Excerpted from Parts I and II of the Stars are Setting the manuscript autobiography of John Taylor Caldwell.
My father was a dynamic little man of five feet three inches, with brisk army-officer movements, and a sharp, clipped voice to match, and a ginger moustache twirled and waxed at the ends. He held, whenever possible, a pipe between his teeth, and was surrounded by an aroma of thick black tobacco and whisky.
Whisky, work and women were his elements. He had married my mother because he needed sex, and children were an unavoidable consequence. He seldom spoke to any of us. We were objects to be tolerated, not cultivated.
My parents came from Blantyre in Lanarkshire. My father was John Taylor Caldwell, born in 1876, one of a family of four boys and two girls. He left school at eleven years to follow his father’s trade as a tailor. My mother was the only child of William Browning, labourer. She was born in 1877. When she met, and married, my father in 1902, she was working as a salesgirl in the drapery department of the Burnbank Co-op.
That same year they moved to Cramond Street in Glasgow, where, in 1905 sister Nan arrived, followed by Bill in 1908. They had moved to Summerfield Cottages when I poked forth my head and six-pound body on the 14th of July 1911, to join my fellow humans for a little while - eighty years, so far.
In the early part of 1915 my father obtained a job in Belfast and left us. We followed on the 1st of April that year.
Belfast was at that time a trim little city of a quarter of a million inhabitants. There were no tenement blocks, and high-rise flats had not been thought of. It was surrounded by green fields, unspoiled by ribbon development. From the city centre the hills could (and can) be seen. Immediately outside the city were the mansions of the gentry, at the end of long driveways, guarded by iron gates.
Nearer the town were fine villas, and semi-detached houses. Down the social scale, but still with the middle-class, were spacious Victorian terraces. Then we come to the lesser terraces, in the city itself, cheek by jowl with the cobbled side-streets of the labouring classes. We lived in a lesser terrace because our father was a master tailor, with his own little factory of six treadle machines and a fitting room, high above Royal Avenue.
We lived in Mountpottinger Road, in Alfred terrace, which had the police station at one end and the tram depot at the other, with the Picturedrome just beyond. We were specially careful of our respectability in the lesser terraces because, as in our case, only the tramlines, and a sliver of good fortune, separated us from the cobbled domains of the lower orders.
Terraced houses were “parlour houses”, because they had a parlour, and houses in the cobbled streets were “kitchen houses” because they didn’t have a parlour. Sometimes hens pecked and cocks crowed in the cobbled side-streets, because the residents were only a generation away from the peasant countryside. The children in the cobbled streets went barefoot.
These side-streets were usually like village communities, from which the older residents may have come. Unlocked doors in daytime, visiting neighbours entering after a formal “Are yis in?” The barefoot boys were regarded as unfit company by the parents in the terraced parlour houses. We were warned not to mix with them, or to take off our boots lest we be mistaken for them. Class distinction was an ingrained tradition. It was a scandalous matter if a young tradesman took to wife the daughter of a labourer - as my father had done - and had so “married beneath him”.
I was seven years of age when frightening things happening in a far-off country caused me to ask: “Mama, who are the Bolsheviks?” My mother paused in her ironing and gave the question thoughtful consideration. “The Bolsheviks? They're worse than the Catholics!'” she replied.
I used to lie in bed listening to the gun-fire echoing across the rooftops. My big brother, Bill, who was eleven, and knew everything, could tell which was the crack of a rifle, and which was the report of a revolver, and what was the rattle of a machine-gun. Occasionally a louder noise drowned out all the rest. “That was a mills bomb”, Bill explained quite calmly.
Sometimes we got out of bed and raised the skylight. In summer the view was, to my young mind, sadly beautiful. Beyond the grey-slated rooftops lay the alluring cave hill with a hundred red winking eyes, as the sun-ignited whin bushes blazed in deep violet shadows and sent blue drifting smoke columns across the lough. But on moonless nights the hill vanished and left only the fires to dance with the stars
On these nights when guns rattled and searchlights combed the rooftops for snipers the red glows were not of whin bushes set on fire by the sun, but the little houses of Belfast people, set on fire by their neighbours, in that frenzy of hatred which only religion can inspire. A glow of greater magnitude would be a factory. And where the yellow flames danced madly – “That is a pub”, said my brother who knew everything.
After such a night the morning papers would report that two people had been killed and six injured, in the previous night’s battle. I was disappointed that so much noise had drawn so little blood. Bill was not a bit surprised. “It took a million bullets to kill one man in the war”, he explained. I wondered if I had heard two million shots before I fell asleep in a sudden silence. I asked my mother why we had no riots in our street. “Because we are respectable people”, she replied.
There was no doubt about that. We lived in a “parlour house”. It had a garden the size of a hearth-rug at the front, which grew nasturtiums in red and orange, and from whence the ivy climbed around the door and up the brickwork to the parlour window. We had an iron gate, and iron railings. We dressed like respectable people. We had steel protectors on our boots to keep them from wearing out sooner than otherwise. And when our stockings had been darned till there was no sock to hold darn, we had them refooted at a little shop that sold everything from candles to gas mantles, and mangled clothes and refooted socks as well.
“Don't let me catch you running around in your bare feet,” our mother frequently said, suspecting the worst as we set out on our boyish ploys daring the summer holidays from school. We put her mind at rest, we wouldn't let her catch us. Often we went to Ormeau Park, and waited till we arrived there before we removed our boots, and tying them by their laces, slung them over our shoulders.
On those hot days we envied the boys from the back streets who always went bare-footed, even to school. We kept clear of them, because they did not respect our respectability, and would have set about us, getting us down and sitting on our chest just for the fun of it. In winter these boys stood at street corners in little groups, one foot resting on top of the other interchangeably in alternate nursing against the cold, their hot breath steaming; their noses damp. They all wore over-size bunnets with the skip
But the communal spirit was also strong, particularly in religion. The highlight of this unity was reached in the first days of July, leading up to the 12th, which was the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne which took place in 1690, when King William the Protestant, beat King James the Catholic. Not that anybody knew much about the event, except what it said in the old song: “King Billy slew the Papish crew at the Battle o’ Bine Waater.” The celebration was allowed to lapse while the young men were away fighting the Hun, but now that was over they could get back to normal.
The a position before the war was that the Protestants had raised an army of 90,000 men to fight both the British and the Irish rather than submit to becoming part of Catholic Ireland; and the Irish Catholics had raised an army of Volunteers to defeat the Northern Protestants and make Ireland one State. In this they would have been fighting alongside the English, for the Liberal Government was in favour of a united Ireland under a Devolved Government (i.e. Home Rule). But an important section of British Army officers threatened to resign rather than fight alongside the Irish Nationalists against the Ulster Loyalists.
Now the situation was that the moderate Home-Rulers had gone; swept aside by the events of the Easter uprising in 1916. The new power was the Sinn Fein, who would have nothing less than complete independence - for all Ireland. The name was new. We Protestants continued to call them Fenians - who had been active in Victorian times.
Leading up to the 12th there were frantic preparations for the celebrations; the Orange Walk, and the all-night bonfire as highlights of excitement. The stylised mural of King Billy crossing the Boyne on a white charger with sword upraised which was featured on any suitable gable end at the top of a side street was touched up. A great deal of work went into erecting an arch across the street in replica of the Gates of Derry, which had withstood the siege by King James’ Papish crew in 1689. The women, their shawls and hair dangling in front, would stoop to paint each alternate kerbstone red, white, or blue.
There would be no arch across our respectable road, and no bonfire. But there would be plenty of bowler hats in the parade; so many that the bowler hat was becoming part of the dress of the officials of the Order on parade, with, of course, an orange sash.
My father was indifferent to all this carry on. He couldn't care less who had won the Battle of the Boyne, as long as the pubs stayed open, and sex was available. There wasn't much more to life than that; though sometime in the dim past he had been a Mason. Then economic disaster struck us. The firm which my father supplied with ready-made suits was boycotted by order of the Sinn Fein, with promise of a bullet in the head for those who did not comply. So my father’s little two-roomed factory, high above Royal Avenue, with its six foot-treadled sewing machines, had to close, and we had to sell our parlour furniture to survive. When the rent of our house rose to twenty-five shillings a week, including rates, we had to move.
We moved into a side street off Ormeau Road. The house, which cost six-and-eight pence a week had a tiny parlour, kitchen and two tiny bedrooms. It was not quite cap, muffler, black shawl, and bare feet territory, but was very near it.
Almost the first callers at our new house were a group of young men (in cap and muffler) who were sure we were anxious to contribute something to the cost of the arch, and firewood for the bonfire. They were sure my father would like to join the Orange Order, and take part in the Procession, they were somewhat amazed that he had lived so long without doing so before. They accepted a shilling as token of good intention, and my father became an Orangeman, and with bowler hat and orange sash marched in the next Procession the thirty footsore miles to Finachy. And Bill, Harry and I cheered him from the kerbside - in our bare feet.
Now that we were not so respectable, and lived largely on second-day loaves and four pence a pound margarine we could gather with other urchins at the street corner and batter old cans with a wooden baton and sing rousing anti-papist songs; One was “Dolly’s Braes”, but I've forgotten the words. The one I remember went like this:
“Did yis hear about the riots
That started in July
When the fenians from the shipyards
For their lives they had to fly?”
There were still a few Fenians living in one of the kitchen houses in a cobbled side street. They had moved in during the war years when Catholics and Protestants had forgotten their differences to fight the Hun. Now the differences had to be remembered, and the Fenians had to be rooted out.
The word Fenian was used offensively. It was obsolete. The bold Fenian men belonged to a past generation. It was now the Sinn Fein and their active wing, the I.R.A.
The rooting out of the Fenians was an occasion of excitement for the unemployed young men, defenders to the death of good old King Billy, and the Proddy children.
“They’re throwing out the papists”, cried brother Bill, galloping off to see the fun, invisible reins in one hand and a rump-smacking invisible whip in the other. We all pretended to be Tom Mix in those days. I trotted beside him in the direction of the milling crowd. It was my first involvement in social violence. From the centre of the crowd came a scream. My heart raced; blood pounded in my brain. I hate violence... "What are they doing?” I asked anyone who cared to listen. An old fellow, leaning leisurely against the gable end removed his pipe and said with comfortable assurance: Ah, sure, an’ they’re only givin him a batin”.
The excited urchins which I had joined saw a pile of furniture in the centre of the cobbles, and went racing to help in the noble work, belatedly, for the house had been cleared and piled into even to my childhood eyes, a pathetically small heap: a well scrubbed kitchen table, a few wooden chairs, a chest of drawers, a sideboard, handed down from past generations. On top was the bedding. The non-combustibles, pots, dishes, iron bed-frames, littered the street among the cobbles.
Outside the gutted house, against the sill and the smashed window stood five mortals in inexpressible misery and distress. A beshawled woman, anger blazing from her eyes, though she wept helplessly; beside her half-grown daughter, bedraggled and ugly in the rags of poverty, weeping her heart out; beside them stood three little boys, tousle-headed, bare-footed, all tears and snotter. These were the dirty Fenians. They watched their worldly possessions gathered for the names, and heard their husband and father scream, and there was nothing they could do but weep.
Nobody seemed anxious to set the gathered fuel alight; there was no sense of direction or organisation. Everybody was milling around, expecting something to happen, but not making it happen. I knew in my heart what caused the delay. They were all secretly ashamed, but dared not show it. Who could feel sorry for papists? They were burning out decent protestants, and had committed dreadful atrocities in the past. Yet that ignored little group by the window impressed itself on every adult brain. They had lived together; the men had boozed together, the women had gossiped together, the children had played together. They were in the grip of some force beyond themselves. It was the herd instinct; the force not of reason but of tribal custom. The word had gone out that this was the thing to do. Everybody was doing it. Then, once in motion it gathered its own reasons; atrocity built on atrocity. Unreason gave birth to reason.
A suspense, a hiatus, then a youth with scantily furnished mind, poured paraffin over the heap and set it alight. That changed the mood, for fire and blood are potent stimulants. The weeping figures were forgotten in the sense of invigorated life and power that destruction and cruelty give. I have not forgotten them, they haunt my memory still, not with a sense of life and power, but of shame and despair.
I departed from Belfast at nine o’clock on a Saturday evening in early April 1925. Nan, who was married, and living in Greencastle, then a Belfast suburb, and my stepmother, always called Cissie, came to see me off at Belfast quay...I had made a sea voyage before; from Stranraer to Lame in 1915 when we had come to Belfast, but of that I had only infant memories. Now, a highly sensitive lad of 13, I was making my first break from home, going on a voyage on a big ship (really an old sea-beaten cattle-boat called the “Magpie”). I was thrilled and frightened as we cast off and headed out into the lough, and the open sea, to the unknown.
Cissie had asked a man, travelling with a little girl to, “look after” me. He agreed, but it required little attention from him. His daughter, called Moira - a lovely name thought I - aged about twelve and I became acquainted. We leaned on the ship’s rail and talked together for a while then we had a vigorous game of tag around the capstans and ventilators. As it grew dark her father took Moira down below to the steerage saloon. He suggested that I go too, but I said that I wanted to stay on deck all night and “see the dawn come up”. He smiled at that, and let me stay.
When a pantry boy came around with a tray-load of mugs of tea at twopence, and thick cornedbeef sandwiches at fourpence I went below to ease my hunger and spend my sixpence. The steerage saloon was on the cattle deck. There was cattle smell around it and the lowing of the poor beasts, tethered in the stalls behind it. The saloon was furnished with benches broad enough to lie on as wooden bunks, if the number of passengers allowed. I ate my sandwich beside Moira, then went back to the deck. I did not want to miss anything of this great experience.
All night I crouched on the deck day-dreaming deep dreams and thinking brand new dazzling thoughts. I was not alone on the spray-damp deck; several other passengers preferred the open to the atmosphere of the saloon. It was a calm night, the sea breaking leisurely in little froth-crested wavelets, and turning from pewter to silver in the light of the stars. For a while - a long time it seemed to me - we swayed gently in open water as the old tub nosed herself forward against a soft breeze, then land appeared, dark hills approaching from the horizon. Soon we had coastline on the starboard side (yes, I knew about starboard, larboard and port, I had read “Treasure Island”), looming dark in the morning twilight. Occasionally there was a duster of pin-pricks of light from gas-lit towns. There were no great illuminations of electrically-lit cities, and no long yellow ribbons of motorways, just dark and silent, sleeping till the dawn, and yawning to life as the sun rose.
As the light strengthened and revealed the scenery I was numbed by its awesome beauty. Not because it rates highly as Scottish scenery, but because I had never seen a landscape before; only the city-scape of slate-roofed houses and chimney stacks. All day long after that voyage when I shut my eyes I saw the passing panorama of wooded hills and green fields, and felt the swaying of the “Magpie”. At night I dreamed of them.
By the time we reached Ailsa Craig it was light; most of the passengers were on deck and a goodly portion of them exclaiming: “Ailsa Craig – Paddy’s Milestone.” Moira was up and she and I had a most rollicking time chasing each other round the deck. I never enjoyed a game so much. With other boys I was treated as small-fry; with Moira we were equals.
Presently the boat berthed at Merklands wharf to unload the cattle. I felt sorry for the poor beasts, whacked down the slippery gangway to be driven to the slaughter-house. Was this their purpose in life? Did they feel it? Did they know it? A little way further up the Clyde, and we docked at the Broomielaw.
My father was waiting. So early in the morning, but already well lubricated. He thanked the man in charge of me profusely, implying that while he was gratified, the man was honoured. “You have looked after MY SON,” he said and repeated it several times to let the significance of the honour and the gratitude sink in. The man expressed himself: “Only too pleased to have been of help”, and turned away. My father - the Old Man as Bill had named him - accosted an ancient cabby who had a sorry old horse between the shafts of a well-scuffed carriage. They haggled over the cost of our transport to Collins Street, Townhead. The cabby, possibly a refugee from a coloured illustration of a Dicken’s book, tried his luck at four shillings, the Old Man cut him down to half-a-crown and a pint. My only luggage was a paper bag with my other shirt and pair of socks, for I did not boast the luxury of underwear in those days, and toothbrushes were used only by well-off people.
I was not as thrilled as I might have been in setting out to find my first full-time employment. Work was not a new experience. I had been working in a grocer’s shop, run by a bad-tempered brother and sister partnership since I was eleven. I did two hours, from eight to ten in the morning, not getting to school till nearly eleven, and from half-past three till seven. Of course this seriously disrupted my school work and often got me into trouble. Deeper and more lasting was the damage this did to my mental development...I could not be myself under this imposition of servitude. I had to constantly push aside my thoughts. I lived in a hiatus.
When I wasn’t carrying a large delivery basket I was pushing a truck with several baskets; and when I wasn’t so engaged I was out in the back yard breaking wooden boxes into firewood which sold in the shop at two bundles a penny. On Saturday I worked from eight in the morning till ten at night, with a two-hour break in the afternoon. My weekly wage was four shillings. Brother Bill worked in the same shop, full time, same kind of work, for nine shillings.
After some weeks I was interviewed and accepted for a job as pageboy in the about-to-be-opened Picture House in Sauchiehall Street, on the site where the Savoy Shopping Centre is now located. Before and during the First War there had been a favourite tearoom here, in a city noted for its tearooms. I don’t recall what it was called. It was specially preferred by the shopping ladies because it had a cool fountain and was lush with potted palms. As an attractive annexe it had a moving-picture hall, where one could spend a pleasant afternoon or evening being entertained by this comparatively recent innovation. Probably many of the older generation would have agreed with my father who said (when he heard that I was going to work in such a place) “It's just a fad. I've seen them come and go. For a while it was roller-skating.”
But the fad had taken on. After the war the cinema had become a major industry. The Provincial Cinematographic Theatres Company Limited bought the tearoom site and converted it into the city's greatest cinema, with marble entrance hall, marble pillars, marble tiles, marble staircase, with marble central balustrade, ending in marble newal post against which - it was exactly my size - I stood as an added ornamental attraction together with the half-dozen potted palms - restricted by fire regulations. The tea-room was demoted to a cafe, situated upstairs, with a ladies’ six piece orchestra as an attraction - or distraction.
The Picture House opened on the 10th August 1925, at 1.45 and was quite a sensational event. Queues formed an hour or so before, stretching as far as Cambridge Street for the Circle; and to Hope Street for the stalls. The prices were eightpence and a shilling for the Stalls till 4 o’clock, then one shilling, and one-and-sixpence. For the Circle the matinee price was one and six and the evening price two shillings. There was always a double feature bill. An off-duty policeman stood at the head of each outdoor queue and received £1 and a glass of whisky when the queue had dissolved.
I started work at nine and polished door handles and hinges till eleven, then had an hour-and-half off, reporting at 12.30 in my uniform to take up my place against the marble column till ten at night with an hour off for tea (half an hour on Saturday). I was decked out in blue uniform, narrow-waisted, brass-buttoned white gloves under golden shoulder epaulettes, big red-banded forge cap with Company initials golden-stamped on the front - P.C.T.
'Here are some statistical details for the social historian. The manager, I think, received £10 a week, the under-manager £7. It may be that the under-manager received more, he was always an Englishman and more authoritative than the manager. It may be that the directors of the PCT did not think a Scotsman capable of managing anything so sophisticated as a picture house. There was also an English circuit manager who kept an eye on things. There were a Chief Operator, two assistants, and a spool boy. I don’t know their wages. There were two orchestras, one of twelve pieces for the evening performances and one of six pieces for the matinee. When the cinema organ was installed a year or so later, the smaller orchestra was dismissed. When talkies came the bigger orchestra was also dismissed. The number of fine kerbside musicians increased...
It was said in the staff-room that the conductor of these orchestras, Harry Rosenberg, was paid sixteen pounds a week.
Coming to the lower ranks I can speak with more confidence. The foreman received £3.10 shillings. The two doormen £3.5 shillings, four ticket collectors £1.10 shillings. The pageboys (at first only me, but as winter approached two more, to open and shut the doors) 10 shillings (50p). Two cash girls, eight usherettes, starting at 12.30, 18 shillings. A chocolate-selling girl and an ice-cream-selling boy, 10 shillings plus commission. Discipline was strict. Usherettes who wore light-coloured stockings showing up in the dark, would be sacked on the spot, and one was. There were six cleaners who swept and scrubbed from six till nine for 15 shillings a week. I don't know what the ancient night watchman received. There was no overtime for Trade shows or Sunday work.
We stayed in Collins Street, Townhead, till the end of August then we moved South Portland Street, in the Gorbals. We left a small furnished house and took over a large unfurnished one; and we had no furniture. It was still in Belfast because we could not pay for its transport to Glasgow. Eventually the Old Man went over to Belfast to retrieve it, but on arriving there and discovering how much he owed for storage decided just to sell it. He may have thought that it was more sensible to bring back the money and buy furniture in Glasgow, but he had, being in Belfast, to get in touch with old drinking companions, and to impress them with how well he was doing in Glasgow, splashed the money around till there was none left, and he returned penniless.
So we had a house and no furniture. It was the resourceful Cissie who supplied the solution. With some innate sense for such discoveries she found the “Barrows” - or “Barras”, as they were colloquially called, and there bought two straw mattresses and a table, some crockery and cutlery. The Old Man had a job as bespoke tailors’ cutter in the Co-op, so there was a wage coming in - and my 50p. But it took a long time and several visits to the “Barras” and to Paddy’s Market before we were settled.
Number 92 was a big house, five rooms and a kitchen, no hot water or bathroom, and in a bad state of disrepair. That is why we obtained it on a cheap rental. It was my first time living in a house with electric light, and that of amazingly primitive installation. The kitchen lights - there were two of them, were supplied by exposed red twisted flex stretched across the ceiling, covered in a fur of grease-congealed dust. There was no bathroom and only a cubby-hole lavatory where the electric flex did not reach.
In the kitchen were the coal bunker, the sink, and a big black-leaded grate, with a chimney as wide as itself, but which evidently had little attraction for the smoke which rose from the cheap sultry coal, for it preferred to drift beyond the draught-board and rise to the ceiling, enshrouding the 60 watt electric bulb, like a pale little moon in a cloudy sky. Every two months or so Cissie would gather a bundle of newspaper, soak it in paraffin and with the sweeping brush poke it up the chimney, then set it alight. As it roared furiously into flame, setting the chimney afire and sending down a shower of red-hot clumps of soot, Cissie would stand back and exclaim admiringly “Sure now an’ that’s a queer bleeze.” From the window we could see the black smoke sweeping down along the street, engulfing the playing children who looked up excitedly at the plume of dancing yellow flame emerging from the chimney, doubtless hoping they might see the house go on fire. There was a fine of five shillings if the arsonist was caught by the police, but Cissie claimed to know when the policeman was about to go off duty. That was the accepted time for setting chimneys alight, as most housewives knew. The bobby would not delay his departure to make investigations.
Cissie came from Londonderry, of farm labouring stock, she had gone to Belfast in 1914 to find work, and had met and been seduced by my father, who, since she was an innocent illiterate Catholic girl he had to marry before he could have his wicked way with her. They married bigamously (she in good faith), set up house and had a child on the way before my mother and family arrived from Dumfries. My mother never got to know of this, though when the deception was uncovered without my mother’s knowledge, there was a mighty row in which Cissie’s large labouring brothers promised to make mincemeat fit for a dog out of my little father. How my father got out of this I do not know. It did not curb his natural instincts. He soon had two other ladies on his bow. When my mother died he married another lady, this time of Protestant peasant stock, but it did not last long and he sent for Cissie, not revealing the recent matrimonial digression. She, having overcome the shame of her betrayal by this time, left her little daughter with her brothers and came to him, whom she ignorantly thought was her husband.
I know that I have up-staged myself in relating this, and have caused many readers to ask “Why don’t you write your fathers ‘life’; it is obviously of more interest than your own?” I accept the rebuke, but persist in my folly.
The honeymoon period faded. Perhaps my father wished he had taken advantage of the freedom my mother’s death gave him to go in another direction. The ostensible reason for the first rows, which grew as each supplied appetite for the next, was unbelievably absurd. Cissie was sending small presents to her (their) ten-year old daughter in Derry; absurd trifles she had bought at the “Barrows”; a huge bathroom sponge, for instance. The Old Man objected to this expenditure of “his” money, unmindful of the fact that she had deserted the girl in the care of her brothers to join her “husband”. It may have been that he did not want to maintain a link between her and her brothers. Whatever the reason, the form it took soon degenerated into accusations that she, middle-aged, stout, and unbecoming, was having affairs, and sneaking “fancy men” into the house.
Cissie was not my timid little mother, stunned by a filthy word, and heart-broken at a blow. She gave as good as she got, and on one occasion split the Old Man’s head with the poker – but spoiled the effect by falling on her knees beside him crying: “Oh John, I’ve killed you.” Then as she fetched a glass of water to revive the corpse, he snatched the glass from her hand and threw the contents into her face. Her most effective weapon was the use of the window, this she threw open and called at the top of her voice like one in fear of her life. This would get the Old Man into a panic. Not that the neighbours would pay any attention, or do anything, everybody was entitled to his or her own row, but it spoiled the Old Man’s image as he strode down the street with military stride, pipe clutched in his hand near his mouth, in positive and assured respectability.
I should not have paid any attention to these rows and antics, but I did. They tore my soul to pieces. I set everything into a universal context. It was all a pattern of truth and life of cosmic significance. I lived in a daze on the verge of breakdown. This was of course exacerbated by Cissie’s treatment of the other children, Harry, Ena and Maisie. To go into details about this would repel readers sensitive on child cruelty, and probably cost me credibility. I will only say what can be proved on the record. One morning she beat my little brother so soundly that his cries - and my futile protests – brought a lodger from her room just when Harry was being held up by the ears and shaken like a doormat…the lodger intervened, and a few days later we had a visit from an officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
This led to a court case and would have carried a custodial sentence if it had not been there were children to be cared for, so a year’s probation was given. A week or so later the three children were taken into care for a few months, though the sentence was not changed. The case was reported on the front page of one of the evening papers. I knew the staff were talking about it in the Picture House, and wondering, in whispers, if it could be me. One of the cleaners was insensitive enough to ask. I was deeply embarrassed and mumbled “No” and turned away to hide my red face and tears.