Shame

The biggest fear we had was of being caught by the railway police. If caught, you were in for a smack from the policeman and the shame of being taken home in the custody of the law for all the street to see. Once home you would get yet another smack for being caught.

There was a curious attitude to crime. It was an accepted evil. In poverty people will take what they can from where they can, but getting caught was the greatest sin. The whole street would see you come home with bags full of coal or even watch you rifle through the ragman’s goods, yet there was no stigma attached. Everyone was doing the same thing. But if someone was caught, recriminations would start. People would say: “He’s a bad one, him, bringin’ shame on his family. I’ve always said he was a bad one,” -- regardless of whether they were doing the same thing. The only real crime was getting caught.

Around this time I really began to miss my dad.

I would walk up West Derby Road to a playground that had swings and slides and roundabouts. Families would bring their children here to play. There were fathers pushing children on the swings and mothers cuddling babies. I would watch them and yearn for the same sort of affection.

To compensate I began to hold imaginary conversations with my dad. I’d ask him why he left me and imagine him telling me that it wasn’t his fault, that he still loved me, and that if he was here he’d take care of me and make sure no one hurt me or laughed at me. As things got worse, I began to retreat more and more into this dream world inhabited by the only people who didn’t hurt me.

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