Even though I hadn’t been to school much, the time had arrived for me to take the ‘eleven-plus’ examination, which would decide the standard of school I was to attend until I left.
We were sent to Evergreen school to take the exam. I decided right away that I wanted to go there, as the school dinners were better than any I’d had before. The only problem was that I was unable to read the questions. The only thing I could do was to while away the exam by drawing pretty pictures of flowers and nice houses.
Needless to say, I failed the exam. I was going nowhere except back to St Cecilia’s to continue my career of avoiding the school board truant catcher until I was old enough to leave.
As I grew older I became more conscious of the humiliation I had to suffer because of my mam’s borrowing. The woman who lent money lived only a couple of streets away and I was always sent to do the borrowing.
The way the system worked was that for every pound you borrowed and could not pay back you were levied another pound. It was a case of “you lend me two. Keep one to pay off the interest and I’ll take the other for me mam.” We were always in debt and the moneylender loathed my mother.
As soon as the moneylender peeked through her curtains to see who had come to the door a scowl would disfigure her face and she’d try to ignore me. I was certain of one thing: I could not go home without the money.
I’d sit on her doorstep, periodically knocking on the door, waiting for her to crack and come out. I knew full well that this shoeless child sitting on her concrete step would finally become too much of an embarrassment for her. Sometimes I sat there for hours.
When she did come out she’d be angry: “Get off my bloody doorstep,” she would shout.
“Me mam wants a lend of some money,” I’d say, refusing to move.
“She hasn’t paid the last lot back yet.”
People in the street would be laughing and jeering and I remember the feeling of anger and humiliation. The whole world, it seemed, knew we were borrowing money and couldn’t afford to pay it back. All I could do was stand there and take the jibes and insults until the moneylender opened the door slightly and flung out two scrunched up ten-bob notes.