The Catholic church and the school occasionally had outings which, if they let me, I was delighted to go on. The trips were only to the local convent and involved spending most of the time praying. But at least they’d feed us and I liked the statue of the Virgin Mary in the garden.
Looking back, these trips must have been in Lent, as we always did the stations of the cross before they fed us. The food was served at a big wooden table and with proper utensils. I was nearly ten but it was still a strange experience to use a proper knife and fork. At home we used jam jars as cups.
There was never enough food at the convent and I always went home hungry but the walk in the garden cheered me up. I’d sit by the statue and tell Our Lady how hungry I was and how nobody liked me, how I’d play in the fields and how much I liked her blue gown.
For a while I’d be happy. All the spring flowers were out and the garden always seemed to smell of freshly cut grass. While sitting there I would pray. I’d ask Mary to get God to feed me and all my brothers, to send the ragman’s cart around with warm clothes for us, for lots of coal to be jolted from the trains and to make sure the railway police didn’t catch any of us.
The peace would always be broken by the lady in charge who would find me sitting there and say something like: “Daydreamin’ again are ye? It’ll do ye no good sittin’ there lookin’up at the sky. Come on, it’s time to go an’ wipe that snotty nose. There’s nothin’ up there in the sky but empty space…” Then I’d get dragged back to the main group.
I was still left with affection for the Virgin Mary. There has always been a superstitious side of me that has felt that she watches over me. On the other hand it may well just be that I felt so lonely and isolated as a child that one of my oldest friends was a statue!