It’s the Way I Tell Them  

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Some years ago I was asked to give a retreat at a Convent. The setting was very beautiful and the weather was perfect. I went with all my addresses prepared with the result that I had a wonderfully relaxed week free from all the tasks and drudgery that one always has to do in your own community. And out of this grew the stories…

I was sitting in my room on the first night after Compline. As that office was recited at a much later hour at Mirfield, a long night of freedom stretched ahead of me and I felt the urge to do something creative. I began to wonder what it would be like to write a descriptive passage – not for work, not to include in sermon, address or lecture but for the joy of doing it. And I began to exercise my memory, to look back to the Belfast of my childhood, to the years between 1948 and 1953. I chose something very simple – the shed in my Granny’s back yard, the store where she kept her provisions:

The Shed was one of the most wonderful of structures in the whole of east Belfast. Gran’s second husband had built it as a pigeon loft. Granda Clarke had died before any of them were born but  all the grandchildren and step-grandchildren thought of the Shed to be their own. We shall consider it to be the special possession of Gippie, Blitzy, and Flackers, the Three Cousins whose story I am about to chronicle.  

The Shed stood in Granny Clarke’s back yard. It had a ground floor and two further stories. Its roof touched the eaves of Gran’s terrace house in 65 Douglas St. It was built out over the roof of the lavatory and formed a little archway beneath which if you turned left you found the door to the Shed and right was the way to ease and comfort. No 65 had the most comfortable outdoor loo in the street.  

Gran used the Shed as a store. On the ground floor were the meat-safe, logs, firewood and a chopping block. Axes, saws and sundry tools hung round the walls rather like the armour in an old castle. Sacks of potatoes, carrots and onions were neatly stacked against the wall. Gran, who kept lodgers, bought in bulk. The other two floors were achieved by means of ladders and Gran had forbidden the Three Cousins to climb up into them. They had obeyed her injunctions as far as the second story was concerned. The first floor contained flour, raisons, lentils and things that would keep for a considerable length of time. When you entered the Shed you were aware of a heady mixture of smells – potatoes, vegetables and wood from the ground floor and the aroma of spices from above. Surely the headquarters of the Three Cousins must have been the den of all dens.  

Before I realised it I was embarked on a fictional odyssey through streets, schools, church halls and cinemas of yesteryear. I called the collection Swap you for Yer Dandy after the custom of comic swopping current in that era. The Three Cousins Gippie, Blitzy and Flackers never existed and some of their exploits stretch the imagination but they call to mind an atmosphere, carefree and innocent which once existed alongside the river Lagan when trams rolled gently over the Albert Bridge.  

I never got round to putting them into a publishable form (laziness, lack of ambition, no time) but I used to read them to groups of friends over a drink or sometimes during meals at retreats and the response was always enthusiastic. Indeed several years of students petitioned for repeat performances. Several people refused to believe that the stories were fiction and have questioned me as if they were my personal reminiscences.  

So when the Community Appeal was launched and, realising that I don’t have the strength to run marathons or the brains to win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I thought up a way of raising funds and giving the Church of England a good laugh at the same time. One group who have asked me to do an evening have advertised it thus:  

                   Swap You for You Dandy

                                An Evening of Blarney

In which Fr John Gribben will read the adventures of a group of young rascals

from the streets of Belfast in the early fifties.

If you are a glutton for nostalgia, if you like old comics, if you are not put off by  rude playground humour, if you enjoy a good laugh ( and a good cry) why not come along and relax for the evening and take a trip down memory lane.  

So if you would like to hear more, if you enjoy nostalgia, don’t mind a bit of risqué school boy humour and want to help the CR Church Appeal, why not organise an evening at say £5.00 per head and include a glass of wine? One parish could have a good social event or a group of parishes might get to know each other better. I am willing to travel and will come for any size of group provided only that travel is covered.  

John Gribben CR

House of the Resurrection

Mirfield

WF14 0BN

jgribben@mirfield.org.uk