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Fear of death

The squalor that I can remember seems almost unreal now. The tiny house was also home for an auntie, uncle and two cousins, and everyone was crowded into four rooms, scrambling for the little food available. My father was a thin, sickly man, not suited to working as a coalman. Before long he was unable to cope with the physical labour of the work and lost the job. After that it was a case of trying to earn money doing ‘bits and pieces’. This phrase could also describe the regularity and content of our meals.

My first memories are of cooking over an open fire in the tiny kitchen and of sharing a bug-ridden bed with an indeterminate number of brothers. But perhaps the most vivid memories are of the air raid shelter during the night raids of World War Two. Tuebrook was near enough to the docks to suffer during Hitler’s blitz of the port. The shelter was in the middle of Pringle Street, just as there were shelters in most of the roads around us. It had hardly any ventilation and no toilet area. Most of the people in the street would rush into the shelter at the first sound of the warning siren and stay inside until the all clear had sounded.

In one corner was a wall with a space behind it where people would go to urinate or worse. Couples groped each other or themselves while others pretended to be asleep. The smell of pee on the newly concreted floors, combined with the unfamiliarity of some of the other people and the fear of death, have left my times in the shelter imprinted on my mind. As the only girl in the family I felt that I was singled out for bullying. I was often referred to as ‘our bitch’ and I was hit a great deal more than any of my brothers or cousins.

Even now I find it hard to think of my mother with great affection, although when I consider the pressures she came under it is impossible not to have some sympathy.

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