PART 1: SCHOOL TRAIN – By Martin Ryan

“Okay boy,” mammy said, “off ya go fer the train to school now.

“Here’s your lunch, all wrapped in lovely clean newspaper – fold it nicely and bring it back!  Not sure ya Da’s read it.  Though since he’s back from England he’s had every chance, so.

“But then hasn’t the fecker been sittin’ there fer a week and done nothin’ but read about DeVelara and his murdering cronies up in Dublin there tryin’ to get us to elect ’em in again.”

Jam around the edge

“What’s in me sangwidges, Mammy?” I asked.

“‘Tis lovely jam,” she cood.  “Don’t be opennin’ the slices in front of the boys, now will ya.”

“Ah, don’t tell me Mammy!” I groaned, suspecting what I already knew. “Ye’ve just scraped the jam round the edges to make ’em look full.”

“If that fecker of a father of yours,” she fired back, “was to send a few more quid from England when he’s workin’, we’d be able to afford jam every day, so.

“Now off wid ya before ya miss the train!”  I ducked instinctively as a deftly flicked dishcloth stung my ear.   “An’ don’t youse be tryin’ to crash the feckin’ thing!”

Our train was not on rails.  Or steam-powered.  It was just twenty boys, mostly about twelve years old, the same as me.

Whiplash loco

We’d form up in a straight line – the boy behind holding the belt, string, or trouser top of the one in front.

The ‘train’ chuffed along very sedate and dignified-like for maybe a hundred yards or so. Then all hell broke out once we were out of sight of the curtain-peepers on our street.

The game was to turn the snaking column into a cracking devil’s whiplash.  The boy in front trying his hardest to shake off the fella behind – the boy behind doing his damnedest to snap the belt, string, rope or waistband holding up the grey flannel shorts in front.

There was yelling, dark cursing, threats, hilarity, digging and gouging all the way to the school gate.

There it ended as abruptly as a gun shot . . . as if ice water had sluiced through our hearts.  We shuffled across the gravelled yard, staring downwards as though the sins of hell were upon our heads.

Finally, we were herded into the brutal depravity of that dread classroom and the hands of our leering, febrile-fingered nemesis – the hated Christian Brother, Leo . . .