Was chatting to a new woman at work the other day, she’s from Ireland too and I asked her how many brothers and sisters she has, she told me eight including herself, I beat her by one as there were nine of us not counting parents when I was growing up but then I asked the non-Irish around the table and the most was five, and for everyone else it was one or two.
Having so many brothers and sisters wasn’t all that bad, for starters the toilet seat was always warm because invariably someone had just got off it, this was particularly advantageous during the bitterly cold winters and doubly so when we only had an outside loo, doing ‘the back door trot’ during those days was a test of endurance . There was a game we played at birthday parties called musical chairs and I always won because it was just like being at home – as soon as one of your brothers or sisters got up to go somewhere you immediately sat in that nice warm space they had vacated – and this was especially true when it came to the toilet. Between six brothers, two sisters, mum, dad, assorted friends, dogs and cats, assorted friends dogs and cats..well, there really wasn’t enough space to ermmm swing a cat (as the cat can testify).
Just to make matters worse, the house was divided into the ‘sitting’ room and the ‘good’ room, we spent our evenings crammed into the sitting room watching the telly (or attempting to peer over older siblings shoulders) and arguing which of the three channels to watch (Scooby-doo on BBC1 or Wacky Races on ITV) but ‘The Good Room’ as it was referred to was strictly out of bounds, that space was sacrosanct, you only went in there when summoned, it was like being summoned into the Headmasters office at school, you knew that it meant you were in trouble and you never went there intentionally. It was exactly the same size as the sitting room but because it didn’t contain sprawling bodies, dogs, cats, piles of ironing, clothes drying in front of a smoky fire, comics, every newspaper printed since the dawn of time and assorted broken toys it seemed to be the size if the school assembly hall, I’m sure my voice echoed when in there. It was the room my parents kept good for visitors and contained a nice suite of furniture and a coffee table. My parents would have visitors in there – ok well my mother would have visitors and chinwag away in there as my dad would invariably have his visitors in the garden shed where he would smoke a pipe, whittle a bit of wood with a penknife and ‘chew the cud’ with his one or two friends.
Life at number 35 Abbots Walk, Bangor, Co. Down was a bit cramped at times, as we all got older we gather up more and more friends and at times the houses did seem like it was under attack by a plague of locusts, privacy was non-existent and I have no idea how my two sisters survived with any dignity at all in that swarm of bodies. I had to share a bedroom with Colin, Terry and Gerald and it wasn’t just a bedroom; clothes, underwear, socks and just about everything else was fought over, I think the first time I wore a pair of matching socks was when I was seventeen – which was about the first time I wore ‘brand new underwear’ as I had bought them myself. You won’t understand what a treat it was to wear socks that only had the required amount of holes (one!) and underwear that hadn’t been passed down from your great grandfather and didn’t have the texture of sandpaper.
Growing up in the Northern Irish version of the Waltons did have it’s advantages, it was always easy to blame someone else (younger and more gullible) for any crimes and misdemeanour’s (of which there were many) and one did learn to fend for me’self at an early age and not to be afraid to stand my ground and fight someone much bigger than myself. This has become pattern throughout the rest of my life – as practically every boss, supervisor, manager and bully that’s ever come across me will testify much to their own chagrin. ;)