Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Not Angela's Ashes

A classification in a bookshop in London last week caught my eye. It read "Miserable Childhoods". Another category nearby was "Happy Childhoods". Fewer books in the second category of course. I try to avoid those miserable childhood memoirs though sometimes when people look at my school photo on the right they exclaim "Angela's Ashes".

The received wisdom about the fifties in Ireland is that they were dark and dreary with an isolated Ireland wallowing in misery. As someone who grew up then I always resist that. My memories are of freedom and of awareness of what was going on everywhere in the world. We did have radio and newspapers, the Irish Independent on weekdays and the Sunday Press on Sundays.

We read books from the school library. This came from Sligo Library and was renew fairly often. Sometimes the great Nora Niland herself came with the new books. The Arts Centre in Sligo bears her name as does its art collection.

We read the Famous Five of course and also Patricia Lynch but my favourites were the Jennings and Darbishire series by Anthony Buckeridge - humorous English boarding school adventures. I recently bought three of these books on eBay in the plastic covered Collins wrappers I remember well. Of course we read comics as well. My grandfather bought us Film Fun, The Beano and Knockout every week.

We knew what was going on in the world. I remembered listening to the radio as the Hungarian uprising of 1956 ran its course. I remember Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and Delaney's gold medal, Grace Kelly's marriage, the beginning of the civil rights movement in the USA, the heavyweight championship bouts and the space race.

I remember playing a game in the school yard in Rockfield school where one person was Carl Chessman and the others were police trying to catch him and execute him. Don't remember Carl Chessman the Red Light bandit? He was finally executed in 1960 after years on death row.

So I'm certainly not going to write a memoir of miserable childhood.

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