LIGHTING CANDLES

This takes place in the early 1960s and displays a set of values which I’d like to think are very different from today’s youth. But underneath all the new ’empathy and understanding’ I fear we may not have come on that far.

Pierce Street ran up the hill up from Catherine Street. Half way up the hill was our school, Christ Church infants and junior. Twice a week the curate from Christ Church, where Catherine Street became Bond Street, walked up the hill and gave us Divinity lessons and general chats about vicary things. When he ran out of homilies, we got talks from visiting African church members with all the associated embarrassing questions from Ally Sinclair: ‘Sir, is it true African babies are born white and then turn brown in the sun?’ I mean I know we didn’t have a lot of sun in Macclesfield, but baby ripening? Really? On the walls the maps were still coloured pink across large portions of the globe. Our text books had detailed descriptions of the sensible layout of various imperial cities, thanks to the perspicacity of British engineers and administrators, and reassuring suggestions that there were still opportunities for adventurous British youths in continuing the work.

At the top of Pierce Street, up the cobbled hill, built much later than Christ Church for reasons that we hadn’t yet touched on in history, loomed the tower of St Albans Roman Catholic Church. Attached to St Albans was another school, cunningly named St Albans infants and junior school.

We didn’t deal directly with the Reformation as such in lessons and certainly the Catholic Emancipation acts never got a look in, but we knew the Queen was head of the Church of England, and therefore Christ Church, and in consequence our school and that she also ran all the bits of the world coloured pink.

In contrast, St Albans was in the final analysis run by the Pope, who wasn’t British and had been on the side of the Spaniards when they sent the Armada to conquer England. Something we had done in class. The Armada had been rightly thrashed by Drake on his tea break from playing bowls. Bowls was played by the old men in South Park and on the much more difficult double crown green in West Park and woe betide any child who stepped on the hallowed turf. We wondered if Drake had worn a flat cap and smoked a pipe.

Whatever Drake’s sartorial and tobacco choices, he certainly dished the Dons who we all knew had been trying to reimpose Roman Catholicism on Elizabeth. Most of us realised this was a different Liz from our current monarch, Supreme Governor of the Church of England , Christ Church and our school, but I couldn’t vouch for everyone.

Sporadic reenactments of the sixteenth and seventeenth century wars of religion would, as a result break out, up and down the length of Pierce Street at break times, and before and after school. I don’t know what version of ‘love thy neighbour’ they were being taught in St Albans but it was clearly as ineffective as ours in behaviour modification compared to the underlying ‘this is us and that’s them and they’re bastards’ message underlying the history lessons.

After one particularly intense and enjoyable exchange of stones, more hits on them than on us defined the enjoyment factor, the Head called a special assembly. Bill Lewis, Mr Lewis, or God’s Anointed on Earth, acknowledged the different confessional preferences pertaining to Christ Church and St. Albans but reminded those of us invested in such things that it was all the same God in the end. And for those of us not so committed, it was against the law and we would suffer torment, if not eternal, then certainly in this world, should we be caught defending HM the Q’s faith in such a manner again. This was before human rights and telling the under tens they were below the age of criminal responsibility.

We trooped out, having sung a suitably martial hymn, possibly Onward Christian Soldiers, which, though flying under false colours, I used to enjoy belting out with gusto. As we filed into class, Mr Bayley sought out his usual suspects and fixed us with a steely gaze.

‘I hope that sunk in’ he said.

We nodded.

‘Good’

As we prepared to return to our desks, he asked us one more question.

‘Who won?’

Graham Newfield beamed ‘We did Sir!’

There was a flash of a smile and a wink.

‘Good lads! Off you go.’

 

This and more short fiction can also be found under Writing, Short Fiction

 

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