Dear reader, we present to you from our esteemed northern correspondent Mr. Tony Emo this little piece based on memories dredged up from days long ago.
‘Like most children, I learnt bad language long before I knew what it meant. However, the wide currency of certain words among the older boys in the schoolyard – and in the daily argot of adults of the lower type – convinced me that these were important markers of maturity. Like switching from shorts to long trousers.
Not knowing quite what these vulgarisms meant, I also had no idea how they were spelt. Hardly surprising, since in those genteel days, four-letter words very rarely appeared in print – and certainly never in juvenile literature.
This deficiency was revealed in one incident around the early 1950s, I would guess. Seated at the family kitchen table, I had been laboriously writing a note on a sheet of lime-green stationery using my father’s fountain pen. Finally, I finished and triumphantly sealed this carefully-composed missive into an envelope, upon which I wrote an address in my unconfident script. I then asked my mother for a postage stamp.
Naturally, she asked to look at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to one of the young lads I played with and who lived a mere half-dozen houses away. Since I could not explain quite why I needed to write him a message that I could have simply relayed viva voce, she insisted that I let her read it.
The fact that my mother kept this, my first (albeit, unposted) letter, for many years explains why I am now able to repeat it exactly as I had penned it (spelling, included) all those many years ago:
“Dear Mr Roger Streeter,
You are a fooking count.
Tony Eames, Esq.”
Only a little while after this incident, I came home from school to discover that my aunt Kathleen, had arrived, all the way from Waterford in Ireland to visit us in Plymouth, England.
My mother thumped me in the back to straighten me up and instructed me to ‘say hello to your Aunt Kathleen’.
‘Hello Auntie Kathleen,’ said I.
‘What a healthy big boy he is – and so good-looking too, thanks be to God,’ replied my pious Aunt. ‘And tell me, what did you learn at school today?’
‘I learnt a pome,’ I declared shyly, staring at my feet and looking distinctly awkward.
‘Well go on,’ said my mother. ‘Tell your Aunt Kathleen the poem you learnt.’
I drew in a deep breath and quickly rattled off these lines:
There was an old man from Hockett
Who went to the moon in a rocket
The rocket went bang
His balls went clang
And he found his prick in his pocket!
‘Go to your room…’
There is a postscript. Two days later, the family waved goodbye to Aunt Kathleen as she returned to the reassuring moral certainties of Catholic Ireland – and we children eagerly looked forward to relief from the unfamiliar torture of rattling through the whole blessed rosary on bended knees every night.
(Mother and Father had weasled out of that dreary routine by convincing Kathleen that they habitually recited their Rosary in the privacy of their bedroom last thing at night. I hope God has since forgiven them for that disgraceful lie!)
As we waited for the bus home my mother took me to one side and quietly asked me, ‘Tell me, son, how did that “poem” of yours go again?’ She then made me repeat it till she was confident she’d got it off word-perfect.
From that point on, I never, ever trusted adults again. And I still don’t’!