As Miss Gradwell’s moustache increased in bushiness to make even Dick Strawbridge envious and summer faded into the void of forgetfulness; September brought with it short-lived optimism, history lessons and Mrs Kelly. Mrs Kelly was of the same stock as Mrs Oakley yet she had a reputation of being a bit of a strict old witch, one that was unfounded entirely.
I seem to recall Mrs Kelly had a fondness for blue dresses. Her blue dresses were of set by her brilliant shock of white hair and her Deirdre Barlow glasses. A large woman, yet formidable in stature. Her first task was to find the best singers, singling me out as being one with a “voice of an angel”. Charlotte Church was yet to be invented, instead I was picked to represent the school in church singing “Peace Perfect Peace”, obviously Mrs Kelly’s favorite hymn. Further more, the reputation I had of being an angel was to reach the ears of the local clergy and I was pressganged into becoming an altar boy.
This time of my life was like a steamroller. Not only was I being indoctrinated into the Roman Catholic faith by music and status but I was also being led head first to the slaughter via the sacrament of holy communion. Mrs Kelly’s main task was to prepare us for holy communion, including all about confession. Ye gads, what a load of tosh. Still it was necessary and what was required and of course I knew no different and was yet to learn the skill of “question authority”.
The rest of Mrs Kelly’s year was a blur. I recall a few key moments including when Mike Carroll swore blind that he was witness to the death of a boy in the year below. One who had died in a horrific accident involving a scramble bike and a skateboard park (now an old peoples home). Our scoffs of indignation were soon to fall silent when we were told of the boys death and that there would be a memorial mass at the adjoining church. I had to sing Peace Perfect Peace. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Furthermore this period in my life saw the parting of the ways for some and the welcoming of others. Alex Hardman’s parents moved to better climes, Cahill Walsh’s parents graduated at nurse school and returned to Ireland, but with their departures we were also introduced to Heidi, a Spanish girl who I later realised fancied the pants off me; Christian Keane, who I helped find his feet in his early school days only later to switched allegiances and became David Griffiths’ confidant; Paul “Down by me nans” Melvin, footballer and cheese and onion crisp fanatic; and a Brazillian girl whose name escapes me at the moment. The race to high school only just started and already we had casualties.
Indeed, it wasn’t just the pupils that departed in their droves, Staff arrived and retired, Mrs Harrison, for example, who’s class we were to enter next opted for early retirement and left, taking her class with her. (What was to be 4th year Infants, mysteriously changed into 1st Year Juniors with Mrs Moran); Mrs Sloane, the evil headmistress that had confiscated my lukewarm flask of hot chocolate on the grounds that “it might burn you child”, departed too to be replaced by the enigmatic Mr Macbride; My grandfather succumbed to the wicked cancer that was eating his body and went onto the next state of consciousness and Mr Foy became more active within the school, appearing as if by magic, from the boiler room one day.
All very mysterious. Even the clergy of the church changed. Cannon Murphy, a large jovial fire and brimstone priest, decided that we were all sinners and that he couldn’t take our sins anymore and moved on to pastures new. His replacement, Monsignor O’Mahoney spoke of visiting Popes and wore green instead of black. Previously the head honcho at the church, Father Lahiff got too bloody old to even remember to take his pyjama bottoms off before going to say mass and was poked just that little bit further into his retirement box.
Summer approached once more. My fascination with the paranormal was bringing unwarranted attention to me. Susie Kayle’s mum had told me off publicly for telling Susie scary stories (Susie asked me to!) and nearly every other book I owned was to do with ghosts. The most fascinating was one written for kids about Pluckley in Kent, reputedly the most haunted village in Great Britain. Armed with books, a reputation as being a bit of a teachers pet and an over active imagination I was perfectly set for the first of my self-induced downfalls.
Which I will relate in part 4