"I very much enjoyed reading this. He writes simply and without undue sentimentality, but it is a beautiful portrait of a time and place very distant from the experience of most of us. Well worth a look."
Says You, Says I
A Belfast Childhood
by Kenneth Patterson
Says You, Says I: a Belfast Childhood is an autobiographical account of growing up in 1940s and 50s working-class Belfast. Both poignant and irreverential, its reflections on childhood, poverty, happiness, imagination, love and escape are universal in appeal and rest upon an affectionate yet critical survey of the characters, society and habits mirrored in the streets of north Belfast where the author grew up.
Kenneth Patterson was born in Crumlin, Northern Ireland in 1942. His family moved to the New Lodge Road area of Belfast in 1945 and it was this area and community that would shape his early memories. Central to that experience was the context of living in a two-up, two-down house with four siblings, a distant father and a loving mother who provided emotional stability. Patterson’s focus falls on the worlds within worlds behind the windows that lined the street that were the epicentre of his childhood life, examining their dramas, petty conflicts, tragedies and idiosyncrasies.
The innocence and brutality of childhood friends who though often just a door away inhabited other ways of living life and responding to hardship. From easy-going, kind-hearted and naive Frank Winters with the troublesome nose, finding his first and only love in shy plain Annie, to Soldier Brown, who repaired clapped-out motorbikes but could never seem to get the brakes to work, and his eventual entry into the army to everyone’s relief.
Shopkeepers and tradesmen, some liked, some loathed, some the harbourers of dark secrets. Boxing gyms and mythical bouts that provided diverse outlets, cinemas and the life-affirming escapism that they offered to boys whose imagination was greater than the boundaries restricting them in post-war Belfast. Patterson’s scope extends to the supernatural in his retelling of the local popular legend of Slipperfoot, and the genuine terror that merely his name would evoke in children and adults alike. In a wistful and reflective tone, the book explores the moral universe in which the community and the characters that inhabited it were grounded, despite the pervading hardship that held many of them back in their attempts to live a life of dignity and purpose.
The dream factory that was the Lyceum cinema and Billy McCann’s second home, where Frankenstein frightened the life out of everyone huddled in the darkness. Suddenly dancing with Ginger Rogers did not seem so impossible before that silver screen, and the sight of Johnny Weissmuller swinging through a fake jungle caused boys to ape his escapades, fall out of trees in Belfast parks and break their arms, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of Tarzan and the chimp. Class differences loom large and places within society are known and their limitations respected.
In the book’s closing chapters, the festivities and tensions of a pre-‘Troubles’ Twelfth of July are narrated and explored, as the author’s childhood comes to its close and escape via a cinema screen is replaced by the very real exit offered by a ship and life in the Merchant Navy.
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