Gordon Ferris -Growing Up

Gordon Ferris is a Ballyshannon poet and writer, originally from Dublin but has lived in Donegal for thirty-eight years. He has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, the Galway Review, Impspired Magazine, and Hidden Channel ezine. He is also a member of the Dublin Writers Forum.

Growing Up

By Gordon Ferris

We turned back towards the gates of St Michaels heading for home. The rain came down in a thin mist,  the drizzly type that gets into every crevice of your body, leaving you sweaty and cold. Desi had his black umbrella keeping him dry, the one he stole from Guinea’s when shopping with his Ma for underwear, that is underwear for him, not his Ma. You see our elders being originally from the inner city swore by Guiney’s, anything made from cloth for the household and for the family could be got there, from a dishcloth to your granny’s knickers. I grabbed the brolly of him calling him a greedy bastard for hogging the shelter for himself.

As we headed along Ballygall Road I spotted out of the corner of my eye, four or five skinheads loitering on the corner, I didn’t tell Desi, but realised by how quiet he was, that he had already seen them. We walked on quietly hoping not to be seen. But it was too late, we could hear one of them say.

“Who are these two pricks, “

They started to head across the road in our direction, led by a skinny lanky fella, two of the little gang behind him. The other two headed at an angle ahead of us, to get in front of us.

“Well, what’s the story lads, where are yus going.”

He said, halfway across the street.

“On the way home, missed the bus, ya know yourself.”

I said, hoping they would leave us alone. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“Any smokes on ya,”

he said, to which I replied that we didn’t smoke.

“Didn’t ask ya if ya smoke are ya trying to be smart.”

He said in a menacing voice.

“Any money on ya, yus might have the price of ten Number Six on ya”

he said, standing in front of us, blocking our route, backed up by his four pals. “No, we have no money, we spent all we had on drink.”

Desi said, in a withdrawn, but angry voice. I recognised the anger in his voice, but nobody else would.

“Well let’s have a look”

The gang boss said, reaching for my pocket at the same time.

I said,

“No fucking way” pushing his hand away

At this, Desi, having realised he was standing next to somebody’s dustbin, picked up the mettle lid and lashed the loudmouth across the head with it, knocking him over, splitting his head open. Seeing this I lashed out at one of his stunned mates with the umbrella hitting him over the head, this left him rolling on the ground holding his head. With all the gang distracted, we decided to run for our lives. We ran on up Ballygall Road as fast as we could. We could hear the shouting, a good bit in the distance behind us angrily calling for our blood. We knew if we were caught, we wear in for hiding. We decided to turn into the next street we came to before they caught sight of us. It was a tree-lined avenue, on the signpost, I could only make out the avenue. In most of the driveways, there were cars, some even had two and one on the street. We ran into one of these gardens, got under one of the cars, holding our breath trying to be quiet, waiting for the sound of the hurrying footsteps and shouting  to get nearer. I could feel the adrenalin flying through my body, filling me with fear and excitement. We heard them going past on the Ballygall Road, thanking our lucky stars they didn’t think of trying the off roads. We waited silently, thinking they might have to come back this way.

Desi is a very strange person, weird what goes through his mind. With all this mayhem going on he leans over in my direction and whispers earnestly.

“What was that house doing with the bins out on Saturday,  the bins go out on Tuesday.”


I said, incredulous.

“With all that’s just happened, what concerns you most is if the bins are going to be put out. Is that what worries you. Really.”

“Strange, I thought it was, strange, that’s all.”

I decided not to say anymore, we had enough on our plates now as things wear. I Hushed him and listened intently to hear where the gang were. I could hear the footsteps and voices approaching, less hurried now, getting nearer. To our amazement, they kept going past until eventually their sounds gradually faded and vanished altogether. We slowly emerged from our hiding place and restarted our journey home.

No conversation for the first few mins, too busy listening for our attackers. It was starting to sink in what had just happened, with me anyway, I won’t speak for desi. But I could feel myself shake, although I hid it well, I could feel a chill run down my back with the thought of what could have happened.

We walked talking excitedly about what had just happened, eventually calming down when we realized we were nearly home, passing what used to be the Casino Cinema and is now  Superquinn where I perfected my shoplifting technique, thought to me by my sister, more about that later.

We changed the subject, to the plans for the next day, I was looking forward to this more than Desi was.

“You’re ok, you have someone to meet tomorrow, I’ll be on my own as usual.”

Desi said feeling sorry for himself.

“There’ll be a good few there tomorrow, you won’t be on your own, you know most of them and you’re not in any way shy, you won’t be short of company.”

I replied, trying to reassure him. Turning the corner now onto our street, how silent our street was now, at night, compared to the frantic daytime adults on doorsteps and the din of children playing. Passing the house where Desi lived, I said goodnight to him and I walked on the five doors to my own front door.

The house was in darkness as I entered the hall, silence reigned, I considered trying the living room but didn’t, just in case my Ma was still sitting up.

She had a habit of sitting up late, her excuse was to watch the late movie, but we all realised that she could never get to sleep until everybody was safe at home. All was quiet in the living room so I went up the stairs on tiptoes and fell on to the bottom bunk, falling asleep to the tune of my snoring younger brother on the top bunk and the two sisters farting in the partitioned girl’s room. Our rooms were one big bedroom, partitioned. We had to go through the girl’s room to get to ours. Sleep eventually caught up with me, after I had run the past few days’ events in my mind, realizing this was a new beginning for me.

Sun forming a torch of light through the slit in the curtains,  beyond the love song and war cry of birds, calling for their mate or fighting over scraps, the typical dawn chorus on this May Sunday morning in the suburb of Finglas West.

I could hear my mother in the backyard, filling the coal bucket in the shed. This was the second thing she did every morning, hail, rain, snow or the sun melting the tarmac in the street. If my dad were there he would do it for her , but more often than not he was working early in the morning and my brother or I were expected to do these chores, but our mom being gentle by nature didn’t like to disturb her golden boys. Or as She would say,

 “it’s easier to do it myself then try to get those two to do anything”.

The first thing she always did every morning was, have a cup of tea and a smoke. She really loved her smokes, her voice could be red-raw with the flu, she would still reach for the fags. As soon as the cigarette touched her lips, all the worry and stress that lined her face seemed to fade

Turned over momentarily with the intention of going back to sleep but remembered my arrangements for the day. Jumped out of bed like an overexcited puppy dog, that is,  without the pissing on the floor or the tearing to shreds of the pillows.

Straight out to the Jax, then into the bathroom, throwing water on the face, (separate toilet and bathroom in Corpo houses,} the Ma will examine me before I go out to face the world. If she thinks I didn’t do it, she’ll be wetting the face cloth and red soap to scrub my face, leaving tell-tale red marks and a sterile smell.

‘Ah Ma, I’m not a five-year-old’, I would think, never had the nerve to say it. That would be a wooden spoon offence, even at my age.

 As soon as Desi’s knock came to the door, I was gone, heading out the door having been force-fed scolding tea and burnt toast and being reminded of the planned trip out to Tallaght later in the day, so I was to be home by seven. I didn’t let this dampen my spirits and pushed it to the back of my mind, I’ll worry about that later.

Up the street were young kids out already playing football on the street, on the green at the top of our road more kids played. Youth replacing us I suppose; we have grown out of these childish games, replacing them with even more childish games. That’s the way some people would look at it.

Around the corner now to another green with a few more kids kicking a ball around, we were asked if we wanted a game, we just said no and kept going. From the end of this green, we could see a bus at the terminus, up the street to our left on Cappagh Road. The driver and the conductor sitting inside smoking with the door closed. We stood at the bus stop waiting for it to pull out and drive the twenty seconds to where we were at the first stop.

There was no conversation, Desi seemed still half asleep. The bus came after a very long five minutes. Up the stairs we went where Desi, to my surprise, lit up one of his Carrols no 1 cigarettes.

“Since when did you start smoking,” I asked him.

“Sure, I was bound to start smoking the way me oul fella’s smokes, I think he wakes in the morning with one lit in his mouth. “

Desi said in response.

“I could say the same myself the way my ma smokes. But I haven’t started yet.”

I said, know-all-ingly.

“Yes but you haven’t started to earn your own crust yet, so how can ye be tempted when you can’t afford them?”

Desi said, in his domineering tone. He seemed to be slowly developing a dominant personality as he got older.

A few more passengers got on board between our stop and Finglas village, but all stayed downstairs. At the village, however, three of four skinheads boarded, I got a glimpse of their bald heads and the distinctive Crombie coats they wore. I could see this from peering through the window. They headed upstairs. The stairs wear behind us so I couldn’t see their faces, my immediate thoughts ran to the previous night. The run-in with the gang, and the prospect of a repeat performance.

A hand touched my shoulder and I could feel the blood drain from my body. I looked around, half expecting to get a smack in the mouth, thankfully all I got was a slap on the back and a big

“Howya Georgy boy, frightened the crap out of you, did’na”

The voice came from a mad-eyed red-haired skinhead I knew. He was from Finglas East, in the same year as me in school, or he used to be. He was just an acquaintance, didn’t know much about him really. He was quiet in school, never caused any problems. One of the many we crossed paths with in life that fade into a distant past as we move on and grow.

Beausang and his little gang went down the back seat and started smoking. Yes, believe it or not, a red-haired Irishman named Beausang, his Mother had married a German man. The red one went by the nickname of Bomber. He boasted his da was in the Luftwaffe during the war and this was why he was called Bomber. Not something I personally would be boasting about, although, in some idiot circles it might be a compliment.

On with the journey now in peace. Already we wear heading down Whitworth road, near to our destination. We disembarked on Parnell Street, just outside the Shakespeare pub. The driver must have been late because they normally stop around the corner outside the café.

Fast footsteps now, slowed momentarily while Desi lit up his butt. We passed the Gresham, past the Savoy, until we reached Cleary’s. Under the clock at Cleary’s, where many the Dublin family began, first dates, under the clock the number one spot, with the GPO a close second.

Standing now under the clock, no couples meeting at this hour of the day. Desi dragged on the remnants of his Carroll’s no 1 butt and sighed, looking at his watch.

“It’s five past ten, where the fuck are they” Desi said, looking up and down.

“They’ll be here in a few minutes, don’t panic. Anna warned me not to be late. So they won’t be late.” I said, looking in the direction of O Connell Bridge away from Desi.

“You didn’t fall for that did you, telling you you’re always late, then tricks you, telling you to be there an hour earlier than you need to be, making sure you’re on time, and you fall for it.”

Desi responded as he turned to me.

“You fell for it too didn’t ya, you’re here aren’t ya.?” I said laughing

“At least the sun is coming out,” I added.

“Ah changing the subject I see, you know I’m right,” He said victoriously.

I nodded in defeat to get this silly chat out of the way.

Silence now for a few moments as we both looked in the direction of O Connell Bridge. Desi sighing impatiently, saying “Fuck sake” under his breath. Lines of worry wrinkles crunching his face into a purple ball.

I tried to appear as if calm, but inside butterflies and moths were doing somersaults. I don’t know why, I felt comfortable with Anna, found it easy to talk to her.

Before I met Anna, I was always very nervous in the company of girls. I always had to plan conversations before I would meet with a girl, assuming what direction the conversation would take and never getting it right.

Now that I think of it, I should never have been afraid, not with my having three sisters. On second thoughts, having three sisters, I should have been very afraid.

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