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Penalties assessed, arrears called in, and dodging life’s bullets is known as survival. It is only ever a question of when. In the midst of it all we are finely tailored flesh – good-looking Irish trawling the slums of Moss Side and Hulme, neither place horrific in the 1960s, but both regions dying a natural death of slow decline. The family is large and always admired, the many girls for their neatness and quiet glamor, and always attracting the leisurely stride of local boys. Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big, but soon it is I, and not my mother, on the critical list at Salford’s Pendlebury Hospital.
1965 had brought Grandad’s death, so suddenly at 52. In the dark November air his eyes close for the last time, his still body discovered by Jeane. Grandad is called Esty and is loved by all, now as then. Mother and Ernie attend the mortuary to identify Grandad, and as they leave, Ernie says ‘Well, if I look that good when I go,’ and six weeks later, Ernie is dead at 24. Leaving his office job around the Tib Street area, Ernie heads for home only to collapse and die in the street, and we are all lost, faith denied, but with no one groping for an answer.
I feel no pull towards the church, but I understand that there is nothing else. Catholicism has you tracked and trailed for life with an overwhelming sense of self-doubt, and every church churns with painful pews and mourners’ stalls. Jackie enlists at the harrowing Cardinal Vaughan School in Stretford, now that we have mobilized from Queen’s Square to Kings Road. Here in Stretford we are the young intruders against the settled late-middle-aged Mr and Mrs brigade – each gentle and smiling long-standing residents for whom the war was just yesterday.