Celtic Illumination, part 40, red lights, brown paper packages and brothels.
Despite the fact that we lived under a regime of fear I managed to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. I think you will find that most Master Candle Makers will adopt this attitude towards life, whatever the consequences and at no matter which point of their apprenticeship they might be at. The staff at Violent Hell didn’t care about me and I certainly didn’t care about them. The only good thing about old schools is that they can be full of wonderful little nooks and crannies, and I did learn the valuable lesson that the best place to hide was in plain sight.
Most boys’ would go to the toilets if they wanted to miss a class. It was a nerve racking experience sitting in a cubicle hoping that no one would come in. Of course it was a simple attempt to miss a class, with a wonderful get out of jail free clause, which was that you were not bunking off you were only going to the toilet. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for the future King of Ireland to hide away in toilets so I had my very own ruse.
Not many people knew about it but Violent Hell had a photography club. I was introduced to his by the pervert priest. He actually became aware one day that I was a figure of fun at the school because I was the only boy at the school in short trousers. He turned up at the school. I shall never forget as it was a Saturday and we had just finished Saturday morning study period. As the bell, indicating the end of the study period, rang there was a mass exodus of the junior study hall. I was leaving my desk when he came in. He came up to me and gave me a plain, brown paper, wrapped, parcel.
It wasn’t my birthday and nothing special had happened for which I should be rewarded. I was so excited to open the parcel and find that it was a pair of blue denim jeans with a brown leather belt. I don’t think I took them off for the remainder of the term. He spent an hour or two with me during which he showed me the photo club. It was a very small single room, more like a cupboard, hidden away in the science block. Of course as it was a single room you didn’t want someone to open the door and let in light if you were developing a film or printing a picture so you could lock the door. Now I had my very own safe room. I could go there lock the door and know that no one could get near me.
So one day I had decided to miss a double period of something extremely boring. I was making my way to the photography club being very careful that no one followed me, or was ahead of me, and would see where I was going. Even at this very early stage of my career as a Master Candle Maker I was learning the basic skills of espionage that would stand me in such good stead in later life. I rounded the corner, pleased that I only had a matter of ten or twelve feet to go till I could enter my sanctuary, when I was halted in my tracks. The red light was on. I’m not suggesting that there was a brothel in Violent Hell, no; the red light indicated that the room was in use. I didn’t use the red light for it brought attention to the fact that someone was in there and that was the last thing I wanted to do.
I couldn’t hang around so as I was determined not to attend a boring double period, I went to the closest toilet block. I wasn’t alone. There were three other boys in the toilet. Two from Lurgan, and one from Warrenpoint. They were not from my class so we knew that there wouldn’t be a swath of empty desks in a classroom anywhere that would bring our absence to the attention of whoever was in charge. We laughed and joked and smoked a few cigarettes. Then one boy used the urinal. There was a lot of building work going on at the school so it wasn’t uncommon for all sorts of bits and pieces to be found lying about. This boy found a hack saw blade lying in the urinal. He retrieved it, washed it, and then had a good idea.