Charlie the Mongol – A 1970s Story
Background ‘n’ Sich
In the years since I was born – 1970 – to the present day – 2015, a lot has changed. One of the biggest changes is in how we use language. Another big change is in how we use that day-to-day language to describe – and thereby denote our respect towards or against – minority groups.
Or does it???
I’m not convinced that respect is shown to another group of if it is done grudgingly. And let’s face it, when our social betters instruct us to ‘play nice’ with those who are ‘outre’ there’s a huge temptation to raise two fingers to them and carry on with our behavioural patterns regardless. That don’t seem like progress to me!!
We’re all different in one way, shape or form so should we not celebrate that in a cultural way? And when you think of it, culturally speaking, ‘taking the piss out of someone is a very Irish/British way of dealing with difference with an added modicum of humour and invited interaction…
Racism in the 1970s
Back in 1970s England it was perfectly acceptable for white people to refer to Asian people as ‘pakis’, to black people as ‘niggers’ and to others of dark skin, variously, as ‘nig-nogs’, ‘wogs’, ‘jungle bunnies’ or ‘coons’ (in front of their faces). By Christ, if we’d put such inventiveness into our car industry it might still exist!
I’m not sure how many sales would’ve been garnered from a ‘Rover Darkie’, nor from a ‘Triumph Raghead’, not to mention a British Leyland ‘Black Bastard’ – but that’s for a variety of sales and marketing teams to configure, rather than a disenfranchised English Midlander with a bag of chips on each shoulder.
That said, white people were very racist towards each other too – English whitey to Irish Whitey or Welsh Whitey and Scottish Whitey, and vices versas, or whatever the correct pluralist term is – very racist. But you know what, for whatever reasons the Irish got on pretty well with the English and also with the Jamaican and West Indian people – and the proper Indians too, the ones from India, not the ‘Red’ Indians of ‘Roy Rogers’ fame.
Spastic Terminology in the 1970s
We also used a number of ‘dodgy’ terms to refer to those suffering from mental or physical handicaps. I’m not even sure I should’ve used either of the terms ‘mental’ or ‘handicaps’ as, in the modern day, I’m sure these phrases will be frowned upon by some group or other. Anyhoo…
Some of the terms we used included the following: spaz, spakka, mentaller, mong, and mongoloid, retard, spastic and so on and so forth. Our parents were less ruthless than us children but still used phrases such as: ‘she suffers with her nerves’ (this generally denoted some kind of depression, as I remember, but was also used as a ‘catch-all’ for any kind of mental disability), ‘Ah, he’s in a bit of a bad way’ (common enough today, this one, and gentle enough to have travelled relatively unruffled through the years) along with ‘nutter’, ‘fruitcake’ and ‘lunatic’.
To put it simply, if you had any of the above phrases connected with you, you’d find yourself spoken about in ‘hushed terms’. That’s right, you’d be an outsider even if you’d decided not to be one.
I look back now and realise how nasty some of those words were – and still are – I knew it at the time too but as I was a young lad within that culture it was accepted that people would speak that way. I’m not saying I accepted it – I didn’t often interrupt such florid flows of shittiness though.
I took it on the chin, even when it was directed at me; I stored it up in my mind and waited for more information upon which to base a judgement – that’s the way I was, am, and probably will always be. I store words, scenarios and judgements until I feel I have enough information to make a good decision.
There’s an argument that I would put forward today which suggests that the various attempts to negate negative words/phrases is actually backfiring. You see, it’s all well and good attacking racism or inequality. It really is. However, in order to beat these you have to have an idea of the society in which you live. That’s right, Margaret Thatcher was wrong, there really is such a thing as ‘society’ whether or not it’s admitted.
A typical ‘society’ I would initially highlight is that of my own upbringing – Coundon, Coventry – at the time it was a place where a lot of aspirational Irish people moved (we’re talking 1960s/70s here) and was funded by factories with a good turnover and workers who proudly made cars, tractors and a lot of noise in the local bars.
Shay Digresses the First Time
My First Depression – rather than My First Pony
I was 13 years old when I first met Mr Depression – so by that stage I had an empathy with others who suffered in such a way even though I had not met them – I still felt that I could not be the only person to feel so low. I felt a kinship with those who felt themselves to be outsiders from the mainstream of the community I was brought up in – I was six years old when I first encountered that concept – the ‘outsider’.
It’s odd how it came about (my epiphany at age 6 rather than the age 13 version). I was standing in the alley way out the back of our house and I heard some young lads calling for their friends – the echo of their voices sounded to me as though my name was being called and right there my brain had one of its (many to come) epiphanic moments. I heard and yearned to be with them and wanted to be with them and wanted to be wanted, but I was so happy when I realised I was not required and could stand alone to enjoy my thoughts – whatever they were. As ever, this cognitive realisation was accompanied with an emotional kick in the stomach – this reaction follows me still.
The depression was more wonderful still – I am taking the piss, in case you hadn’t noticed. The depression I had at age 13 was such a massive balls of a thing that it would be hard for me to tell anyone about it – as was the case at the time. And, in fairness to anyone else who has suffered at a similar age, how could I relate my depression (or take on it) to a person who has just encountered such an all-encompassing period of their lives?
OK, I’ll try…I was in an after school class when I reached a point that I could not handle. I’d been feeling low for weeks by this stage. The teacher blew the whistle for a foul I had committed (Basketball) – I hadn’t fouled anyone. Even the lad I was supposed to have fouled agreed with me. But I guess that was the point the teacher was making– play to the whistle and control your temper.
At the tender age of 13 I couldn’t do that – and I stropped off home after swearing at the teacher a couple of times and getting more aggressive than I’m known for. I was instructed to leave, get changed and go home. I walked the 3 miles home then and felt lower and lower each time a sole slopped or slapped the pavement. A walk that would normally take me 40 mins or so, maybe 30 if I was in a hurry, now flew past my awareness and I found myself at the Coundon crossroad where Moseley Avenue meets Barker Butts Lane.
I gathered myself, prepared to step out in front of the next car that came along – and then did so. I bottled it though, and my stride was at least 30 cm short of putting me in front of the sky blue coloured estate car that was unfortunate enough to be the car I wished would hit me.
The driver swerved and hit a bollard and screeched to halt – she looked back and I recognised her as a teacher from my primary school – Miss Bagley, I think, a tall straight backed blonde haired English woman as I remember. She initially wore a face of anger for my stupid action in stepping out in front of her car. Then she seemed to recognise me and her face asked if I was OK. I looked back at her, my minded was flooded with her praise and niceness from some 6 or 7 years earlier, and I just shrugged by way of apology. Her face enquired if I was OK – I nodded and smiled, the depression had lost its hold on me in that split second, she smiled back and I turned to cross the road safely.
The Beatles guitar riff “Taxman”, by George Harrison I think, flooded my mind and I walked down Moseley Avenue aware that I was the controller of my emotions. A strange way to feel and a great way to be – I felt all negative emotions had fallen from me, I felt free to just be the happy 10 year old I was before I went to secondary school. And that’s a big thing, moving from primary to secondary school – I learned how to be aggressive too, not something I’ve ever wanted to be but let’s face it, something you need to be occasionally. As the soles of my shoes bounced from pavement to air and back again I found myself smiling for the first time in months, and I mean months.
I had beaten the bullies. And there were a few.
I was brought up to be a Catholic – and within the Irish Catholic microcosm in which I was reared in England we were taught that the intention was mightier than the deed/sin – sometimes. So if you used a word which these days would be considered an affront to certain groups the effect would be to negate any negativity because of the intention behind your choice of word.
This made things really easy – you could call a black person a ‘nigger’ to their face, so long as you didn’t really ‘mean’ it. Or you could call an Asian person a ‘wog’ so long as you were smiling when you said it.
You couldn’t call an Irish man a ‘mick’ or a ‘paddy’ or a ‘spud eater’ unless you were a part of that culture and god alone help you if you suggested that an Englishman was anything other than what could be expected from such a vile and despicable race – keep that notion in mind as you read on, if you can be arsed to – that whole idea that the average Englishman should be judged (that word again) by what the English Empire achieved over centuries.
A darker side, if you need one, is that by separating the thought from the deed and the ‘intentionality’ you are only a small wee step away from justifying rape – and that includes child rape – and yup, the Catholic Church harboured a huge number of child rapists. Sadly, add to that figure the number of child rape apologists, including Ratzinger and a few other head honchos who think the Organisation is more important than the people.
The Irish in England
You see, the Irish really loved the English – they (the English) were a yard stick by which many Irish measured themselves, their own behaviour and how far they felt they had come since leaving Ireland. Many Irish people married other Irish people and had children which they reared to be Irish – a tricky and confusing trick if you happen to be in a ‘foreign’ country. Not that England/Scotland/Wales was such a remote outpost, nor foreign in many ways.
But in England/Wales/Scotland – we were encouraged to bring our parent’s Irish views with us and to see ourselves as coloured in Green. Bedecked gloriously in the ‘Green, White and Gold’ of our seed country at every March 17th meeting of the people, us children would argue, sense and be aware of the children that didn’t fit in. The children who wore less green, less gold and sod the white, the children who had parents less in the groove than our own.
Where I come From
And it was into such a culture that I was born and raised – two Irish parents, both Catholics, and two older sisters and one older brother.
My parents worked hard and imbued in us kids a sense of ‘work hard and be lucky’ – an English version of the American dream perhaps – but a realistic one too, I’d argue. Let’s face it; if the world were full of millionaires it wouldn’t be worth being a millionaire – common sense, innit!
We were all involved in the local parish – St Osburgs – just on the edge of the city centre and a ten minute walk from where our young legs lived. My Dad involved himself in the SVP (Saint Vincent de Paul Society) and my Mum (and me) collected the African Missionary boxes from the locals maybe 4 times a year.
I enjoyed that, being with me mum and helping out – I did not enjoy the ‘guilt trip’ that some people felt when we visited their houses. It would not be unusual for some people to stick a few notes into the charity box, a box they had been kind of bullied into taking in the first place – sometimes by a priest and sometimes by some emissary that didn’t smoke or drink – you see, I realise now more than ever, smoking and drinking are amongst an Irish person’s excuses to engage with others on a social basis – I haven’t a clue where this comes from though, but living in ‘bedsit city’ can’t help.
And then when mum and me turned up, these poor people found, sometimes after visiting their neighbours, a few more pounds. We, my mum and I, were shaming these poor people into finding money for the missionaries. It saddens me still that I took part in this charade – I know it upset my mum at times – so there’s two issues to deal with, innit!
Sisters Like Angles
My sisters sang in the choir at St Osburgs – Mairead had the sweeter voice and Mary the louder! It’s still the same today – as kids, when ‘Top of the Pops’ was playing, it was not unusual for us kids to cry out ‘mum, tell Mares (Mary) to shut up, muummm’. And my sister Mary, ‘mares’, still bugs young people to this day with her singing – thankfully they are her children.
Marty and me were Altar boys – and Christ we were good. With so many Irish Catholic families in the area the parish was inundated with potential Altar boys. I’m sure a handful of lascivious priests licked their lips at this news – sadly, that’s what a lot of people will focus on. So I might as well here…
That said, there were pervert priests at St Osburgs at times, as well as at Christ the King Parish. This should not be forgotten nor brushed under the carpet – these pervert priests have destroyed so many people’s lives and many of these perverts have got away with it; it sickens me that they did what they did and then got help from the Church to cover it up – Jesus must’ve been praying the rock would be rolled back across his tomb rather than be associated with such sick cunts which claim to act in his name. The rape of children is awful but the act of covering up those rapes is so many times more awful.
Here are the names of some child rapist priests that I remember – I can’t find it within myself to put the prefix FR (Father) before their names:
- Chris Clonan
- Michael Creagh
- There are others but I’m not sure of the legality if I publish their names
- But feel free to add names of the guilty in whatever medium you choose, dear reader
There are more out there and I hope that they die roaring – I really do. But this story is not about them.
I’m not even sure it is a story to be honest – I think it is just the ramblings of a man far from his old streets.
Anyhoo, I started this bit of writing by talking about ‘Charlie the Mongol’ – and so that’s where I shall continue..
Charlie was a mongol – that’s the term we used in the 70s – mongol. He was a good mongol, did what he was told and no-one gave out about him at all. Muchly…!!!
(I should add here that in 1970s England a mongol was the name given to a person with Downs Syndrome – I know, ‘mongol’ is such a cruel word to modern ears, but it wasn’t always meant like that in the 70s).
There was a tradition in St Osburgs Social Club – I’m not sure how it came about but it was a tradition nonetheless – that Charlie would sing a song before the end of the night.
Now, before I bore you all with the story about Charlie I should point out the following, and bear in mind that this is all from memory so could well be wrong-ish…
…Wibbly wobbly screen, as we go back in time……Wibbly wobbly screen, as we go back in time…
Radford in the 1960s
Way back in the 1960s a childless couple lived in a house, in a street, which was faced by other houses which looked exactly the same….
Welcome to Radford, a place where I lived as a child for a time…
….all the houses had red brick fronts and council granted fences – apart from some of the houses where the Irish had moved up in the world and could contemplate a porch.
This childless couple, let’s call them, I dunno…let’s call them Hughie and Nora – they had no children of their own for whatever reasons. Mind you, back in the 70s it would’ve been considered her fault – she was either barren or frigid – a lack of fertility was always the woman’s fault back in the 70s. But I digress, as Ronnie Corbett would’ve said, back in the 70s…
This couple saw a child, a mongol child, out in the streets of Radford, and they welcomed him in to their home. In fact, they welcomed him so much that in a few short years, their home became his home – tu cassa, mi cassa – or whatever…
I can’t be held responsible for my own linguistic skills as I’m half wrong at the best of times….
Hughie and Nora took to Charlie, and Charlie took to them – it sounds like a match made in heaven, innit?? And it was too – Nora and Hughie took care of Charlie and in effect he became the child they never had.
Now, again I have to preface a few paragraphs with my own or others’ ignorance – this is my story and it will necessarily be different to how others relate to the story as told.
Anyhoo, Charlie spent a lot of time going to the Coundon Pub and walking over the railway crossing to St Osburgs Club. At the time it was a 5 min walk. And he was welcomed in both places.
Charlie was a diabetic, as I remember, I don’t know if he was a Type 1 or 2 but Sean Burns (Byrne?) (doorman of St Osburgs Club) always made a point of stopping people from buying Charlie crisps. Charlie would not like this so would take his vent out on Sean with a few sharp grunts – Sean was a diamond though, always took it on the chin and put Charlie in his place, even though people sometimes looked at Sean as if he was some kind of bully. Sean was sound. Nice one Sean!!
Anyhoo, where the feck was I … ah, that’s right, one day Hughie, Charlie’s father really I suppose, Hughie, passed away. I can’t remember what he died from but I do remember that the Co-Op were taking care of the funeral proceedings. Charlie remembered this too as you will read.
After the burial, Charlie seemed to be obsessed with the funeral parlour. In fact, I was told that he was asked to stay away and this message was passed on to Nora.
I guess Charlie did his best to stay away, as any of us would. Bear in mind that the last time and place that Charlie had seen his dad (for that is what Hughie was, as near as dammit) was like a book mark for Charlie. No wonder Charlie became obsessed.
The story goes that one day Charlie went to the Co-Op funeral parlour and waited at the counter, patiently, to be turned away as usual. In the space of time he waited no one came to tell him to leave so he got curious. He wandered through the building, looking for the room in which he had seen Hughie’s body in the coffin. When he found the room, and the death bed, both were empty….so Charlie being Charlie climbed onto the bed and pulled a sheet over himself.
I’m guessing you can see where this story is going!
Charlie laid there for some amount of time – who can tell nor verify – and he laid there with a white sheet over his body. At some time, so the story goes, Charlie fell asleep and a member of the funeral staff entered the room. Whatever noise it was that the member of staff made, it was enough to wake Charlie. And wake he did, covered in a white sheet and talking as only a mongol could – Charlie rose from the dead and moaned mumbled words to explain himself – the story goes that the member of staff was given a couple of paid weeks off to recover!!!
To reiterate – Charlie rose up and verbalised as only he could – he sounded like a ghost, I’m told. And the poor girl who had woke our Charlie got two weeks off – and Charlie got told not to go back to that funeral parlour.
Still, as the saying goes, it could’ve been worse…