Chapter 1: Belief in Oneself.
“Our Father, who art in heaven”
He had been waiting to communicate with God all week, it was his regular request for help and private contemplation.
“Hallowed be thy name” keeping his eyes closed so that his internal dialogue remained hidden.
“Thy kingdom come… God, dear God, it’s me… Ernest Bradshaw” The vicar’s watchfulness burned through the curtain of his eyelids. “Thy will be done… ME! Ernest Bradshaw! You know me… you know everyone according t’vicar” Ernest risked half a glance in front of him, and made a split-second decision to continue “On earth as it is in heaven. The thing is, I was wondering if you could see your way to getting rid of Mark Crosby, he goes to my school, he usually picks on Harold, but see, Harold has broken his ankle, but you probably know that. And forgive us our trespasses. See God, I don’t trespass, it wasn’t me, as we forgive those who trespass against us (apart from Mark Crosby) And lead us not into temptation… and now I reckon with Harold out of action, they’re probably gonna pick on me, so if you could just see your way fit to getting rid of him, not permanent like… don’t forget, God: Mark Crosby his name is. I’d point him out, God but he isn’t here, see he doesn’t come to church, but I do. I come every Sunday with me mother and Uncle Billy. You know God, do your ‘works in mysterious ways’ thing, God… Ahhhh-men… Oh God! I mean Amen I didn’t mean to miss the end of Our Father”
Creaky church pews and coughing fits infected the congregation. “Who are you talking to?” Ernest’s mother mouthed, without making a sound.
“Our Father” Agreed Father Dunn, his sing-song prayer voice herding his obedient flock. “Let us pray today for the sons of our church, that they will fear you, Lord, please take our sons into your loving and holy hands as they become men. Joshua in verses 1-9 reads: ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’ we pray that the Lord God is with our sons” The finishing prayer’s message caught by the congregation, before the finishing hymn.
“So I’m on me own then? As long as I am not frightened, and go wherever I am going?” Ernest’s private prayer continued. He took a sideways glance at his mother “Oh no! I didn’t mean to forget, God, please help me mother, in anything that she needs help with, like maybe don’t let her see I’ve made a hole in me sock, she hates it if anything like that happens… That’s me mother, God: ROSE BRADSHAW, you’ve known her longer than I have” Ernest was now sure that he had covered everything he needed to in his prayers. His mother sort of sighed, secretly asking God if Father Dunn was inventing subliminal messages for his sermon.
“Dear God, it’s me, Rose Bradshaw. I know ‘Vicar just said we should pray for our sons, as they become men, but I need to make sure – he didn’t mean before they become soldiers, did he? I was listening God, but the word ‘courageous’ threw me It’s like twenty odd years ago all over again in the news, and our Ernest, well he’s only fourteen, and I know I didn’t have him christened, but you know why God, and I prayed like mad for forgiveness, you know that God, You were there… I know life’s not meant to be fair, but does Father Dunn know summat I don’t God? Me nerves won’t take much more… Amen” Mother and son stood side by side talking to God without making a sound, next to Uncle Billy, who only ever spoke without making a sound, ever.
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small” Father Dunn sang with his sing-song hymn voice “All things bright and beautiful, including my Ernest, who is both great, and small” Rose Bradshaw made doe-eyed loving admiration at her forward facing son, who was singing without making a sound “The Lord God made them all, that’s right Mrs Sidebottom you can keep your sideways glances at me and our Ernest every Sunday… the Lord God made them all”
Ernest looked at Uncle Billy, he had forgotten him in his prayers but decided against bothering God for the third time; because Uncle Billy appeared to be at it himself. Eyes firmly shut, Billy risked opening one of them. The second he noticed Father Dunn’s mouth begin to move, his eye was expertly closed again. Hands clenched in a knuckle-baring prayer pose, Uncle Billy appeared to be having a good chat with God, his deafness excused him from painful hymn singing every Sunday. The Bradshaw family left the house of forgiveness and its occupying hypocrites. Coins in the collection plate, donated by those with a man’s wage to share. Queuing up to be judged, Father Dunn shook the hands of each and every one.
“Mrs Bradshaw” he patted her hand, she did not correct him with ‘Miss’
“And young man” The Vicar shook Ernest’s hand, who did not correct him because he was a ‘man’ the sermon had said so, a man without dismay and plenty of courage. There seemed to be hesitation, as Father Dunn took Uncle Billy’s hand “Peace be with you” He said.
“Hmm,” Uncle Billy corrected him because that was all he could say.
This Sunday’s supply of welcome was withdrawn by two wooden church doors. Father Dunn looked at the collection plate. Someone had donated a mint humbug. It was February, and 1962 had not spent many of its Sundays. There would be fifty-two in total, all of them quiet because God said so. All speaking a different sermon, because God said so. All of them lacking open amenities, because God said so. The silence of the church allowed Father Dunn to enjoy his direct hotline to God. Every Sunday, he would dip his finger into the bible and pick out a reading at random. With failing eyesight and tiny newspaper print, he was no more in touch with current affairs than he was with his congregation’s silent pleading. There was work to be done, God had said so, and Father Dunn would preach week in, week out. Guiding the way, which he would not correct because God said so.
During the fifty-two Sundays of 1962, God was to put faith in people – mankind. Not only that they would do the right thing, but that they would also pray for the right thing. As for Ernest’s prayers about the bullies, he would have to make do with a quick fix, a reading about courage, picked at random by Father Dunn, because God said so.
Later that same day, when the Sunday roast had been cleared away, and hours had passed with nothing to do and nothing to say. Ernest, his mother and Uncle Billy took the weekly bus journey to Auntie Marigold and Uncle Norman’s house.
Marigold Bradshaw was always going to do well for herself in life. This was obvious on the Bradshaw family photograph, captured in sepia when Marigold was fourteen and Rose was age nine. Marigold, imposing and impressive on the back row, shoulders straight, hair behaving itself, brand new dress. The centre of the photograph, the centre of attention, her proudly positioned head articulated ‘I plan to marry well’. Marigold stood above her little sister Rose, perched upon a three-legged stool underneath Marigold. Head bowed, small and shy with her hair in her eyes, and a hand me down dress. Rose had no plan, but in life, received a surprise. Marigold pitied her little sister, but it was not her job to pass judgement; not on a Sunday.
And now, in 1962, Marigold Schofield nee Bradshaw wore gardening gloves and a pinafore apron. She lived in a detached house with a full-length bay window. Her three grown-up sons all married and moved on. It was just Marigold, Rusty the Red Setter and Norman, putting on appearances in the front garden. Marigold had already received two compliments from passing strangers that afternoon. Even in February, the rose bushes were taking over the garden, as bossy as the woman who planted them. Her sister Rose, nephew Ernest, and Uncle Billy were expected for tea; high tea. Marigold spotted her guests entering the scene and excused herself from her rose bush admirers. For the second time that day, the Bradshaw family queued up to be judged.
“Rose! Ernest, aww Billy love” Marigold, embracing with her outside voice, she stopped pretending to garden. Marigold had been pushing a garden hoe around, whilst Norman, who was not pretending, swept up intruding rubbish from the main road. It was still early in the year, but Marigold insisted on portraying a perfect exterior at all times. There was no hesitation when Marigold said hello to Uncle Billy. It had been Rose’s turn to take him in, and then it had been Rose’s turn again. Marigold had assumed that Rose needed a ‘man about the house’ including the extra lodging money. It was Marigold’s job to assume because her husband Norman lent Rose money for a bathroom fitting.
“Hello Rose, how’s our Ernest?” without waiting for Ernest’s reply, Norman turned to Billy, he never knew the correct way to say hello, so he forcefully shook his hand. “Rose, I’ve been thinking, you’ve not done anything with that shelter in’t back ‘ave you? You know, for when’t bomb goes off” Norman adopted Rose as an ally. “Norman! Outside voices, please!” Auntie Marigold chastised her husband, her own voice gradually disappearing into a hiss “Don’t come with any of that bomb talk in front of our Ernest”
“Only, I’ve saved the paper for you, it’s got summat in the headlines… about America and Russia” Uncle Norman ignored his wife, then his own voice disappeared into a whisper. After a few shifty glances, Auntie Marigold tried to divert Ernest
“How would you like this, Ernest love? Tell you what, when I die, I’ll leave it to you in my will”
“A family heirloom?” Ernest’s boredom brightened.
“What on earth is our Ernest going to want with a flippin’ garden hoe? There’s nowt but that shelter in the back yard, we’ve no need for gardening tackle!” “Are you dying, Auntie Marigold?” Ernest had rewound the conversation in his mind, with shifty glances and grown up talk, he fathomed something was wrong. Perhaps he should have extended his prayers to everyone he knew – or blood relatives at least.
“Oh no! You daft apeth Ernest. Come on inside now, time for tea” Auntie Marigold said in her best outside voice, she guided her sister into the kitchen by her elbow, where they enjoyed small sandwiches in a kitchen that smelled of celery. Ernest always worried that Auntie Marigold’s high-tea would never fill him up, but it always did.
“Why are we not allowed int’ dining room today, or the front room?” Ernest slightly picked up on Auntie Marigold’s vanity. There was no need to banish him really, Ernest had been brought up by his mother, who would never allow any faults or flaws.
“It’s Rusty, he had an accident, it wasn’t his fault” Uncle Norman had been married to Auntie Marigold for the majority of his adult life, and so knew all about faults and flaws.
“In the parlour, there was ..” Auntie Marigold hesitated to find the right word “He left some… poop” Auntie Marigold’s voice disappeared into a whisper, even though she was inside.
Ernest laughed, then Uncle Billy laughed because Ernest laughed. Rose breathed a sigh of relief. Today’s faults and flaws would not be produced from her portion of the family “Is that why none of your lot are here today?”
“Well, I can’t let Richard’s wife know I allowed dog dirt on my Winchester rug!” Auntie Marigold did manage a smile, but she was the only one in the room who failed to see the funny side.
“Ernest, young man, will you take your uncle to the pub?” Uncle Norman confused Ernest with his invitation.
“No, I meant me!” Uncle Norman did not know how to invite Uncle Billy, so the invitation remained unspoken.
“He’s asleep int’ chair anyway, and me mother and Auntie Marigold are having one of their chats” Ernest’s voice disappeared into a mimicking whisper.
“Right you are then lad, you know the way”
Ernest insisted on taking the garden hoe, his new family heirloom to the pub. Happy in himself, God had been listening to him because Auntie Marigold’s front room meant shoes off, and of course, that would reveal the hidden hole in his sock. Thank goodness for dog dirt.
Uncle and nephew walked over the field towards The Brown Cow. Ernest using the garden hoe as some sort of oversized walking stick, Rusty obediently plodding at the side of Norman. The journey to the pub was a bit on the long side for Rusty’s liking, still, he had the Winchester rug in the parlour to look forward to. The February sun started to shine on the cold ground, Uncle Norman spotted a cyclist rolling along ahead, something to do on a Sunday in the second year of the decade with new possibilities. And was the cyclist a girl? Norman was sure he saw mousey brown hair protruding from under a bobble hat. He looked ahead at Ernest who was now stretching his new toy as far as it would go and then stretching his leg as far as he could, thrilled to bits with a garden implement. Ernest had not even noticed the girl. Norman thought of his own grown-up sons, he could not remember them being as childlike when they were fourteen and now, of course, they were thrilled to bits with their executive pay packets from his company, ‘Schofield and Sons’. The girl cycled towards Norman and Rusty, passing Ernest first, who still did not look up.
“That boy needs a hobby,” Uncle Norman said to Rusty, who of course could not answer, but understood completely.
The Brown Cow was home to migrating men-folk from various Victorian terraces and pre-fabricated council homes, enjoying silent Sunday evenings, supping their pints. The seats outside were dry enough to sit on, Uncle Norman treated Ernest to a cordial. Rusty was admiring his own reflection in a puddle, his red beard dangling into the rainwater.
“How old are you, Ernest?” Uncle Norman knew everything but had to start the conversation somewhere.
“Fourteen, soon to be fifteen?”
“Not really, I’m not even fourteen and a half”
“Still, you’re the man of the house, have you thought about getting a Sat’day job? Help your mother out?”
“Well, she reckons she’s asked Old Potts but he’s a bit stingy like” Ernest was scraping the mud from in between the cobbles with the gardening tool. Uncle Norman jumped on the mention of Old Potts “Old? How old?”
“Err well, not as old as you, but older than me mother I think, why?” Ernest squinted up at his uncle.
“Oh, nothing I thought your mother’s works was owned by an older man, a man and his son? So is Old Potts the son? Or the older man?”
“He has his finger in lots of pies has Old Potts, so I believe… Not just a greengrocer or distribution warehouse, his business has grown right from the market stalls he still has up Smithfield”
“You’re gettin’ Old Potts mixed up with his dad, Even Older Potts. And he’s not a baker, Uncle” all Ernest had heard was ‘pies’.
“Have you ever been on a bicycle, lad? Do you know how to ride one?” Uncle Norman changed the subject.
“Yeah, course I do!” Ernest shook his head at Uncle Norman, mother always said he was a ‘know it all’ but he had plenty of questions today.
“I found this on’t notice board inside, thought it might be something you could get into” Uncle Norman put a flyer in Ernest’s hand.
‘THE EAST LANCASHIRE INTERNATIONAL CYCLING CLUB’ – club runs and beginner’s rides most Sundays and every Wednesday evening.
Ernest’s face lit up, and then screwed up, Uncle Norman may be a business man, but he had not figured this one out. “I’ve no bike, Uncle Norman!”
“I know! But if you get fixed up with that delivery boy job, a bike’ll come with it!” Uncle Norman had it figured out after all.
“Right come on then, sup up, tell your mother I’ll have a word with Old Potts if she likes”
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll need to, me mother knows how to boss people. And anyway t’other day she said that the Russians are going to blow us all up. Then ever since, she keeps switching the wireless off just before I come downstairs. One day I’m gettin’ up before her to find out what’s happening, I’m a man now, God said so in church this morning, so I should know what’s going on. D’you reckon that’s why Old Potts said he didn’t need a delivery boy? Because of the Russians?” Ernest had never spoken so many words all at once before, but he certainly did not expect Uncle Norman’s response, he burst out laughing, picked up Rusty’s lead and finished his pint.
“No! Ha! No that’s not the reason Ernest, but don’t you worry about anything, just carry on regardless, do your best at school, but no, don’t worry about those Russians, we’ve got that shelter in your back yard to hide in, and there might even be room for a bicycle!” Copyright Samantha Henthorn 2017.All uploaded, next job to format the cover (courtesy of Lyndsey) available from Amazon very soon, watch this space.