“She’s [grandmother] up at the crack of dawn…she would’ve went and banged doors, a rapper-upper. I’m telling you that that was what she did. She was like a mother to us, my mother, my father and grandmother all lived together, she was a wonderful woman. Just a wee two-bedroom house, no bathroom or nothing, you know about seven of us there. But we had nothing! And say, maybe we’d lie in bed about two or three weeks before we’d get our sheets changed, you know? Rough.
I love this photo of my mother, wee Annie. She was put into Windsor Park Football Ground when she was cremated. Had her ashes thrown round the net. Now my mother, God love her, she said, “Son, try and get me in the middle of them grounds, for I want them big men kicking up on me. She never got that bit. It’s all lifted now because it’s been renovated”
How was it for yourself (being gay)?
Got a bit of slaggin’, you know. My grandmother used to say to my mother, “I’ll do the windies if she’ll let me put her high heels on.” No problem. She understood, you know.
And you were tolerated around the area?
Oh aye, I’d say. I went from here to hell to help people and all, you know. I’d be down some street and they’d say, “John, c’mon sing for us!” And then people would give you an apple or an orange.
What would you have sung?
Tiddly-wink and all them, you know.
We used to go around the street collecting skins for the pigs. And we got a few pound. Potato skins and different things. And we would have went to Donegall Road and got the lend of a bike. Other times we went on the bath to swim and a young instructor called Bennie said to me, “John, come on I’ll learn you how to swim!” Biggest mistake I made. She put me on top of her shoulders and fuckin’ ducked me. And that scared the life out of me, boy. Never went into the water after that. Just really really frightened, you know?
Now, a few weeks ago I went to Avoneil, I’ve been going there after me lunch. I bring them in wee bags of taty crisps and wee cakes and stuff - costs me a fuckin’ fortune. But I enjoy, and they appreciate.
I love Sandy Row, I do aye. Boyne Square, all hours of the morning and the sun, we’re talking about sixty years ago mate, the sun was shining. People would be sitting outside their door, you could’ve left your door open.
When I was about 23-24, I had a young brother. He was an alcoholic, God love him. And he lived in Donegall Road. And I found out about the AA. Now, my own brother, he’s passed away, Sammy. He was the secretary of the Alcoholic’s Anonymous, and my wee brother called into it. I was working, bringing home wee bits and pieces home, and wee ornaments thinking this was great, but my brother lifted every one of them out. Bought drink and all with it. So I said, “enough’s enough” so I moved up to Hunter Street in Sandy Row and lived there for a while. Then I moved up again, Pembrook Street, moved up to it. And I thought, this is great. One night, I had a friend call - I thought he was a friend - but he tried to do me a bit of injury with a knife. And the wee lad next door, he heard me scream, and lucky enough I got out! The police said, “John, I’m afraid you’ll have to move out of here because we can’t come and watch over ya.” So I moved from Denver Street up to Seymour Hill where I live, and still live about fourty-odd years. I love my flat.
There’s nothing in Sandy Row mate, but I still love walking down and coming through, going to the bakery and having a bit of a yarn with the girls. Everybody knows me. Now I met a girl this morning and she’s sitting eyeing me up and I said, “are you trying to pick me up?” She says “John, do you not know me?” I said “no, oh no, I definitely don’t know you, but if you chase me I’ll give you a tenner!”
I worked for the Northern Ireland Railways and Mackie’s. Taking the greasy paper of the ball bearings. Just have to wipe my hands, couldn’t stick the oil you know. I don’t know, I had so many jobs. But I tell you what I used to love: working in Lavery’s Bar. Stag Inn. The Berkley. Remember it? Moses Hunter’s. Worked in Mosie’s as a manager. And he left me on my own in the pub. And every time they came back they ask me John, how many customers had you today? I says I couldn’t tell ye. I just enjoyed what I did. They got on my fucking nerves.
I got a job in the Stag Inn. I loved it. I left three times. And the reason why I left three times is because they were all doing wrong in it. They were stealing money. It wasn’t my scene. I was just here to do a days work and get a day’s pay.
I’ll tell you what I done every week. One staff drink a week. What did I take? Brandy and dry ginger, the dearest fucking drink I could take! But honestly, I loved the oul Stag Inn.
I remember two boys coming in one night, two farmers. I started getting a bit cheeky. Acting like, you know. And the two men looked at me. And I started wiggling the ass and all you know, I had tight trousers and all on you know. They said thanks very much but we’ll not be fucking back here again...
What did you do in the railways?
I was a Porter. We got a laugh. Do you remember the Rolling Stones? Well the Rolling Stones came one day to do a show in the Opera House. You know how they got them out? They had to walk over onto the second platform, over the floor and out the back gate to the opera house. I met Robin hood (Richard Green). What did the fucker gave me for a tip? One sixty. Shook hands and gave me one sixty.
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