I went to a catholic primary school which was mixed for the first year and then the boys went to the school down the road. The nuns were strict and preached hell fire and damnation. I remember going home on many occasions unable to sleep after some of the stories I was told. The most frightening one I remember was that at some stage the world would be plunged into darkness and Jesus would descend and pick out those who were good enough to go to heaven. You can imagine what it was like when there was a power cut and there were quite a lot of those in the fifties. For years I hated the dark and needed to sleep with a light. I now understand how the Catholic Church managed to keep us in line, we were terrified.
On one occasion I brought my picture collection of famous ballet dancers into school. I brought pictures of dancers like Margot Fontayne and Alicia Markova, only to have them confiscated by Sr Paul who deemed them immodest. They were wearing fecking tutus!!! I never got them back and I’m still fuming that she took them.
As I was approaching my final year at primary school, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis in my class. Those unfortunate fellow students who contracted TB developed large lumps on the knee joints and in the neck. Once diagnosed, at least ten pupils were dispatched to either Purdysburn or Forster Green where they were kept in isolation for at least six months. A frightening situation. Thankfully they all recovered. There were various explanations but I don’t think it was ever ascertained where the outbreak originated. Those of us who were not affected were under extreme scrutiny for some time. Although I escaped and did not contract the disease I ended up back in hospital at aged ten following complications from my appendix operation. Bikinis were definitely not on my shopping list for swim wear. Scars in those days were large and unsightly.
Eleven plus was looming large and I was advised to take the so called ‘sick exam’. Not sure whether it was considered easier or was just held later to give a chance for complete recovery, but I was determined not to have any concessions and proceeded with the normal exam. It turns out my future husband took the exam in the same room. We were from different schools and would not actually meet for another six years. I passed, he failed. Guess who’s the Professor now?
Television was becoming more varied and more programmes were being broadcast. Programmes like the Billy Cotton show featuring the politically incorrect Black and White minstrels, This is Your Life, Dixon of Dock Green and of course Dr Who which I watched from behind a sofa. My Aunt Alice who quite often looked after us always kept a tea towel handy. When the television Toppers, a troop of dancers in very modest swimsuits appeared, she put the tea towel over the TV set so that us children wouldn’t be corrupted. Aunt Alice was a big busted woman, who wore an angora berry even when indoors, and always had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. The ash always seemed to collect on her ample bosom.
When the local priest called, as they did in those days, we could tell it was him. He was deaf as a post and he couldn’t hear the bell so he just kept pressing it until someone answered. This was a signal to turn off the TV in case he saw something that he would consider unsuitable. I was often reminded of the time when I was about three and I announced to him that ‘my mammy drinks wickey’ (whiskey). My mum had a little sip when she wasn’t feeling well. My dad had always believed that when we were sick that a little whiskey with hot water and sugar was the answer. Probably be seen as child abuse in today’s politically correct world but it helped us sleep and we definitely felt better. Hic! Thankfully his hearing aid was whistling like a kettle so the remark went unnoticed, or so my mother hoped.
I was a precocious child. Stubborn and outspoken. On another occasion when again having a visit from a local priest, he remarked on the lovely wheaten bread my mum served up. Did you make that yourself Patricia? he asked. I did father she said without blinking an eyelid. “No you didn’t mammy” I said, “you bought that in the bakery.” There was an embarrassed silence as both pretended not to hear what had just been said.
My recollection of the weather in the fifties was of warm summers, cold winters and very bad storms. On numerous occasions in the winter, I remember sitting by the fire in the dark as the wind howled around the house, and listened to the sound of the trees across in the meadow crashing to the ground. Electric wires lay exposed across main roads and travel was limited. My father as part of his duties as Town Surveyor would be called out and we waited until the early hours of the morning for his safe return. I would wait until the lights of his car lit up my bedroom as he pulled into the garage at the back of the house and until then sleep was impossible.
I must have always liked writing. At the age of nine I wrote an essay for a local competition. I think it was for the RSPCA. I won first prize in my age group and my prize was a book. I also liked drama and as a child played Mustardseed in A Midsummer Nights Dream. We took part in the all Ireland Drama festival at Athlone and came in first. My friends and I used to put on our own concerts for family and friends with my Aunt Susie making the costumes and even rigging up a stage with curtains that opened and closed. We sang the songs popular at the time, by artists such as Doris Day, Perry Como ,Pat Boone to name few.
One of our favourites Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in February 1959.
Although never a football fan I was in bed with chicken pox in February in 1958 when the news of the Munich disaster was broadcast. I was listening on a transistor radio. I knew the names as my dad was a great fan and I remember running downstairs to tell him the sad news. I think it was a Sony transistor and it opened a whole new world as I worked my way down the dial stopping whenever I heard English. That was when I discovered Radio Luxenbourg.
In the fifties fashion was becoming more important. After the austerity of the post war period, Dior and Chanel were bringing out new styles and though too young to appreciate I can remember my mum always looking smart in her longer length dresses and neat fitted costumes.
In 1960 I started grammar school. Another stage in my life was beckoning.