When I was 8

I should have mentioned yesterday that in 1977 my little sister Catherine was born. She is now a mother herself but back in 1977 she became one of my two little sisters who was known as ‘the babies’.

This blog post should be called the era of the broken bones.

We took the whole Evel Knievel thing to a new level.

The hair, the jump suit, the fractures

By this stage, 1978, I was 7 and was already a seasoned expert on greenstick fractures.

And I wasn’t alone.

At this stage I had been knocked down by a car and had broken my collar bone.

I’d fallen off a 6 foot high wall and broken my wrist.

My sister had been knocked down and had broken her leg in 3 places.

My brother had broken his arm in two places while practising Kung-Fu with a guy called Stephen McFeely (now a civil servant in the Central Statistics Office). Adrian was the block of wood, Stephen was Bruce Lee.

This was normal and most of our friends had broken some bones by the time they had reached 9 or 10.

I remember that one of the coolest things you could have as a kid was a graffiti covered plaster of paris cast on your hand. It gave the hint (even at the age of seven or  eight) of a more mysterious life of adventure rather than the one you actually lead. – So you wanted to break your arm crashing your bike while attempting to jump a ramp like a motocross rider rather than falling off a swing while being pushed by your mum.

It also meant (if you were lucky enough to break your writing hand) you could get off 4 weeks of homework. 4 weeks! Mother of God, that was nearly worth the pain alone.

In 1978 there were a few other significant events in my young life. One was the first significant financial event of my young Christian life – My First Holy Communion. The other significant financial Christian events were my Confirmation (cash in) and my marriage (cash out).

Now, if you’re reading this from outside the Green and Pleasant Land you might think I’m taking the piss out of Holy God but the thing is, if you’ve lived here for a long time you realise that the Irish are culturally Catholic as opposed to theologically Catholic.  What do I mean by this? Well, during my teens the only reason most of us went to weekly Mass was either because our parents would kill us if we didn’t or because we wanted to look at girls’ asses. It had little to do with transubstantiation.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed the whole ritual and was a pretty good ‘practising Catholic until about 1991 but I’ve probably been a better Christian since then. The only down side was that you had to go to Mass for a few months wearing a suit (at the age of 7) and had to constantly make up new sins because you were going to confession every week.

The basic sins back then were:

I disobeyed my parents.

I stole biscuits.

I was mean to my brothers and sisters.

Any other versions of these sins (mean to friends, stole money, disobeyed my teacher and so on) were also dropped in depending on whether it was the same Priest as the previous week. You’d look useless if you kept committing the same sins over and over again. Committing the same sins every week could lead to a penance of a few Our Fathers rather than the easier penance of a few Hail Marys.

I had my first big worry in 1978 as well.  It wasn’t whether I’d grow up, get a job and get married. No, nothing that far into the future.

No.

I was worried about something much more significant –

My first man teacher.

Man, I was shitting it.

You’ve got to remember that this was this was the era of corporal punishment and a ‘man teacher’ was a whole world of pain. The stories were legend and they generally revolved around being picked up by your ears for minor infractions.

So, in September 1978 I got my first ‘man teacher’.

And I must have been the luckiest kid alive. We got a brand new guy out of teacher school called Jim Deegan. I had him for my last 2 years of primary school as well and he was one of the, maybe 4 or 5, teachers in my life as a student (that went on until I was 22) that changed my life.

I suppose everyone has as few of these teachers but this guy was exceptional. He used to drive a shitty red Fiat 127 and he wasn’t the tallest man in the world but he was a gifted teacher.  He was from Limerick but I don’t know whether he kept teaching or not.

The difference between him and other teachers was that they were excellent at maths or english or latin but he was someone who brought out the best in a student no matter what the subject or the student.

1978 brought two other significant events.

One was the birth of the second of my little sisters – Elizabeth. She was the second half of ‘the babies’. As they grew older they became known as ‘the smallies’ and once they got fed up of this, sometime around the age of 9 or 10, they became known as ‘the girls’. Which they still are.

Youngest sister.

The second was the start of my running career. At about 7 or 8 both myself and the golden pencil went off to join the local running club. This involved training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and then heading off on a Sunday morning in a mini-bus for a meeting in some country town.

Looking back on it now I can see where the Africans get their disdain for all the high tech gear and nutrition we now espouse. We only ran barefoot because our parents weren’t going to invest in expensive grass spikes if we were going to drop out after a year or two. Our pre-race nutrition was generally some O’Dowd’s white bread and jam sandwiches and a bottle of cadet lemonade.

That said, we were running 100 & 200m so we didn’t really need to tap into or glycogen levels too deeply.

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