Sunday afternoon Charlie took me with him when we went walking in a park with a lady. I had to be on my best behaviour. I wasn’t to run or anything. It was a Sunday and everybody was quiet on Sundays, ‘specially Protestants.
Charlie took me another day to where he worked. He was a reporter with a newspaper, and the other reporters were very nice to me. They gave me a package as a present. It was one left over from a contest the paper had. I really liked that.
One morning Charlie took me to the pictures. It was the first real picture I ever saw. Allan Jones and Jeanette MacDonald were the stars. Allan Jones sang "The Donkey Serenade". I never forgot it. The picture house was strange. There was nobody in it but me and Charlie. When we came out it was bright sunlight. It hurt my eyes.
Every Saturday my Dad and me went to the newsagents where I got a copy of The Buzzer. It was my favourite comic. It had great stories and I loved to read them. It had serial stories. One of them was about a school in which one boy had hundreds of masks, and when he wore one he became that person. There was always danger, and a mystery, and he helped find the villain.
Dad also took me to the barber for haircuts, and the barber always gave me a pencil.
One time we went to Cave Hill. It was a famous place. You could see it from anywhere. There was a zoo below it. The Dublin Zoo beat it hollow.
Another day me and Mama—that should be Mama and I—I was always forgetting—went with Dad somewhere different. There was a big white building up at the end of a big green lawn. Only Dad could go in, so Mama and I—see—stayed on the lawn for a long, long time. When my Dad came out he said he had what he wanted, and we went home.
Mama went back to the Sweeps and sometimes I stayed at home by myself when Charlie and Dad went out to work. I didn’t mind ‘cos there was always something to read.
When we went over the Albert Bridge, the Lagan looked nothing like the Liffey. It was darker and not as big.
My favourite place to go on walks with Dad was the Ormeau Park. There was always something going on. There was a big pond with a wee wall ‘round it, and in the pond people sailed model yachts. Some of the boats were really big, with white sails, and the men "trimmed" the sails. The barber used to trim my hair, but this was different. They could make the boats go straight or around and around. They had long wands to keep them from crashing against the sides of the pond.
At another place in the park old men played marbles! I thought only children played with marbles, but you should have seen the old men play! They could flick a marble with their thumbs like nobody’s business. I only wish I could.
Then there was a cricket pitch, and men in white used to play cricket matches. It was boring to watch.
Me and Dad—Dad and I—loved watching the men play golf. A golf course was separated from the park by a little iron fence. On one hole the men often hit the ball past the fence, and then had to find it. One day a man couldn’t find his ball, and had to go on playing. When he was a long distance away, I found the ball, and Dad said to run after the man and give it to him. The man gave me sixpence! After that I always looked for lost balls, but never found any.
Then Mama wrote a letter telling us she was in Ballyshannon and Dad and I were to join her there. We went on a Sunday excursion train and got off at Ballyshannon. It was a long walk from the station down to where we were going to live with Mama and Uncle John. Mama was very happy to see us.
Footnote: The newspaper where Charlie worked was The Irish News. Among the jobs he had was film critic and the cinemas put on special advance showings. The big white building was Stormont Castle where his Dad studied faces for the political cartoons he drew for the newspaper. For the next eighteen years Ballyshannon was where John lived. It was his adopted "hometown", a wonderful town, with wonderful teachers, wonderful walks, a wonderful river, a beautiful waterfall, a place with kind-hearted neighbours and friendly faces. In later years he described on an Internet web page how happy he felt living there.
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