First Contact with Jim Kirby

First Contact

I put my name down with Friends Reunited for St. Peter Claver’s College, Mirfield.

It’s funny but I always thought that I would be in touch with those I’d met at the college again. I don’t know why I thought that as there was no internet in those days and I had completely lost touch with all of those who didn’t live in the same town as me. In fact, Id’ lost touch with even some of those who lived in Greenock.

But I knew I would be in touch with them again.

Jim Kirby

There were a few emails exchanged through Friends Reunited but the first major contact was when I arranged to talk to Jim Kirby on the phone.

He had actually been in the year above me and, to be honest, I didn’t really remember anything about him beyond his name.

However, when I talked to him on the phone it was my first real contact with anyone from that past life for around 35 years.

It was great talking to him.

The last time we had spoken man hadn’t yet landed on the moon, Celtic hadn’t won the European Cup and the Beatles hadn’t released Sergeant Pepper.

Those events were now quite ancient history and yet they hadn’t occurred last time we had met.

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What Did You Want to be Dad?

What Did You Want to be Dad?

The other day I was watching TV when my 13-year-old daughter asked me “What did you want to be when you were young Dad”?

I had a quick think to when I was 7 or 8. “ A footballer” I replied. “I wanted to play for Scotland”.

“But after that” she asked not wanting childish sporting fantasies to be counted. “I wanted to be a priest” I replied. “Why would you want to be a priest?” she asked, a little askance.

“I wanted to help people” I replied. “I wanted to help Africans. I wanted to bring them God”.

She didn’t seem impressed by that. So far it was just one of those conversations. It was what she asked next that hit me. “What did you want to do after that” she asked.

I thought for a few moments. She expected me to come up with something else. I thought I would too.

No answer came.

“Nothing” I replied.

Bolt From the Blue

It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was 53 years old. I now realised that I didn’t want to be anything after the age of 13.

How much does that explain?

It was like a thunderbolt out of the blue from a simple question.

I had gone through secondary school without a goal in mind. There was nothing I particularly wanted to do. I knew that I would have to do something. I was told that this was OK, that it was better to go to University with no particular career in mind, to keep an open mind.

I did go to University. I didn’t particularly like it. It was like the curate’s egg, good in parts – but I couldn’t be bothered studying. In the end I couldn’t be bothered to even go to many of the classes.

All Clear

It all became clear.

Why would I?

I didn’t want to be anything. I didn’t want to go to the ‘theatres or cinemas’ that a university degree would buy me a ticket into. I knew I had to do something. It’s just that I had no real passion for the opportunities that were presenting themselves.

I passed the Maths exam but failed the English and the Economics. As I had seldom gone to any of the classes in the second half of the year I was surprised that I had even passed my main subject Maths. You could do re-sits. I had had to pass one of the other two at the re-sits. I could go forward with passing one of those and re-sitting the exam for the other one in second year.

Summer Holiday Resits

I stayed up at my grandparents over the summer holidays so that I could study without being distracted my my ten brothers and sisters. The only problem was that I didn’t study much. I couldn’t be bothered. I know it was important. I knew that it was crucial to my career. But I just couldn’t do it.

I did go up to the room to study, but you could take a horse to water but you couldn’t make it drink – and I didn’t drink much water that summer at all.

I did a little near the end. I went up to do the re-sits at the university. You had to do three essays altogether. The first one I did pretty well, I thought. In fact I thought I had done it particularly well.

I didn’t know which of the other two I would do first. They were going to be a more difficult proposition but I was sure that I could do it. It would have been a case, in football terms, of having an early lead and then doing enough in the second half to hold on to that lead.

However, I couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t even be bothered to start the questions or make any attempt at them. I took a decision then.

I wouldn’t do them. I knew exactly what it meant. I knew that my university career was over. It had always been expected that I would go to university and do well. I had expected it too.

All Over

However, it was now over. I couldn’t leave till the first hour of the three-hour exam was up so I spent the next twenty minutes doing this game of letters that I had made up where basically football teams are allocated a letter and score goals in a knockout or league competition based on how often their letter appears in a text half line. I used the exam paper as the text.

The marker of the paper must have got a surprise. On the first three pages would have been a very well answered question. When he or she would have turned over they would have found an indecipherable jumble of letters and numbers.

I left after the first hour was up, handing in my truncated paper.

What Had I done?

I remember sitting in Glasgow Central Station pondering on what I had just done. I knew that my university career was over. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to plonk a university degree in front of potential employers to help me get a good job. I knew exactly what I had done. But my main emotion as I sat there on the station bench was not a feeling of fear. It was a feeling of exhilaration.

I knew life would be more difficult now. But I was pleased. I had quit education. I had got a monkey off my back. I was no longer flogging a horse that had long since perished. I would now have to drive in fifth gear.

I didn’t really understand it at the time. Why did I quit? Why did I not want to study? Why was I exhilarated by leaving university?

I didn’t understand the answer to that question till my 13-year-old daughter’s question 35 years later.

Our Greatest Benefactor

Our Greatest Benefactor

There was one series of events that I found bizarre whilst I was there. I remember one time Tea was interrupted by a guy, Mr. Hughes, who came in the refectory door. He would probably have been in his thirties or forties. He walked in and stood on one of the steps down into the refectory and held up a huge see-through bag of what looked like sweets without their wrappers on.

Suddenly all the boys and priests in the refectory burst into applause and cheers for this guy.

“What is going on?” I enquired of one of the guys from third year.

“He’s our biggest benefactor” he replied.

Broken Sweets

I never did get to the bottom of all this. The sum of his benefaction seemed to be that he worked in a sweet factory and he brought sweets from there to us. However, none of the sweets had wrappers on them, although they were all well-known brands and the other thing is that they were all misshapen, crushed or were just parts of the normal product.

They really fawned on this guy. In my perspective, even as an eleven year old, these were reject products and were probably rescued before they were dumped in some bin at the sweet factory.

However, nobody seemed to want to take this on board. It seems that the ovation he got, although not quite orchestrated, the boys all knew what to do.

He was always known to everyone as ‘our greatest benefactor’. I did ask if he actually contributed anything more than reject sweets but nobody seemed to know. My strong hunch was that he didn’t.

A Protestant

One other thing always mentioned about him was that he was a Protestant. It was said that despite that he still gave to ‘the’ church. It was always assumed that Protestants were in darkness. Any of them who did us a favour was always assumed to be in the process of being led to the truth by God.

It would be interesting to find out this guy’s perspective of it all. Was he just a kind hearted guy who worked at a sweet factory and who thought that it would be better to rescue reject sweets that were about to be binned and bring them over to the local boys school? Or was he wavering on the verge of conversion to the true faith. One feels that the latter was a long shot.

I don’t know what he thought happened to them. I presume that he thought that they would be immediately divided out amongst the boys.

Removed for Special Occasions

After he had gone the sweets were immediately taken away. At special occasions in the future we would receive a single mangled caramel wafer or whatever it was. I always noticed that what was passed out to us didn’t seem to match what was given in.

It always happens in any strict regime where the rulers have absolute power that ‘output’ tends to get siphoned off by those in the ruling classes. I have no idea whether the Fathers were gorging themselves on reject chocolate bars, but I do know that we got less than the sum of the whole.

The Bonfire – Guy Fawkes Night 1966

The Bonfire

I do remember one year, though, when the school decided to have a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night. There were no fireworks – just a bonfire, but we didn’t get much fun and this was a real bonus.

Life had become a bit more liberal in my 3rd year and Mick Wainhouse’s 4th year after the appointment of Father Fraser, from Glasgow, as Father Rector. Some of the Italian Fascist inspired rules had been taken out.

There had never been a bonfire before. Why would Italians celebrate Guy Fawkes night? If they have been told what it was all about they would have allowed it even less. Perhaps it had been explained to them and that’s why we had never had one before.

Bonfire of the Vanities

We had to leave, though, when it was time for Evening Service and bed. However, I couldn’t resist it. With a guy called Maurice Eaton, I got up out of bed after the priest, Fr Hicks, had finished his walking about, went downstairs and climbed out of a window to go and have another look at the bonfire.

To my surprise we were soon joined by Mick Wainhouse, Mick Palmer and Titch Carey. We threw fresh wood onto the bonfire. However, we wanted more action than that. Mick Wainhouse suggested that we go over to the farm, get some petrol, put it in bottles and toss them onto the fire.

I must confess I was more than a little nervous of this suggestion as, if we were caught, we would be instantly expelled. As well as being out after lights out, we would also have been stealing from the Verona Fathers’ farm.

Instant Expulsion

I remembered that in First Year a boy had been caught stealing. We were given a spine chilling talk by Father Pinkman who started by saying “We have a thief among us”.

They found out who it was and the Boy was instantly expelled. He had stolen one of the other Boys’ money – a fiver given to him by his mother. It was to pay for his keep. The Boy who had it stolen reported it missing. It was taken from his desk. A fiver was a lot of money in those days.

The priests gave the money back again to the Boy who had had it stolen. He asked how they had managed to get it back. “Don’t ask” he was told. It’s almost certain that what they had done was had a massive search of all the Boy’s lockers and desks whilst we were engaged elsewhere.

They wouldn’t have given a second thought to the impropriety of doing that. I bet they did it all the time.

The Boy who did it was instantly expelled. We never saw him again. We weren’t told that the thief had been caught but we could put two and two together.

So, I was pretty nervous.

Worth the Risk?

The idea sounded great but I didn’t think it was worth the risk.

But Mick did. He and one of the others, probably Mick Palmer, went over to the farm and brought back bottles full of oil. We put rags in them like Molotov Cocktails or Petrol Bombs and tossed them into the fire. I think I had read somewhere about how to make them.

Probably the next time Mick would see them would be when he was serving in the Paras in Northern Ireland, when they came raining down on them, tossed by rioting Catholics in the Bogside and elsewhere.

Next Suggestion

It was what he suggested next, though, that made me gulp.

He suggested that we would go back to the farm, take a couple of the hens there, bring them back and roast them on the fire.

This was so unlike him. I was shocked. Indeed I was extremely nervous about it. We had got away with the oil. They probably wouldn’t notice the oil missing and even if they did they wouldn’t think “some of the Boys must have stolen it, put it in bottles and chucked it on the bonfire”.

However, they would notice that the hens were missing. Mick and Titch were asking him what they would have to do. “We’ll wring their necks and put them on the edge of the bonfire” he said, “and then we’ll eat them”.

I was appalled. I had no great wish to have a couple of hens killed. I wanted even less to see them having their necks wrung.

And what if we got caught?

Neck Wringing

“Who’ll wring their necks?” someone asked.

“I’ll do it” said Mick.

I begged him not to do it. I told him that we’d all be in terrible trouble, but he was really up for it and thought it a great idea. He would definitely have done it, but by now the other two were having cold feet as well and talked him out of it.

Incidentally, I don’t think that we ever tasted chicken in the whole time we were there. That was reserved for the priests – although we did get boiled eggs. So, it would have been a real treat to taste some chicken, which we would have seen as a delicacy.

Encounter with Father Hicks

Incidentally, Maurice Eaton and myself had got caught going back in the window by the priest now in charge of the senior boys, Father Hicks. He thought of himself as a bit of a psychologist, although I think he had only read books on it.

He told us off and then let Maurice Eaton go. He kept me back. He said that it was because he saw remorse in Maurice Eaton’s eyes. He hadn’t seen any in mine at all, he told me in a highly accusatory voice. I then tried to look suitable remorseful.

He was right, though. I wasn’t sorry at all. I was only sorry that I had got caught. Mick, Mick and Titch had left before us. I think Mick had lost interest once killing the hens was overruled.

Pinkman’s Extended Infuence

He told me “Fr Pinkman has told me all about you”. I knew instantly that this wasn’t positive. Many of the Boys had been hanging around Fr Hicks who was just new to being in charge of the seniors. They were short of a father and wanted to be in with the new Father.

I wanted to be in with him too and impress him but I didn’t want to be as obvious as some of the other Boys. However, with those words of his I knew that there was no chance of that. Pinkie had marked his card on me.

There was no point in telling him that Pinkie was operating a vendetta against me, even after I left his charge in junior school, and explaining why he was doing it. I didn’t even understand myself at that age. It’s only now that I’m able to put two and two together and make five.

Cards Marked

However, I knew then that, our new father, the guy in charge of the senior boys had had his card marked as far as I was concerned and that I could forget about being a favoured ‘son’ the way I was with Fr. Cerea and that I would be henceforth plunged into the wilderness and forced to seek refuge for brotherhood amongst my fellow seminarians.

However, of my best friends Francis Locke had now gone and Frank McGinnis refused to talk to me due to my traitorous behaviour under severe questioning and getting broken by Pinkie. I was now hanging around with Boys that I wouldn’t have before, although I was still quite well in with the ‘in crowd’ which was mainly composed of Eddie Roberts, Fritz and maybe Bickers.

Father Hicks must have been watching for a while, when we came back in through the window, because he was waiting for us to come through the window. If we’d stayed on and killed the hen and cooked it he would certainly have seen that.

I suspect that we would all have been expelled. Mick’s life would probably have taken a very different path if he had been expelled whilst in 4th year rather than in 5th – but we’ll never know that. He didn’t do it in the end.

Expelled for Drinking

Letters were always sent home to the Boys’ parents when they got expelled – and they didn’t pull any punches.

It must have been a shock to Mick’s parents when they got the letter telling them that the son who was going to be a priest had been booted out for drinking.

However, if the letter had said that he was being kicked out for stealing a couple of hens from the farm, wringing their necks and roasting them on a bonfire they would have been shocked and appalled.

“What sort of son do we have that would do this?” they would have thought.

They would learn more about that in the future.

The Annual Cull – The Ones Who Disappeared

The Cull

At the end of each term there is a cull of ‘the chosen ones’. Three times a year boys are told that things didn’t work out and that they shouldn’t return when term begins. Term time, especially the one before the summer holidays, often ended with boys crying in the dormitory as they packed their bags for the last time.

They would never see their friends again. In fact, because we all lived together, we were more like family than friends. It was like being torn away from your family – and at such short notice.

Sometimes the boys didn’t say anything and simply didn’t come back the next year or the next term. We started each term not knowing which of our ‘family’ had been disappeared or had disappeared themselves.

Sudden Disappearance

It didn’t even need to be at the end of term. Boys could be disappeared suddenly. I remember when I was quite new in first year three boys from the second year stuck my head down the toilet and flushed it.

The priest came in and caught them. That was the end of one boy’s vocation. He was called to Fr. Rector’s room and was never seen again. God must have been very disappointed with him and ‘unchose’ him.

God made a lot of mistakes. Not one of the thirty-one guys in my class, who were all selected by him as his special ones, made it through to the priesthood. I suppose the ‘spin’ would be that it was not Him who let us down but we who let him down.

I suppose, as they often said in sermons there, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

Do you remember any of the Boys just disappearing? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Becoming a Child Abuse victim at the Age of 55

Becoming a Child Sexual Abuse Victim at the Age of 55

I have changed the name of the ‘Boy’ involved.

John Smith wasn’t aware that he was a child abuse victim till he passed his 55th birthday. It’s really strange but I was never able to put the different pieces of the jigsaw together for myself until I was much older. Once we left the college we did other things and although we looked back it tended to be on the good side of it. We certainly didn’t do much analysis of what happened to us.

It was only when we went back for reunions that we talked and thought of old times. Previously we had only put the data of what happened to us through the minds of 11-14 year olds. It was amazing the difference it made to us when we fed the same data through the minds of adults.

Lived Locally

On the second of our two day reunion weekend it was discovered that John Smith, who was in the year above me, lived locally. I don’t know how it was discovered, but discovered it was. On the final night he came along with his wife.

It’s very strange but we didn’t really talk about things when there were outsiders there (i.e. wives and kids). It was only when John’s wife went for a smoke that we started talking again about the priests.

I asked John if anything like that had happened to him. He said it hadn’t. ‘Nothing at all?’ I asked him.

You could see him looking far back into the past. “There was only one incident, perhaps”, he said.

Astonishing Revelation

We were all so amazed by what he said next that we all burst out into near hysterical laughter. I couldn’t help myself. The tears were streaming out of my eyes. John’s such a great guy that he didn’t take it badly. However, I hope this illustrates what I mean about re-inputting the same data through the ‘processor’ of an adult mind rather than an 11-14 year-old’s mind.

John told us that the only incident that would possibly qualify was when he had just finished playing football on a muddy day. In that part of the world it can get very muddy and you can often come off the football pitch absolutely caked in mud.

In the ‘only slightly suspicious’ incident, Pinkie told John to come round the back of the stage which was at the far end of the Junior Common room where the players got changed. It was out of sight of all the boys who would have been in the recreation room getting changed.

There Pinkie had set up two buckets of hot water. I said to Joe, slightly incredulously and not really believing that it could possibly be true “he didn’t make you take off your football strip and put one leg each in the two buckets of hot water and then clean the mud from you, did he?

Washday Blues

It was the first thing that came to mind when he said it but I couldn’t possibly think it was true as John had said nothing of that kind of thing had ever happened to him and that there was just one possible slightly suspicious incident.

“Yeah” said John.

That was exactly what had happened. We laughed our asses off. We weren’t laughing at John or what had happened to him. We were laughing at the incongruity of Joe not realising what had actually happened. Of course we all instinctively knew the explanation.

John had only ever examined what had happened through the eyes of a trusting 13-year-old. Although he hadn’t forgotten about it he hadn’t given it any great thought since it had happened. Although probably embarrassing at the time, he would have concluded that the priest would have been doing it for his own good.

Through a New Lens

It’s strange but, although it was a 55-year-old talking, both the memory of the incident and the analysis of the incident (which he had stored in his memory) were the memory and analysis of a 13-year-old.

Part of what was so funny was that you could see, as he talked and we laughed, that he could suddenly see how obvious it was that he had had been abused in some kind of way.

His wife came back in then and asked what we were all laughing at. The ‘club’ closed up again and made some kind of explanation which she accepted. Whilst she was busy talking to someone else I asked John if he had ever told his wife of the incident.

He shook his head in a kind of ‘you’re joking’ way. I asked him if he ever would and he gave the same response. That part of his life will forever remain unknown to his wife and his grown up children.

I understand. I have never told anybody of these things – not my parents, not my brothers and sisters, not my friends, not my children and not my wife.

As this is the early stage of writing this I’m not sure if it will ever be known to anyone outside those that were there and experienced it.

Father Pinkman Makes Me a Big Offer

Do you want to be a Good Boy?

I had heard that Pinkie had his favourite boys. They used to go regularly to his room. I thought nothing of it at the time. I just thought that there was an ‘in crowd’ and they were in it. They were the Good Boys.

I had left home at the age of eleven to become a priest. I wanted to be one of the good boys. I also wanted to be one of the ‘chosen ones’ as well and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t included.

I was also far from my family and parents and Pinkie was as close to a parent as I had here – but we had to share him between us all. It would have been nice to have been appreciated and thought well of.

Not In WIth the In Crowd

People had started to speak about this ‘in crowd’ though. They didn’t say anything about what might happen up in Pinkie’s room. Even if they had I wouldn’t have understood anyway.

Very often when you are not accepted as one of the ‘in crowd’ you go the other way, becoming one of the ‘out crowd’ and become rebellious and anti-authority.

Pinkie always knew what was going on amongst The Boys of the Junior School. I presume now that his informers, the ‘in crowd’ who went to his room regularly were his eyes and ears.

He used to give a weekly speech to The Boys in the form room in which he would both tell us what was upcoming and inveigh against the bad things that had been happening in the past week. He seemed to know everything although he was seldom there when it happened.

Providing Information

I remember, being up in his room once, and he asked me what people thought of his selections for the football team of which I was a member at the time. I told him they more or less agreed with his selections.

“There’s no area of the team that they think could be improved, no one they would rather have in the team?”, he asked.

“I suppose the only thing some people say is that Spike Brown should be in the team”.

The very next week when he was giving his speech he got stuck into those people who questioned his picking of the team, even mentioning the fact that some people were criticising him for leaving Spike Brown out of the team.

No Critcism of the Regime Wanted

It’s one thing that I’ve noticed about people who have almost absolute power. They don’t like criticism and they certainly don’t take it as constructive criticism. All criticism is the same whether it is constructive or otherwise. They suffer from paranoia.

Pinkie had thanked me for the information before letting me go from the room.

I wasn’t a rebel by nature. I really did want to be a Good Boy. I did want to go back to being one of the admired ones rather than being considered an outcast. I wanted it desperately. I wanted to become a priest. I wanted to be worthy of his approval.

Making The Offer

One night I was walking along the top corridor at bedtime. I was coming out of the upstairs toilets where I had been getting washed and heading towards the dormitory to go to bed.

The corridor was usually busy at that time of night with all The Boys going backwards and forwards between washing themselves in the toilet and the dormitory.

But just at that moment there was only myself and Pinkie.

I was heading towards the dormitory and he was heading in the other direction towards me reading his breviary, as was his wont.

He looked behind him quickly to see if there was anyone there and then he turned to me and said with great intent “Do you want to become a good boy?”

I did. I did. I did indeed.

Here at last was the opportunity to join the ‘in crowd’ of the good. At last I had been asked. I wondered and wondered why I hadn’t been asked before.

Giving My Answer

I would not be thought of as a bad boy any longer. Pinkie could teach me to be a good boy and I could go to his room and get his approval the way I used to get it early in second year when I was on his Suggestions Committee and when I caught the first year boy who had been trying to escape. I would be back on track for the Holy Grail of the Priesthood. I would become one of the Chosen Ones again.

The obvious answer was “Yes. Yes, please.”

But I didn’t say it.

I said “No” and walked on by. As I walked by I saw that he was more than a little taken aback. I don’t think he expected it. Perhaps he hadn’t been turned down before. Why would anyone not want to be a good boy? It was a great lure. The only obvious answer was “Yes”.

After that, all that is needed is the explanation of how he can help you become good. I never ever learned what that would be as some of the others must have done.

Seminal Moments

In everyone’s life there are the seminal moments – and this was one of mine.

I knew immediately that it was a huge thing to say and to do. Even at the age of twelve I knew that I had burned down a huge, huge bridge.

Why did I say ‘No’ instead of the ‘Yes’ that I had really wanted to say?

I thought a lot about it in the days after that and again at junctures in my adult life.

I think there were several reasons. The first was that I was a bit of a contrarian sometimes doing or saying the opposite of what people expected. Secondly there was something funny or strange about the way he asked the question. It was the same as when he wanted to wash me in the cold shower when I was in first year.

Alarm Bells

An alarm bell went off somewhere in my head. My subconscious radar had detected something.

He wasn’t smiling and friendly and relaxed as you would expect someone to be who was offering to help someone to become a ‘good boy’.

Also, he was now asking me to join a group that people were starting to talk about and to make jokes about. Those on the outside always mock those on the inside. Many of them would like to be in the inside but make up for their rejection by mocking those who actually are on the inside.

All of those things added up together didn’t cancel out or come close to canceling out the ‘Yes’ option. I was here to be a priest, I wanted to be a Good Boy, and I wanted to be liked by, and get the approval of, our substitute ‘father’. I wanted to be one of the Good Boys.

‘Yes’ was the first answer which came to mind. However, I just could not say it.

“No” I said and walked on past taking the first steps along the path which would lead to the end of my priesthood vocation.

Looking back, now, I would guess the terrible Conduct marks were part of a softening up exercise, to make me feel bad about myself before being ‘shown the way’ and accepted back into the fold as one of the ‘Good Boys’. It must have seemed certain that I would have accepted the invitation to ‘come into the light’ again.

It must have been a shock to Pinkie when I said “No!”