I’m Irish… the last one of the family… the youngest, you know… young, yes. My dad was self employed over there in Dublin for a time… he ended up coming to London… he came before me… he was working here in London for a number of years… self employed labouring work. I’ve been a loner most of the time… that’s what helped to keep me off the drink… I’ve been in no hurry to get mixed up with those troublesome sort of chaps… sorry my memory is a bit disrupted.
I was born in Dublin, see… born in a hostel there… I found myself being delivered up to a life on the streets from shortly after I was born. Being reared up in Liverpool by my foster mother… my other mother died. I can’t remember even seeing her. The woman that brought me up was an original born-in-Liverpool woman.
You’ll be finding a lot of people living a similar life to myself… sleeping on the streets… that sort of chap… the worst and lonely… there is a lot of them sleeping out… having visions, you know… maybe they need some help… maybe they’re not getting enough for a decent life.
I could begin from the time before I come here… I was… I was outside. I was only making money playing my music… and I’ve been going on with that now for a few years. I can play the mouth-organ fairly well, like… yes… I can play fairly well. I’ve been making good amounts of money, like… when I’ve been there, out playing… unfortunately my sight went and I couldn’t get on with it, like, you know… busking… that’s it.
There’s been two sides to the family… my father married twice, see… my mother, I haven’t even seen her at all, see… she died soon after my birth… I might have been only a few weeks old, see… I was taken over to Liverpool… to a foster-mother and her husband. The man in Liverpool, he was a kind of preacher. I have a very slight memory of it… it’s amazing… a very slight memory… a short memory of my foster mother in the house… just a picture.
Any child’s memory… boy or girl… won’t start until they’re say, three years of age. Their memory would be otherwise off… blank… the brain would be still taking shape see… developing into the way it is. My memory… my first memory… a slight memory only… like a short dream of the house in Liverpool. Then after that I went back to Dublin. By the time I was four my memory was completely developed. I can look back on those memories as clearly as today… better each passing year.
I had two lovely photographs taken, where I was reared in the home in Liverpool. They were like pieces of gold to me. I was holding the photographs for a number of years in a bag… storing them in the luggage in the railways… that was helping me to hold on to them. I was standing with the bag one day and this chap says… this is back in Dublin, “Do you know where Kildare Street is?” “Well it’s not too far. It’s actually nearby.” I put my bags down… he said, “Can you come and show me exactly where?” Well he was moving me away from the bag a yard or two… when I turned round the bag was gone… he must have had a plan… he likely knew Kildare Street better than the street he lived in. The thing is about the bag was that I had these two lovely photographs in it. I’d been carrying them with me for a long time… there was me broken-hearted with the loss of ties to the time.
My father took me back to Dublin when I was three or four. I can tell you something you might think is unusual but it’s just about the first thing I can remember… you know the saying ‘boys will be boys’… there were tenants in the house we lived… we were living on the first floor with another family on the next floor up… there was two lovely young girls see… well they came down to the room sometimes… but the funny thing is… what beats me is… looking back… how my memory can be having a sense of the whole thing so early… I don’t think you’ll enjoy listening to this but the two sisters had two brothers about their own age. One day we were out in the yard, and there was an old toilet, see… “We want you to come in here a minute,” one brother said… and they brought me in… this is terrible… they were laughing. Didn’t they have one of their sisters stripped down naked in the toilet. They already had that sense of themselves… they were only a few years older than me. I was frantic to get away. She was lying naked on the stone floor of the toilet. I think the brothers hated the sight of me, and that hate developed. My father moved from that address before it might have become dangerous.
i started school at four years of age… or five… that would be the age… so I began to go to school next door to where I lived at the time… the old fashioned slum houses… right beside me… until father moved… then I was moved on to another school… there was a moving side of my life started there. I wouldn’t have a clue to the name of the school… it’s frightening how the name of the school never got to me at all. The first school was next-door in North King Street. I left school when I was fourteen. The teachers… how they go about it… they used bamboo canes and straps… they’d be beating you more times in the day than having you learn the lessons… but I had the least of the worst of them.
There was one day in the schoolyard… we were out there playing football, see… half an hour… so the schoolmaster joins in… the headmaster it was… he tries to score a goal from one side of the yard to the other. He made one hard kick of the ball and it bounced off my blooming eye… hit me right in the damn face with the ball, see… he scored his goal all right. I might have had the loss of my eye, see. He never even sent me away off to the hospital… I was staying in the class until the end of the day… not one little bit of help. My eye was getting worse and worse… the headmaster hated the idea that he’d been involved in the accident… a risk to his job, see… my father, I told him later on and he got me off to the hospital… it was serious, see. My eye was half closed for a good amount of time after that accident. It took a few years for it to heal completely. My sight came back until a couple of years ago.
When I left school my father had one plan, for me to get a job in the Post Office. He says, as soon as you leave school I want you to get into this job. He was putting me definitely onto a good job… a post boy messenger… they used the push bikes… a big bag to hold the mail in… a bike postman for certain special addresses. I only realised what the job was like later on… you get good meals… good pay… a raincoat… and stubborn me didn’t I go against taking the job… it’s one of my, honestly, one of my biggest regrets. I was doing similar jobs… bike messengers employed by grocers. I had an old fashioned bike with a big wheel on the back and a small wheel on the front… a big square carrier in the front of it. The bike postman would have been better… I might have ended up with a job inside the Post Office… there’s not a better job to find in Dublin at the time. I wasn’t thinking right… I was scared of the examination… a word test to see if you could read the addresses. I was scared of that, see… my father, he didn’t punish me over it, see… I had no plans for the future.
I applied later on to get into the army because my other brother was in the Irish Army… a couple of years in it. He ended up murdered. It could have happened in the army but it didn’t. I failed the medical… he said, “I can’t pass you at the present time, your health is a bit on the run-down side.” It was only neglect of food and malnutrition… my father was already over in London doing deliveries and buying and selling things. Dad was sending me cheques… that was all I had… there was no work to get, see… but I was going along as best I could on my own.
I remember one time the crowds out marching… the jobless… there were thousands of them, unemployed… they all took to marching up the main street… the busiest street of all… they call it O’Connell Street… and they all got to lying down in the street… the traffic would have been coming very busily up and down even then… but then the police came in on the scene and started moving them… “You’ve got to get up”… A lot of them, “We’re not moving at all.” Eventually they were getting into a battle… the police were losing patience… they took out these mallets and started laying into the people sitting down… bashing them… I jumped up… got out of the way of it. A lot of them were getting badly hit… blood everywhere… ambulances coming in all over the place.
I seen some fights and some of them were terrible, what with the pubs and booze. The place I was living there was fighting out in the streets. There were two pubs at the corner… one at each side… nearly every night you’d hear them coming out of the pubs… shouting… bang… a punch… wallop… he goes down… a few of them would join in. I never once seen sight of a policeman… they were around but they’d be hiding themselves. I was coming up the street one night… a joining street from where I lived… and there was four chaps… it was terrible… four of them round the one in the middle… I seen one take a bottle out of his pocket and stab the one down on the ground… oh, bloody hell… imagine four of them fighting the one chap… he was lost… I can see the bottle now coming out of his pocket… he must have been in a bad way. Other fights… men hitting the ground… punches and kicks… it was going on plentiful… the wives would be screaming every night.
I saw two fellas decide to have a fight… one took his jacket off… gave it to his mate, “Here Mick, I want you to hold the jacket.” And so the fight began. Mick was holding his jacket and starts going through his pockets until he finds a few paper pound notes and he slips them in his own pocket. So when the fight was over… the one who gave his jacket wasn’t the worst of it… he knocked the other man out… he thanks Mick for holding his coat, “A pleasure”, he says. “A pleasure.” He helps him put it on… and Mick goes on his way with the other bloke’s money.
I decided on moving away… I made my own decision that provided there was enough in the cheque to pay the fare I’d be going to London… I saved and managed to hold on to a little extra money… a few extra shillings… I wrote my father a letter saying I would come over and join him… when I got to London… there was an address that I had to find where my father was staying with his son, Tommy O’Toole… my step-brother… he’d been in the war in the British Army… he liked me a lot. Tommy had been putting up my father in one room of his house… somehow he’d managed to buy his house in King’s Cross. I went over and managed to get a job in the factory not too far away… that was the first job… 1954… summertime… it was my birthday when I made the journey. I was 18 and I’d been living by myself in Dublin for near enough four years.
It seems to me that my dad was only with my brother for a short amount of time because all the time he was sending me the cheques, the return address… all written in easy block letters… was a hostel. But when I arrived in London he was back living at the brother’s address. They must have had a falling out. I lived with him for a time until the factory job finished and I decided to go my own way. From that day I’ve been on my own, living on the streets.
After the war there was a lot more sleeping out… a lot of lads. We’d be all around the railways… sleeping around the railways, see… sleeping out on the streets in King’s Cross. From streets to hostels to furnished rooms and then back on the streets. I was treated kindly enough… it wasn’t like I was pushed around or being mugged… you see I had nothing left to mug.
So it came to me then that the chaps that played music on the street made good money. I had just enough to buy one of the cheapest musical instruments… so I had to hold on without the cup of tea or the meal… I went around to a musical shop that sells mouth-organs… and he had one for five pounds… a bit less… just the five pounds I had, see… so I walked out with a mouth-organ in my hands.
I was upside down with getting myself to play music in front of all them crowds… it was having me in the head with nerves. I felt like I was standing in front of them looking like a clown in a circus, you know. I ended up playing the music anyway and I started to make a few pounds… another few pounds… and the next day and the next day… I went on from there. I was making enough to pay for a couple of meals and another few things… boots and otherwise. That’s how it is. I had a mouth-organ at the beginning as a boy… my father took me in to buy one as an amusement… a toy… but other than that the rest of the family… there was no music in us.
There was three of us brothers back home… and a sister and then also a stepbrother and sister… I had a father that married twice, see… I been the youngest of the second family… and well… one of the brothers ended up murdered… he was murdered in his home… back in Dublin this is. The police came to the door one day… I was living with my stepsister. He asked if I had a brother living at such and such an address. He gave me the right name. “He’s a murder victim.” He was still laid in the back of his house. He asked me to go down to the house to see him. That I didn’t find easy at all. When I went in he was lying on the ground with his legs all tied up… and his hands. He seemed to have been tied up before he was murdered so he couldn’t defend himself, see… he was lying there caught and covered with injuries. I wanted to go over to him but the police held me back for some reason. Next thing was I had to see him in the morgue… I wish I hadn’t had been able, he was in such a bad way, you know. They wanted to send in my sister for some reason… he was objecting to me going in… he was still my brother, like, but he didn’t want me to see the condition he was in… he was all battered around his head and face… a hammer was used on him, you know. He was with a family and it turned out one of the brothers killed him for his money. That was very sad news.
My father, eventually his heart broke down… he died in hospital soon after I came over. I had nothing, knew no- one. I started living around and around. I ended up living in a hostel not far from King’s Cross… the old Rowton Houses… they were good places. You had your own separate room with a door just like this… a bed. I was going on living rough but in between I’d be working and getting furnished rooms in lodging houses… that didn’t last too long… the jobs weren’t lasting me long… from one job to another. I’d get a room and then I’d need to leave and I’d be back in a hostel again… between sleeping out in the street. I had a very early start on the streets. I was smoking but not drinking… I don’t drink… I wasn’t caught up in the drink, see… but I’d save and then the job would be gone and if you didn’t have the money to show the owners you’d be out on the streets again and the money would go down. I never got anywhere.
I’ve been living lonely a long time… I’ve lived a loner’s life… my mother, I never knew her… my father died in London not long after I arrived… my brother was murdered. I was alone from then onwards… doing my best as best I can… because I have been… could have been… in company with some bad chaps but there it is. I’ve done my best as best I can.
I’ve wanted to get married… wanting and wanting to… and, you know, getting the money together to get married… I found it awful difficult… I’ve been with a few girls but unfortunately all at the wrong times. Besides that I had a few of these other women here in London… in the earlier times especially when they were very, very busy on the streets… you know the women on the streets… business… you go with them for a short amount of time… a fast bit of enjoyment, see… and you pay the money… so much money a time, see. I was going with an amount of them when I was still young in the ’50’s and ’60’s… I went to one flat one night, see… you had all the bells on the door, see… all the bells on the door coming down with names, see… they were sort of luminous… you could see the name… there might have been six working women in the place… upstairs and down… if you have the money you push the bell. I tried this one… I was going upstairs and somehow a girl came out… it said the woman’s name on the door… “Oh yes, she’ll be ready in a few minutes.”… I had to wait… so of course… next thing I heard footsteps coming down the stairs… down and down and down… suddenly I looked and it was an old woman at least in her seventies… I was in my twenties at the time… she comes half way down the stairs, “I’m ready now”, she says… she had grey hair… older than my grandmother… all of a sudden I was put off… “What’s wrong?” “Oh, my God! I’m sorry. I’ve got a bit mixed up”, says I. “Is it not number nine? I think I’m mixed up. I’m sorry.” “Oh, don’t you waste my time”, she says… “Get down them stairs fast.” Blast it, she was too old… I don’t mind a woman a bit older than my age but not a grandmother… oh blast it… she was too old. A whole load of men in turbans passed me on the stairs.