A dandy

Almost nightly they’d fight: she trying to get more money and he trying desperately to hold on to it. Eventually they reached a compromise -- as neither could get at it without the help of the other they’d halve whatever they took out.

So Toshy became a dandy, one of the best dressed boys in the neighbourhood.

My mam bought us all something to wear. The boys got new shoes, trousers, shirts and socks, and I got a lovely tweed coat. I couldn’t have been happier: it had a velvet collar and a belt at the back and it was only for Sundays.

It didn’t take long for my mam’s generosity to fade, though. The very first Sunday on which I wore my new coat, Alice Gile, a girl from Pringle Street who was about the same age as me, came up to me and told me that her mother was buying her a coat like mine. I told her that her mother couldn’t afford one, but she just sniggered. I’d taken the coat off while I was playing, carefully placing it on a sheet of discarded newspaper to make sure it didn’t get dirty, when Johnny came running along.

“Me mam wants the coat,” he said, plucking it from the ground and running away.

Sure enough, within ten minutes Alice Gile appeared wearing the coat. I rushed to her house. ”Your Alice has got my coat,” I cried. Mrs Gile told me she’d paid good money for the coat, and if I wanted it back I must go and get the money from my mam. When my mam found out I was sent to Mrs Gile to apologise.

I cried all day.

Some of Toshy’s money was used to go and visit Johnny in Southport. We all got dressed up in our best clothes, such as they were, and took the train. Whenever we were out with my mam we had to behave ourselves and act posh. If we didn’t we’d get a thump. It didn’t matter how scruffy we looked, we’d have to act genteelly.

Johnny looked great in a neat grey uniform, shiny shoes and a haircut too short for lice. The correctional institution was a large old house, very clean, and he looked as though he’d had a meal or two! It looked like the height of luxury to me.

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