Ma, It's a Cold Aul Night an I'm Lookin for a Bed, page 1
Ma, it's a cold
aul night an i'm
lookin for a bed
SEVEN STORIES PRESS
Copyright © 2009 by Martha Long
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh
First Seven Stories Press edition March 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This book is a work of non-fiction based on the life, experiences and recollections of the author. In some cases, names of people, places, dates, sequences or the detail of events have been changed to protect the privacy of others. The author has stated to the publishers that, except in such respects, not affecting the substantial accuracy of the work, the contents of this book are true
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Long, Martha (Irish author)
Ma, it’s a cold aul night an I’m lookin for a bed / Martha Long. -- First Seven Stories Press edition.
“First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh”--Title page verso.
ISBN 978-1-60980-598-2 (hardback)
1. Long, Martha (Irish author)--Childhood and youth. 2. Poor teenagers--Ireland--Dublin--Biography. 3. Teenage girls--Ireland--Dublin--Biography. 4. Homeless youth--Ireland--Dublin--Biography. 5. Dublin (Ireland)--Social conditions--20th century. 6. Dublin (Ireland)--Biography. I. Title. II. Title: Ma, it’s a cold old night and I’m looking for a bed.
Printed in the USA
To my life’s blood, my children. Family is all that matters.
To my readers. I do it now for you . . . (certainly not for the money!
It wouldn’t pay my bus fare into town!! Sniff!)
Especially for those of you who have carried a lifetime of pain.
Walk with me through the days of my life. These are the early days.
It did get worse. There were many times when life was too terrifying
to live . . . and too terrifying to die.
But here I am, telling you all about it. Who would have thought
I would open my mouth and let go of all the secrets I had kept
hidden. Right into my middle years.
I want you to know you are not alone.
Take comfort, it does get better.
People are all the same under the fur coats and the Gucci sunglasses.
They have just managed to find an expensive way of hiding
the same kind of pain you and I carry!
This is my way of dealing with it. Sharing it with you.
To Bill, my long suffering publisher. (I have his heart broken!)
Ahh! Where would I be without you, Bill? You’re one in a million!
To Aidan Roddy (Blackrock). A gentleman and a scholar.
A busy man who will share his precious time with me. Just to stand
and stare. Share a joke, exchange a tale, letting the march of time
float on. That short time of laughter and ease makes the shackles
of duty in a busy life all the lighter. Thanks, Aidan.
To Viv, a very brilliant and lovely girl. A great gift to us all,
and a credit to your mammy.
To Caoimhe and David, two of the nicest people who ever walked
God’s earth. (In spite of my daftness!) You saved my life.
Was I not the lucky one, to have two rare special people like
you around when I nearly copped it! Truly, I won’t forget your
kindness. Especially for looking after the children. May all
your dreams for both of you come true. Thank you for caring.
To my two dear friends, with whom I am lucky to have met
through the book, Susan and her gorgeousdaughter, little princess
Shayléigh, for indeed she is one. Thank you, Shayléigh, for your
lovely present. It is very precious to me. It is also a constant
reminder of a wonderful little girl.
To the forgotten children who suffered in a harsh uncaring world.
To all the men, women and children, some gone to their rest,
others, tragically, went before their time.
As tender little children, you did not gaze into the warmth of a loving
pair of eyes. There were no loving arms to wrap you, and drive away
For some of you, your destiny was the harshness of a cold walled
prison, manned by cold hard people, crippled by their lack of warmth.
They were ideally placed, to deal with the unwanted sins, the
bastards, the poor, in a hypocritical world paying lip service to a
God-less Church who wielded a mighty and frightening power.
Leaving the horror and loneliness of an institution did not free you.
The mark of pain and rejection was written all over your face. The
world recognised you. You were nobody’s child. Therefore, easy
prey for those who wished to eat you alive.
It was too much. Some of you, I remember, ended it all with a watery
grave. Others endured, until it ended in a laneway, being found as a
bundle of rags, lying next to the rubbish bins. You were overcome
by cold, hunger, and the ravages of alcohol. There was nobody to
As in life, now you lie in death, in a unmarked grave. Just, nobody!
You lost even your name. Your suffering was in vain.
Thomas! Maryann! John! Alfred! I remember you!
You will always be alive in me. My story is your story.
I speak for you all.
May you now rest in peace.
I woke from my doze glancing out the window as the car slowed down. Ah great! Dublin. I looked back behind me, seeing the huge wall of the Phoenix Park and the narrow roads, ditches and fields of the countryside fading into the distance as we hit the city. Lovely! Dirty Aul Dublin. Where I left my heart. Now I can feel home again. Ye can keep the country for the culchies. Gawd, even the memory of being locked up down there makes me feel sick. I shivered, just thinking about that home for little children. No! If that’s what nursing is all about, it is definitely not for me.
I hoisted meself up in the front seat and looked out the window, seeing the sight of Euston Station as we flew past in the car. That’s where the country people take the train home. I looked over at Miss Boddington. ‘Eh, I think you can let me out here, Miss, I can take the bus back to the convent.’ Thinking I have no intention of going back there! I’
‘Good gracious, no!’ she said. Flicking her head with the mass of lovely brown bouncy hair swinging around her neck, and landing in a wave, sitting back to nestle on her shoulders. I looked at her with the lovely pink powdered face and the light-pink lipstick on her lips, with the little bit of blue eyeshadow setting off her lovely grey eyes. I could smell her perfume and stared in admiration as her legs pumped away at the pedals on the floor of the car, and her lovely tweed skirt sat just above her knees showing off her lovely legs. Gawd! I wished I was her with the lovely hair and the lovely clothes and the lovely cream car with the cream leather seats. It looks a bit like a sports car. I breathed in a sigh, smelling her delicious perfume. Gawd! What wouldn’t I do to be meself in her clobber driving her car and I actually own it! Yeah! I will one day, and I’m making no mistake about that!
‘Until we hand you over,’ she said, slamming down the pedal and raising her knees, flicking her eye at the truck with the load of cattle screaming in the back with the canvas cover on top to keep the rain off the cows. They looked through the wooden bars at us with their tongues hanging out, screaming and moaning. Reminding me of babies when they are trying to have a good cry, but not managing to squeeze out many tears. ‘You are still our responsibility!’ I heard her say, tuning in to what she was talking about. ‘You are only a young girl of sixteen!’
‘But, Miss! I am my own person! I’m left the convent. It was me who wrote to you in the home to do the children’s nursing. That was my idea! The nuns had nothing to do with it. If I hadn’t gone to you, I would be out in the world by myself with nobody having any responsibility for me! I’d be working and on me own,’ I said. Trying to talk her around to letting me out of the car.
‘No! No, dear,’ she said, waving her head. ‘I must hand you back. It is up to the nuns then. Someone must take responsibility for you.’
Ah, fuck! She’s a Protesdant. The Catholics don’t work the same way. No one is responsible for me. The nuns get rid of you when they stop getting the money from the state when you reach sixteen, unless you are still going to school.
Sister Eleanor will kill me! I lasted no end of time in that home for the little children. Stuck out in the arsehole of nowhere, and living in a big old dark mansion with loads of girls who crept around like nuns, no life in them at all. It must be something to do with them all being Protesdant. They are very different from the young ones in the convent. Quieter, and more respectable. Then there was all that getting up at five in the morning and looking after poor little sick children that looked like they were on death’s door, and nothing for them but bed sleep eat get washed, sick vomit diarrhoea, and they all looked so pale and sickly. There was nothing there for them or us the students. Just more bloody slave labour! And you even had to learn to sew the children’s clothes! Because that’s what you have to do when you are a nurse or a governess, or whatever kind of job you get. I can’t sew! I hate it!
Then it was after three years of being stuck there, sitting exams and then going to the children’s hospital for another year and a half! Sure I would never be able for the exams. I never went to school! How would I be able for exams? You have to start in the babies’ class like everyone else if you want to start sitting exams at the end of your school days. That is no good for me. You can’t go back to school in this life. The system is, you start school and learning as a baby, and work your way through the classes, that’s it. So I have to find another way to make me mark in this life. Anyway, I will educate meself with books.
I blinked, coming out of my doze, and looked, seeing we were flying through the village near the convent. I burst out laughing suddenly, at the thought of seeing the look on Sister Eleanor’s face when she sees me back already. How long was I gone? Not long!
‘Are you all right?’ Miss said, giving me a queer look. My face went bright red letting her see me laughing out loud to meself. She’ll think I’m a bit queer laughing at nothing.
‘Eh, I was just thinking of something funny,’ I said, not thinking that any more as the car turned in the gates and headed up the avenue, landing me back in the convent. Jaysus! What will I say? She’s going to kill me! Ah, maybe she will be delighted to see me. I missed her! Then I laughed again. No, she wants to get rid of us. Not have us trailing after her for ever! Oh, Jaysus! I’m really for it.
‘Come along, dear, take your suitcase,’ Miss said, holding open the boot of her car and waiting for me to make a move. I lifted the suitcase and stood waiting while she slammed the boot down and bounced up the steps to ring the doorbell. I trailed up, not in any hurry to face being back here. The door opened and Natalie Fleming from the middle group stood staring at me while I took her in. Jaysus! She has my job now, and she’s wearing my working smock! Gawd! She must be fourteen and left school.
‘Hello, Natalie,’ I said, moving in and pushing her out of the way with me suitcase. I was feeling a bit jealous, thinking she has my job now, and it didn’t take the nuns long to replace me. She stopped staring at me, after taking in the style of me from head to toe, and blinked, looking up at Miss, then lifted her jaw off the ground and clamped her mouth shut to get on with her business.
‘I will go and get Sister fur you,’ she said, trying to make herself sound grand. Then whipped off, making my smock twirl around her, because it was fitted around the waist and flared out. I was raging! She picked up the little gong and went off looking very important with herself, and started banging it, before she even hit the institution. Ma Pius will kill her! Serves her right! The little upstart, thinking she could do my job. She didn’t even invite us to go into the parlour. Just left us standing here in the bloody entrance hall. She probably forgot how to treat the visitors because I was here and I’m only one of them. Fucking eejit! I hope Ma Pius comes along and sees us stuck here. She will eat the head off that young one and then realise she won’t get anyone as good as me!
I was feeling a bit lonely and like I didn’t belong here any more. Even though I know I don’t belong. I’m supposed to be left. But I would love to stay for just a little while and be part of things again. Have Sister Eleanor fussing and shouting at me, but knowing she has to put up with me because I live here. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, or where I am going to go. I had it all worked out. Do the children’s nursing and get a good job travelling as a children’s nurse with a very rich family. Or work in a hospital. But that was only a dream. I would never pass them exams. But I might have made it to the rich family as a nanny! Jaysus! Now I belong nowhere or to no one! Sister Eleanor doesn’t have to bother about me any more.
‘Ah, Miss Boddington!’ Sister Eleanor said, rushing in the door all smiles and gums and bowing to the Miss then smiling at me.
‘I will leave you, Martha,’ Miss said, taking her eyes off Sister and smiling at me. ‘Good luck for the future,’ she said, then smiled at Sister.
‘Thank you ever so much,’ Sister said, smiling and bowing, taking my arm, saying, ‘You wait in there, Martha.’ She nodded to the parlour. My heart gladdened at the sight of Sister Eleanor, I had been a bit lost without her, and not knowing anyone and hating the food and the strange place.
Natalie stood at the gong hanging it up, and keeping her eye on what was going on, and giving me a suspicious look, like she might lose her job because I was back.
The door slammed shut and Sister came flying in roaring. ‘Martha Long. What is the meaning of this? Why did you leave the home?’ She bent herself in two, with that crucified look on her face, not one bit pleased to see me. I felt a thump in my chest and a pain flit across me, then I started to go cold. ‘You are not coming back here!’ she snorted, warning me, shaking her head and waving her finger, looking like mustard and mortal sin. I felt me heart sinking with the pain of her not wanting me and felt a hardness hit me.
‘I didn’t ask to come back!’ I shouted. Picking up me suitcase and making for the door. Feeling foolish and stupid because me
‘Wait! I have a job for you. A call came in two days ago, and when the home rang here yesterday to say they were bringing you back, I telephoned the family to say I would be sending you.’
‘What is it?’ I asked, dropping me suitcase, feeling happy at knowing where I was going and having somewhere to go.
‘It’s only for five weeks. They don’t want you to do much, Martha. It is a young couple with two little boys and the mammy has just had a new baby girl. They will be flying to Brazil for three weeks. So you will be helping her mother to take care of the children. Meanwhile, it is lucky for you. Because they want you to start straight away and settle in before they go away in two weeks. So! After that, you can arrange to get yourself fixed up in a new more permanent job. In the meantime, it will give you the time to organise yourself, Martha!’ Sister Eleanor said, bending down to me, her voice softening.
‘All right, Sister,’ I said, happy she wasn’t looking at me like I was a nuisance and delighted to get a job. ‘When do I start?’
‘Oh, right away,’ she laughed. ‘I already telephoned the lady to say you were on your way. So hurry! Here is the address. You take the bus from the Quays. It is out towards Howth. You get the bus . . . Here! Everything is written down on that,’ she said, handing me a piece of paper. ‘Goodbye now!’ she said, rushing to open the front door for me. I picked up the suitcase and smiled at her, seeing her eyes flit on me then empty. The life in her draining out through her face, letting her mind fill up with nothing but worry. Fretting and thinking of all she had to do as she headed me out the door and down the steps.
I looked back to wave, but she was already gone with the door slammed shut. I got a feeling of being empty hitting me again. But then I lifted. OK, at least she’s happy with me. She was nice to me! I can always ring her to say hello. Yeah! I’m not really on me own. I stopped and took the address out of my pocket and checked it. Right! Here we go! I picked up the suitcase and headed off down the avenue for the second time. This time it’s for good. She would have my guts for garters if I showed up here again. I rushed off to take the bus into the city centre, dying to get into town and see what’s happening.
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