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A Life Worth Living. Chapter Nine

Baby Jesus

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Stolen Baby

Mam's mental health was deteriorating and her behaviour becoming more bizarre and violent. She was drinking more and we rarely saw her sober. Me and my sister knew mam needed help but we were too afraid to speak to anyone about it. She needed help and it was obvious to the police of Barnsley, who arrested her on a regular basis, and to the Social Services, who knew her well, that she needed help, but help still did not come.

On a day, close to Christmas, 1969, Mam came back to the house, very drunk and falling all over. She was crying and trying to keep her coat wrapped tightly around herself. My heart nearly stopped when I noticed a little baby’s hand sticking out from underneath her coat. ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’Mam cried. My eldest sister tried to calm her down so that we could see this baby under her coat. We thought maybe she had snatched someone’s baby. ‘The baby was cold’, my mam sobbed. ‘I was just trying to keep him warm and now he’s broke’. ‘Sit down here mam and get warm', my sister said, indicating towards a chair by the fire. Mam sat in the chair by the fire, still holding onto her coat tightly. My brother and sister sat on the arms of the chair, trying to console my mam and get her to open her coat. ‘Come on mam, let us see the baby’, one of them said. Mam was inconsolable and she sat there crying and calling out ‘Jesus, Joseph and Mary, what have I done?’ My heart was breaking for her and I, without thinking, took a step towards her, to help comfort her. She stopped crying and looked straight at me. With pure hatred written all over her face and blackness in her eyes, she snapped at me, ‘Don’t you fucking come near me’! I stopped in my tracks, like I had hit an invisible brick wall, a barrier that separated them from me.

Later, the police came and we found out what mam had done. The baby that was under her coat was not a real baby that was dead, like we had thought. It was baby Jesus and mam had pinched it from the cradle that had been set up in the church. She had been to the church, drunk, to beg for the rent money that she could not pay. When mam had sobered up a bit, the police man, who had come to arrest her for stealing Jesus, took pity on her and her kids that were clinging on to her, fearing that the police were going to take her away. Mam apologised, took the baby back to church and went to confession. The the priest, gave her enough money to pay the rent but the rent did not get paid. She used the rent money to go off on another bender. For us kids that meant another Christmas with nothing to look forward to. I understand now, how different our lives would have been, how much more joy and love we would have had in our lives if someone had cared just a little. No one did care.

All my life I have had a phobia or real fear of Christmas that people struggle to understand. Just the mention of the word Christmas makes me feel distressed even all these years later. I now know the fear of Christmas is Christougenniatikophobia.


Living In Fear

One night I was laid on the settee watching television and just drifting off into a nice sleepy state when the back door flew open. Before I could get my bearings and recover from the shock of the sound of that door crashing open, mam had her hands around my throat. She said nothing to me this time. No warning of what she was going to do, just straight in for the kill. Just as she got her hands around my neck there was a loud pounding on the front door. I heard someone call out, 'police! And another pounding on the door. Mam immediately let go of me, composed herself and opened the door. It was the police. I heard one of them asking, 'Where is Louise?' My mam let two officers into the house and they came into the living room. It was dark in the room apart from the dim light that came from a little black and white television in the corner of the room. One of the officers shone his torch in my face making me squint my eyes and pull my cover further up my face. 'Are you okay Louise? I heard one of them ask. With my blanket pulled up to my nose and only my eyes showing, feigning a smile, I nodded. Mam was saying, ‘She is fine, aren’t you love’. ‘She loves her mam, don’t you love? The police officer explained that they had been having words with my mothers friend, who was convinced my mam was going to hurt me. Mam denied it course. ‘Do you want to come with us?’ another policeman asked. I knew I could not tell them what had just happened, I shook my head. I had a feeling mam could be in serious trouble if I said anything, so I said nothing. I acted coy with him, pretending that I had just woken up and tried covering my face with the blanket. They left, telling my mam they would call in the next day to make sure everything was okay. When they had gone, she gave me a slap and told me I was a 'sneaky little bastard'. She was right. I was a sneak because I had to be if I were to survive.


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Moving Again

In a short space of time we were on the move again. This time we moved to the centre of Barnsley to a place called Harborough Hills. The house we were moving to was an old, long since neglected, dark, dilapidated Victorian house on the main road leading in to Barnsley town centre. On the top of the main road was a night club, that mam frequented, and the real reason she wanted to live there.

Inside the house was gloomy and dark and had a dirty musty smell. To me the house felt that it was going to be full of ghosts. Ghosts that I imagined that were not happy. The house had an oppressive feel and I felt frightened from the moment I walked in. There was an attic room which was filthy and had never seen a lick of paint. In some places damp plaster that had fallen off revealing the brick work underneath. As I expected, that room was to be my bedroom. It was obvious no one had been in the attic for years but I was expected to go up there in the dark and sleep there.

I took some tadpoles up to my room to keep me company. I had them in a jam jar at the side of my bed. I do not know what possessed me to, but I picked a tadpole up to get a closer look. It exploded between my fingers and I was mortified. I could not get the image out of my mind for a long time. To make matters worse, the rest of the tadpoles died. I was gutted and felt guilty for a long time. I learnt a deep respect for all living creatures. I feel that all that is living, has the rights to life.

Mam was drinking even more and her behaviour was becoming more erratic. We did not know about alcoholism back then, but we all knew that drink was killing our mam. She was an alcoholic in a time when people did not accept alcoholism as an illness, or a disease. She was left to deal with her problems on her own. I felt like I added to her problems.

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