At the orphanage the boys never knew what year it was. They
never knew what month it was, except when it was December.
They knew it was December because the refectory was decorated
a little for Christmas. The only time the boys knew what date it
was, was when one of the nuns told any of them it was their
birthday the next day.
The day before the 25th of July 1932, John had been told by one
of the nuns that he would be seven years old the next day.
John woke up earlier than usual on the 25th and, though his
first thoughts were usually about the poor wet-beds, his first
thought was that he would get a visitor next visitors' day.
While John was fantasizing over what he might get as a
present, the nun who was on morning duty in John's
dormitory, came in and went over to the left side of the large
dormitory to wake up the wet-beds. They were always woken
up first in all the dormitories, because, first they had to be
punished by having to stand by their beds while the other boys
got dressed, and then to be taken down to the large bathroom
and be put under the cold showers until all the other boys had
finished washing. This happened in summer and winter.
Later on John came to believe that there must be a special
guardian angel for wet-beds because none of them died while he
was at the orphanage.
John thought the other boys were cruel because they always
teased the wet-beds, especially in winter when they really
used to shiver and gave the boys something to mimic.
Everything that the boys did was done within the walls of the
orphanage. There were always well over one hundred boys
at the place from four years of age to fourteen.
Visitors' day was the first Sunday of every month. After the
midday meal any boy who thought he was likely to get a visitor
went to the bathroom to be tidied up. They were then taken to
a ground-floor class room facing the drive-in. On average ten
boys expected to get a visitor, and some were always dis-
appointed. John had been going forward for the last two years,
but had never had a visitor.
Sister Catherine was on play-ground duty after the Sunday midday
meal. John made his way to her hoping to get some definite
information regarding a visit from his mother. He could not
remember ever having seen his mother or father, and he had no
real idea what these two words actually meant; and the term
'father' never entered his head in relation to himself. When he
thought of getting a visitor, it was only his mother he thought
of. He didn't see anything unusual in this. And he
didn't see anything unusual in the fact that he and all the
other boys lived in the very large buildings of the orphanage and
other boys lived outside in smaller buildings. He did not know
that they lived with their parents, that they lived the normal
Sister Catherine was being pestered by some boys asking her:
"Can I go to number one, St." Or: "Can I go to number two,
St." The term 'St' was an abbreviation of 'Sister', and was
pronounced as the st in station. The boys never asked could
they go to the 'toilet'. Number one meant passing water, and
number two meant opening the bowels. When the boys played in
the outside play-ground they used the open toilets in one of
the corners of the one thousand square-yard, concreted play-
ground. The cubicles were separated from each other by a four-
foot high partition.
When Sister Catherine was finally alone John went up to her and
said: "It's my birthday this month. My mother is coming to see
me today, isn't she, Sister?"
"I do hope so, John. I really do," she answered. She knew
with near certainty that John would not get a visitor.
"I've never seen my mother," said John in his high-pitched
voice, as he looked up at her.
"She will come today - she must come today," he continued with
desperation: "She'll bring me something nice."
Such remarks were arrows to Sister Catherine's sensitive soul.
She looked down at his up-turned face, so pale and pleading,
his eyes squinting. How small he is, she thought.
"I'll pray to Our Lady to send you a visitor," she said. When
John turned to leave she took out her rosary and began to chant
the Hail Mary.
Any advantages John might have had due to being small were far
out-weighed by the debit side of life's dealings. It was
inevitable that the smaller boys would be chosen to bear the
brunt of the cruelty of the older boys. Some of the smaller
boys regularly had half their food swiped from their plates at
meal times. Those older boys who were endowed with the gift of
opportunism would place themselves either in front of or behind
a selected victim so as to be the more advantageously
positioned in the refectory. Pity the boy whom Nemesis in her
discrimination had placed him between two of these vultures.
There was always one nun present at meal times. The boys would
file in and fill the tables on the right side of the refectory
first, and then the left side. Grace would be said with all
the boys standing in his place with the food already served
on plates before them.
The nun would then clap for the boys to sit down and start
their meal. The noise in the refectory was always at its
loudest in the few seconds following the second clap which was
the signal for permission to speak. Those who were found
talking before the second clap ran the risk of losing their
meal. The time from the first clap to the second clap was a
period of respite for the small boys, for none of the bigger
boys would risk being caught stealing food during this period
of easy detection and possibly lose his meal. The small boys
hoped the period would be long, and the vultures cursed it if
it was. Immediately the second clap sounded, the vultures grab-
bed some food from the plate of the smaller boy. It was useless
for the smaller boys to complain for they would not be heard
above the commotion. All they did was cry.
At one o'clock Sister Catherine blew her whistle for the boys
to form four files. They were then led into the refectory.
At one thirty they were led out to the play-ground again with
Sister Anthony on duty. At two o'clock she blew her whistle
just once. This was the signal for those boys who were
expecting a visitor to go to the bathroom. John and six
other boys went forward.
Visiting hours were from two thirty to five. When the boys had
been tidied up they were taken to the usual class-room on the
ground floor. From here they could see the drive-in. They
were always left unattended and, as was usual, total silence
reigned. The anticipated disappointment of not getting a
visitor took away their speech. But not silent speech for, if
the situation had been purposely devised to teach the art of
earnest prayer, it succeeded admirably. If prayers were made
of snow there'd have been a snow storm in that class-room the
first Sunday of every month. Fervent Hail Mary's left their
aching hearts with that intensity of which only such
children are capable:
"Hail Mary, full of grace . . . please, please send her
today. I'll promise anything; just send her, please."
For the first half an hour John occupied himself with these
devotions, oblivious of the other boys, his hands clasped
together. The knuckles became white as he gripped them tight
in an endeavour to supplement his prayers. His eyes were
closed so tight that he saw flashing lights of all shapes and
colours. Then, instead of the lights he saw a hill form itself
in the distance. A lamb appeared on the top and began run-
ning down the hill towards him.
"Not now! Not now! Go away, go away . . . the Lord is
with thee, blessed art thou amongst women. Holy . . . "
Suddenly one of the boys let out a shout as he saw the couple
enter the drive-in. In his haste to get to the door he fell
over. All the other boys looked out onto the drive-in in the
hope that he had made a mistake. He hadn't.
During the first two hours all the boys received visitors
except John. At a quarter to five Sister Catherine came in and
gently suggested it was now too late for any visitor to come.
She gently eased him away from the window and led him out to
the play-ground. John saw one of his mates across the far side
of the ground and started to make his way over to him. He was
about half way across when the Diamond brothers, both thirteen
years old, and their cronies, started to tease him about not
getting a visitor. John pushed past the gathering crowd and ran
over to the outside toilets. He pushed open the swing door of
one of them and sat down on the bowl. He started to cry.
With his elbows on his knees he placed his face in his cupped
hands. "I hate you! I hate you!" he shouted. John was so
taken up with his fuming that he did not hear the swing doors
on each side of him open. He then heard someone sniggering,
and realised too late its significance for, as he rushed to get
out of the cubicle, two streams of piss from the Diamond
brothers hit him on the head and shoulders.
With tears mingled with piss streaming down his face: "I hate
you! I hate you!" he screamed, rushing out into the
A week later John was moved over to the left side of his
dormitory - to the section reserved for the wet-beds.