I went to school away up the back of the Shore Road. St Aloysius. Near Bearnageegha. I think Barny was a better school. Everybody knew it was. But sure, a school is a school no matter what type of education you get. Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but you know what I mean.
The bus would pick up people from all over the place: Short Strand, New Lodge, Harper Street.
One day, I was about 12 or 13 – usually the bus collected me at the end of the street, on the Ormeau Road, around 9 o’clock. One day the wee bus assistant woman, Mrs W, wasn’t there. I got on and I heard a fella who sat three seats away from me, Francis, say to me: ‘I fixed it for you to fight with me.’ Mrs W would usually try to break up the fights, so because she wasn’t there everybody was fighting. I saw somebody hitting someone else and it looked like the fellas behind Francis was waltzing. The guy’s fist missed the fella’s ear and hit Francis on the mouth, knocked him flying.
The bus went on, picking boys up from Short Strand. I thought: ‘I’ll talk to the driver, get away from the fighting.’ I just didn’t bother being involved in this crew. Kept out of it. Sure that’s always the way. You keep away from trouble no matter what it takes. That’s life isn’t it?
Two more boys got on the bus and they said to me ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘A few of the lads are having a wee punch up. Ach I’ll be with you in a minute.’ They ran up the bus and jumped on the whole lot of them.
We had to drive through town, towards City Hall. The bus driver says to me: ‘As soon as I shout “NOW,” you grab that pole,’ pointing to the pole beside the door (it looked like a copper tube, but it was a silvery colour.) I wondered what was going to happen. I grabbed the pole, he jumped on the brakes and the whole bus jerked. I thought I was gonna go through the window. There was a big Perspex sheet which I hit and bounced off. The others were swung all over the place. The fella at the very back got an elbow in his eye. He had a black eye for three weeks.
‘That’ll teach yous to fight on my bus!’
Once one of the fellas destroyed Mrs W’s shoes. He rolled up a comic, pretending it was a big cigar. He lit it and breathed in: there were flames all over the place. She punched him in the face so he would drop the comic. She had to jump on it to put it out. Her shoes were destroyed. She was cracking up, she had to buy new shoes (£49!) There was no smoking after that for a few days.
A few days later I heard: ‘What’s T doing on the bus?’ T was the principal. Sometimes he appeared on the bus to see how everybody was. ‘Ah Mister T can we smoke again?’
He just said, ‘All smokers to the back.’
I quit smoking before I even went to secondary school. The price had gone up. You know the way with the Budget they put up the price of fegs, drink and booze and stuff like that. I quit smoking for the right reasons. I quit when I was ahead.
Some of them were from the orphanage on the Ravenhill Road. It was called a ‘home’ but it was a real orphanage. Ach they were hangers-on, people looking for to be fostered out. Some were horrible and some of them were really strange. I was friends with a few of them. There was a wee girl: O’Donnell. She was fostered by the people in the next street. Another wee fella was fostered. He still lives down the road. Down below the bridge. I’ve seen him about.
Phillips was my friend. He said to me ‘would your mummy not foster me?’ I convinced my Mum have him for tea to meet him. But I knew he was involved in bad company, he wasn’t Mum’s cup of tea.
When we were having tea he said to me ‘I’m involved in a wee gang. Why don’t you join us next week?’ I thought ‘well, I’ll say nothing.’ My mum said: ‘You’re not joining no gang, over my dead body.’
They’re all gone now. You either keep in touch with your friends or you don’t.