Totally embarrassed by his own insensitivity, the headmaster reacted predictably and smacked Toshy again for not having the right clothing. Then Mr Wright stormed off into the school.
Toshy became a walking advert for truancy. It was no wonder that other kids in the district would rather play about the fields than risk being beaten for lack of clothing that wasn’t their fault.
Many of the contents in our house were transformed from rags. Sacking lay on the floor, lengths of cloth doubled as curtains and anything warm was used for blankets. It’s impossible to imagine how lousy with bugs and fleas the whole house had become. Every parasite known to man seemed to live in those rags and consequently on our bodies.
Lack of heating was always a big problem. If there was any coal or wood available we would put bricks on either side of the fire to heat up. Then we would wrap them in an old cloth and place them in the bed for warmth. But most of the time there was no money for coal or wood and we would have to scavenge around for fuel. Wood lay among the devastated houses but, as most people in the area faced a similar predicament, it was hard to find any.
Coal was different. The railway line crossed West Derby Road a couple of hundred yards away from home. We would sit in the grass and watch the coal and coke trains running north and south. The plan was to place obstacles on the line, not to try to derail the trains but to cause them to jolt and spill the precious fuel. Then, once the train had gone we’d fill bags with as much coal as we could carry, taking some home and attempting to sell the rest.