If i was a child again, p.1

If I Was a Child Again, page 1


If I Was a Child Again

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If I Was a Child Again


  Story 1. The Daisy Bell Summers

  Story 2: An Accident of Birth?

  Story 3: Back to the Future

  Story 4: Kick the Can

  Story 5: Daydream Believer

  Story 6: The Perfect Day

  Story 7: Rocks for Sale

  Story 8: Miss Angel and Other Bad Influenc

  Story 9: The Generals

  Story 10: Back When the World Made Sense

  Story 11: Reflections

  Story 12: Bells, Bibles, Lupins and Love

  Story 13: A Letter to my Future Teenagers

  Story 14: Sunshine, Short Socks and School

  Story 15: Silvermints

  Story 16: Te Quiero Todavia

  Story 17: Unconditional Love

  Story 18: If All Else Fails, Blame the Dog

  Story 19: Whispered Words of Wisdom

  Story 20: Memories

  Story 21: One More Day

  Story 22: It’s a Small World

  Story 23: Worrier

  Story 24: ’Twas the Night Before Christmas

  Story 25: If Only . . .

  Story 26: Holidays

  Story 27: My Big Regret

  Story 28: Custard Beasties and Other Despi

  Story 29: Play It Again, Sam

  Story 30: Hey, Skinny

  Story 31: Stop and Smell the Roses

  Story 32: Running with the Wild Bunch

  Story 33: My Cousin Jodie

  Story 34: The Forgotten Child

  Story 35: The B-Game is Okay Too

  Story 36: The Day Things Changed

  Story 37: The Frog Prince

  Story 38: Irn-Bru and Déjà Vu

  Story 39: Light Within the Dark

  Story 40: Dear Mam . . .

  Story 41: Front Page News

  Published 2013

  by Poolbeg Press Ltd

  123 Grange Hill, Baldoyle

  Dublin 13, Ireland

  E-mail: poolbeg@poolbeg.com


  © Poolbeg Press 2013

  Copyright for typesetting, layout, design, ebook

  © Poolbeg Press Ltd

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  ISBN 9781781991411

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.



  First and foremost, and once again, I want to thank my family for supporting me during the writing, editing and emotional meltdowns involved in putting this book together. To my mammy, who read as I wrote, thank you for all your feedback. To my daddy, sisters and brother, thank you. Most of all thanks to Neil, Joseph and Cara who live with my multiple personalities as my characters find their way. I love you all very much.

  Thanks to my wider family circle, in particular my granny, Auntie Raine, ‘Mimi’ and Auntie Marie Louise for their faith, support and practical help. (Cupcakes gratefully accepted, choir stress relief much needed, baby-sitting very much appreciated.)

  To my lovely colleagues at the Derry Journal and in particular Erin, Bernie, Catherine and Mary for listening on a sometimes daily basis to my writing woes – thank you.

  To Vicki – you simply rock.

  For those writer friends who know exactly what it is like and who make me laugh – thank you. Special thanks for their words of encouragement go to Fiona Cassidy (aka the Galbally One), Sharon Owens and Anna McPartlin.

  To my Twitter friends, especially the #tayswillinweemin – thank you again for your loveliness. #youareamazing

  And to my ‘real world’ friends, especially my Encore choir ‘family’, thank you.

  Special thanks as always go to all at Poolbeg – especially Paula Campbell for her vision, support and friendship, and Gaye Shortland for her never-ending enthusiasm and keen eye.

  Thanks also to my agent Ger Nichol, who is always there when I need her and who should be available on the NHS to neurotic authors everywhere. I could not do this without you, Ger. Much, much love x

  Finally to the booksellers and readers who make this possible and worthwhile – thank you, thank you, thank you.


  First of all, all of us in Barnardos, in Northern Ireland and the Republic, are really grateful to Poolbeg Press for doing it again! Last year’s Christmas book was brilliant, and it is wonderful that once again so many writers have given their time, their talent, and either their imaginations or their memories, to put this smashing collection together.

  If you ask most of us the question, “What would you do if you were a child again for a day?”, it would immediately spark off a jumble of memories in all our heads – and maybe get a great conversation going around the dinner table. The things we didn’t do and always wanted to, and things we did that maybe we shouldn’t have. (One of us – we won’t say who – can still remember being part of a gang that was chased for miles by a very cross farmer whose orchard we had just emptied!)

  But nowadays we work with children who might not want to ever revisit their own childhoods. We work as hard as possible to give all our children, when we’re working with them, the best possible childhood we can. And we worry when they go home about the neighbourhoods they live in, or the cold and damp houses, or the problems in the families. Sometimes we think the best thing we can do for our children is to help them build their resilience, because life throws all sorts of adversity their way.

  Helping children to get the most out of school, helping to build their confidence, to give them a strong sense of who they are and why they’re important, helping them to make better choices in their lives (especially when the bad choices are easier) – it might sound simple, but actually it’s painstaking work.

  It involves building close and honest relationships with children and their families. It takes time and effort. There are setbacks, and sometimes very small increments of progress. If you really want to change the lives of children for the better, you have to decide right from the start that you won’t give up.

  And the people who work in Barnardos never give up! It can be emotionally demanding for the staff who work with children in disadvantage every day. But if you feel at the end of the day that you’ve helped someone to look back on a childhood that was happier and more fulfilling than it might have been otherwise, that’s truly rewarding.

  In the times we live in, the need for that work is greater than it has ever been. But the resources available are squeezed tighter and tighter all the time. That’s why we really appreciate the support a book like this can give.

  We know from talking to some of the writers in this collection that they all got a huge kick out of reliving a moment of childhood. And we hope that everyone who buys the book will enjoy the experience just as much. By putting this collection together, and by getting it to the top of the bestseller lists hopefully, Poolbeg Press, and all the writers here, and all of you who have bought the book are all helping, each in your own way, to change a child’s life for the better.

  Fergus Finlay

  Chief Executive

  Barnardos (Republic of Ireland)

  Lynda Wilson


  Barnardo’s Northern Ireland

  Story 1. The Daisy Bell Summers

  Claire Allan

  I don’t know how old it actually was. It seemed ancient. “A boneshaker,” my granddad called it as he wheeled it in to show me.

  “A Daisy Bell!” the children on the street laughed and teased – I didn’t understand the local nick-name, but it didn’t sound as though a “Daisy Bell” was a good thing.

  But there it was – and it was mine: this bike which my daddy and my granddad had lovingly restored and sprayed silver and handed to me.

  I’d never had my very own bike before – I just had a few hand-me-downs over the years: my aunt’s old bike and a marvellously massive trike that we (all four of us) loved and fought over. The Silver Daisy Bell, as it will always be known, felt like mine – all mine – in that no one in my family had ever owned her before or was allowed to ride her.

  It was tall, thin – the tyres skinny and the wheels maybe a little bit shaky – the brakes were pretty suspect too – but that Daisy Bell was the key to my freedom. When I sat on my bike I felt as if I was towering above everyone else on a penny-farthing – but it didn’t matter. I loved that bike from the minute it was rolled into our garden and presented to me.

  This was 1980s Derry – where no one had much but, as the song says, we saw it through without complaining.

  It feels like a different world – a hazy, sepia-toned world of long sunny days and sun-blistered pavements, and the Daisy Bell that everyone else laughed at but I loved as if it was a top-of-the-range Raleigh with a basket and bell.

  In my childhood I would pretend the Daisy Bell was a car – my car. And every time I sat on that hard saddle, I would imagine I was driving.

  We covered some serious miles together – when I think of it now, I couldn’t imagine letting my children away with the same sense of freedom we had. But although Northern Ireland in the eighties was less than ideal in a lot of ways, it was still a different world and there existed an innocence of childhood that we lapped up as we explored the world around us.

  Every weekend, and each day of the summer holidays, my sister (just one year older), my aunt (just three years older) and I would set off on an adventure. With a tinny transistor radio in the basket of my aunt’s bike, and a bottle of well-diluted Kia-Ora we would head out the “back roads” – the country lanes which led from Derry to Donegal. If we were particularly lucky we would have managed to scramble together a few pence to buy a packet of Custard Creams in the Spar shop, which would be our picnic once we reached our destination.

  We pushed our bikes up impossibly steep hills, and freewheeled back down them – passing fields in a flurry of childhood excitement. The sun would beat down – but of course you didn’t wear sun-cream in those days. I don’t think we’d ever heard of it. And as for safety helmets and knee-pads, and any sense of real road awareness, none seemed to exist.

  When you were on the back roads, you rarely if ever came across a car. The roads were our own.

  Halfway on our journey we reached “The Dragon’s Teeth” – large concrete blocks that separated the North from the South. As army checkpoints could not exist on every road, the simple way to deal with controlling the flow of traffic was to erect these concrete bollards that jutted from the road. They didn’t really look like teeth but often I would allow myself to imagine that they were just that. It added to the mystique of the adventure – winding roads and a dragon’s teeth.

  And the Banshee. Darby O’Gill and the Little People has an awful lot to answer for. It’s a film we watched as children – and harmless and all as it seemed, once the notion of the Banshee was put in your head it was hard to shift.

  There was this one stretch, on the road to our destination, where the trees overgrew and no matter how sunny the day it always felt cold. And if you listened hard enough you could make out the howl of the wind. I’m not ashamed to say it would on occasion give me the bad fear and I would speed up the peddling on my bike to get through that dark recess as quickly as possible while promising to the Lord our God, with all the piousness typical of a ten-year-old, that I would never steal another biscuit out of the jar if He kept every one of my family safe from harm.

  In this life, they say, we all have mountains to climb. In my childhood, on my silver Daisy Bell, this was more than accurate. The destination of our jaunts out each day was always Grianán of Aileach – an ancient Irish ring fort at the top of an exceptionally steep hill, which watches over the four corners of Inishowen and Derry. We never even attempted to cycle up that hill, which winds its way around the mountain for more than a mile. Cars struggled on that hill on a good day – so instead, switching off the transistor radio, we would gird our loins, take a deep breath and set off pushing our bikes up that hill singing “I Have Confidence” from TheSound of Music as loud as we could as we went.

  I’m not sure we knew all the words but we gave it the best shot we could, feeling our confidence growing with each step we took closer to the top. And when we reached that summit – what a sight would we behold! It felt as if we were looking out over the whole of Ireland.

  There was quiet calm inside the ring fort at Grianán. If you stood in the one spot for long enough, closed your eyes and listened intently, you could almost hear the echoes of every person who had stood there over hundreds of years. I felt that, even as a child. It was there in our bones: the feel of the place, the calmness – broken only then by the rattling of the Custard Cream packet and the pouring of the Kia-Ora into plastic tumblers or the sounds of tourists chatting and marvelling at the ancient structure.

  We would climb the steps, which felt perilously high, and sit on the edge of the wall – aware that one false move could send us tumbling to the ground. We were never scared of it. We thrived on it.

  And when we climbed back down, we would crouch and climb into the tiny tunnels – remembering distant stories about fairy keeps and wishing chairs.

  Still fresh in my mind is the time we saw baby mice, reminiscent of baked beans – bald, pink, small, wriggling – in the gateway. I’m not sure I was ever as keen on crawling through the tunnels after that. Our trips gave me confidence but they never quite took away my fear of mice!

  Our return journeys were mighty craic. Not least because the biggest pay-off for pushing our bikes up that blasted mountainside was the ride, freewheeling, back down it. This was exhilarating, terrifying and hilarious. With every return journey I prayed the ancient brakes on the Daisy Bell would save me from oblivion – at the same time enjoying the rush of the wind through my hair and the screams of joy as we let go and enjoyed the ride.

  The hills were faster on the way back. The sun shone brighter. The corner where I was sure the Banshee lived was still very much there and very frightening – but I peddled fast past it and tried not to think of that scene in Darby O’Gill where the coachman bids him to “Get in”.

  We would pass the Dragon’s Teeth and the Spar shop and cross the reservoir over to home and then once there we would stop, maybe grab a sandwich and let our parents know we were okay and ponder what to do with the rest of our day.

  The answer was simple. We would head out again. We would refill the Kia-Ora and check how many Custard Creams we had left and on we would cycle – back out to Grianán all over again.

  We never seemed to get tired. Our legs never ached. We never got bored with the journey. We found magic and good craic every time we went. I always imagined the dragons laying low beneath the roads, the fairies dancing at the ring fort and the Banshee in waiting.

  And the Daisy Bell – painted silver and old and rattley – never did let me down.

  It wasn’t the fanciest bike on the street. It was far from cool. It didn’t make anyone jealous. No one admired it. No one envied me. But that bike was my most prized possession bar none and in the company of my sister and aunt we enjoyed so many happy a
dventures together.

  Would I do it again if I could? Relive those hazy moments on my precious bike, with my precious friends? Yes. I would. I can almost taste the Kia-Ora if I think about it long enough.

  Claire Allan is a Derry-based journalist and author of seven novels, including Rainy Days and Tuesdays, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and The First Time I Said Goodbye. She is a mother of two (one of each) and is a Twitter addict. Her childhood was made particularly special by her wonderful parents Peter and Karen, her grandparents, sisters and brother, auntie Marie-Louise and cousins from England, Denis and Tracey. She would really like to own another bike one day – but she’s not brave enough after a spin class made her cry.

  Story 2: An Accident of Birth?

  Jennifer Barrett

  I still remember the piercing pain. I can’t have been more than five years old, but that ear infection was so sore that it is forever etched in my memory.

  My mother put some ear drops into my throbbing ear and gave me a Disprin dissolved in a glass of orange squash; then she took me in her arms, covered my sore ear with her hand and cuddled me until the medication started to take effect. As my tears abated, she gently drew pictures on my face with the tip of her finger. And just as I began to drift off, I remember her whispering that she loved me more than anything in the world.

  I opened one eye. “Really?”

  “Yes, you and your brothers are so precious to me,” she said, “I wouldn’t swap you for all the money in the world.”

  This fully woke me from my drowsy state. It seemed somewhat suspect to me. I mean, my brothers and I were great ’n’ all – but not for all the money in the world! This needed clarification.

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