Minger`s Tale by R.B.N. BookmarkPublisher: Create Space (Mar 18, 2016)
Category: Satirical Biography, Humor, Memoir
Tour Date: Mar & Apr, 2017
Available in: Print & ebook, 278 Pages
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British slang definition: “ A minger is a male or female who fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.” A Minger`s Tale is not so much of a biography, but more of a “Boyography”. It is a humorous account of growing up in the back streets of Manchester, England during the 1960`s and 70`s. “Do pastures greener exist for the colour blind –and how would they ever know? This is the conundrum Bookmark is faced with and the results are akin to a dog looking for a lamp post in a blackout. Bookmark does indeed find some of lifes lamp posts, but more often than not he just winds up getting his feet wet.
Ribban recalls the changing face of post-war Manchester
…..& how not to milk a cow!
We were still living in Ardwick Green. Our house was now one of only a couple on the street that were lived in. The demolition crews were in full swing, and it felt as if we were living in the blitz whenever we stepped outside or looked out the window—just rubble and desolation where once there was a street and a flourishing community. It was a very depressing environment.
Each day children who lived in the nearby streets that were also earmarked for demolition would get into stone fights. The whole environment had a Mad Max feel about it. Our daily weather forecast was one of scattered showers, making way for bricks, and stones later in the day. Not the sort of weather prognosis you get on the BBC. A steady stream of stolen and burnt-out cars were dumped in the area. It had become a squalid place to live. Manchester City Council and the city developers did more peacetime damage than the German War Machine could ever have achieved.
Every morning I’d empty out the beetles and cockroaches before putting my shoes on. It was impossible to keep the vermin out when our house ended up the only inhabited one that was left on the street. While I was emptying the beetles out of my shoe, I’d play a game. I’d call them names in a fake Liverpool accent: “There goes John; out you come, Paul; don’t be shy, George; and c’mon, Ringo.” But these beetles never really split up—it was more like they splat up.
Water often leaked in from the empty houses on either side of us, but what we were most afraid of was the scrap metal thieves stealing lead piping from the gas mains.
My time at Holy Name R.C. Infants School was at an end, and after the summer holidays I would be starting at my new school, this would be St. Ignatius secondary modern school for boys—I chose the school because I thought Ignatius was a wicked name. Ignorance I find is the perfect year-round holiday destination. I’ve been there many times.
That summer of August 1969, my parents sent me on holiday with my mum’s two sisters Aileen and Bernadette to the west coast of Ireland to visit relatives. We took the boat over from Holyhead to Dun Laoghrie. It was quite late at night when we arrived by train in Dublin, and the only place we could find to stay was a ramshackle sleazy but cheap hotel hidden away in one of Dublin’s backstreets. The room was large, with four beds. I had my own bed, while my aunties shared one. The other two beds were occupied by two women, total strangers! My aunties slept lightly that night, not knowing who or what was in the next bed.
At breakfast, I could see the cook through the open kitchen hatch frying bacon and eggs with a cigarette in his mouth—“I like my egg over and easy, yes, I take milk in my tea. One lump of ash for me, please!”
As we left the hotel and walked into town, I was able to see Dublin in the light of day. It’s a big city with a lot of history, but back then it always struck me as such a sad place. In the city centre, it was hustle and bustle. I had been told to watch out for the Dublin buses when crossing the road. “They stop for nothing,” I had been warned, so every crossing felt like we were dicing with certain death.
Outside, it was teeming with rain. We had stopped off at the General Post Office on O’Connell Street to send a postcard to England: “Having a great time, weather is lovely, see you soon,” etc etc. The post office is an impressive Georgian building in the heart of Dublin and was the scene of the Easter Rising of 1916.
“Ribban, mind you don’t get rain water on the card and smudge the writing,” said Aunty Aileen as she handed me a pen to sign my name at the bottom of it.
We passed by Nelson’s Pillar, or what was left of it. It had been blown up some months previously, so all that remained was rubble, and the site was now cordoned off awaiting demolition. That was one in the good eye for Nelson, I suppose you could say.
Before leaving Dublin my aunties stopped off at a pub to buy a bottle of whiskey as a present for my grandfather. Little did they know, I would later make inroads into that bottle of whiskey during my stay.
My grandfather owned a large farm in County Mayo stocked with dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, and sheep. For me this was a new universe awaiting exploration, the overwhelming smell of grassy fields scattered with cow pats and the sound of animals. No doubt about it, I loved it.
When I got up for breakfast in the morning, one of my aunties would make me porridge. I hate porridge with an unbridled devotion, but then she added sugar and the special ingredient—a spoonful of whiskey. “I love porridge,” said the red-faced eleven-year old sat at the breakfast table.
My day started with egg hunting. Straight after breakfast I’d be in the hen house lifting up the hens to see if there was an egg. I did this every twenty minutes or so until I either lost interest or the hens barricaded the hen house door. Somehow I doubt if I was good for production.
Then it was on to the pigs. I could never work out why pigs have a curly tail, so I would chase after the smaller ones and attempt to straighten out theirs. I met with no success in that department. By the time I’d finished, my grandfather had the only piglets in Ireland sporting reef knots.
Grandfather was very old back then, and it was his children who ran the place for him. My uncles even let me have a go at milking a cow by hand. The cow (and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way) was a disaster, and I narrowly missed a flying hoof. Maybe my hands were a bit cold, even sticky from all the sweets I’d eaten. From that day on, whenever she saw me, she’d give me a leery look when walking past, as if to say “hands off” while swinging her udders to and fro—almost taunting me to “come and have another go, you little fecker.”
“No way, José,” I whispered to myself.
My uncles had a peculiar but effective way to stop grown calves suckling milk from their mothers. They would locate the nearest cow pat (no GPS needed there, just follow your nose, or better still, look under your shoes), take a stick, cover the end of it with dung and then smear the poor calf’s mouth with it. It worked a treat. They were saving money on milk and recycling crap in the process.
The farmhouse was an old thatched cottage with a big open fireplace, which was for cooking and hot water. Bedding arrangements were cramped, so it was a case of me sharing a bed with one of my uncles. He’d be up at the crack of dawn to go to work, and then be back later to start working on the farm.
On Sundays it was church time, and no exceptions, everyone had to attend.
As bad as people claimed I was and given that my soul must be as black as the devil’s arse, one would have thought I’d burst into flames upon entering a church.
But no, not even a case of sunburn?
Oh and one can forget about bribing the priest into saying a quicker mass. Everything was done by the book—the good book.
We cycled some four miles into the village. The church was quite modern, but there was a very obvious pecking order once inside. The women and children sat in the pews at the very front of the church, the first five or so. The men sat right at the back. The reason for this became apparent when Mass was over. The men had disappeared across the road to the post office that doubled as the village pub and supermarket. My aunties and I would cycle back to the cottage on our own.
Back on the farm, my aunties were worried about me going out into the fields alone. They thought this little figure with bright red hair would scare the cattle and maybe even provoke them into an attack. So whenever I went out, Butch the sheepdog would be by my side to ward off the cattle, especially the one I mentioned earlier. The farm had two dogs, Butch and Tiny. Tiny was not a sheepdog like Butch, but something in between. I was never able to make out what the breed was, but he was called Tiny after Tiny Tim (“Tiptoe through the Tulips” and all that). The two dogs didn’t see eye to eye, and the only way round it was for them to take it in turns locked up in the barn—Tiny by day and Butch by night.
Butch was an old dog and a little vindictive. I realised this when he stretched out his paw to me on one occasion to shake hands, only for him to lunge forward and attempt to bite my hand. To bite the hand that shakes the paw isn’t a good sign.
The cottage was over a hundred years old, so there were no mod cons apart from the radio. There weren’t any toilets. When Mother Nature called, one had to go out into the fields, find a nice secluded spot, and do the business. Coming from the city, I was very inept at this, and one day my uncles gave me a telling-off because I’d dumped under some steps to an adjoining field and one of them had found it the hard way. They were not pleased at all! After that, an old garden shed was used as an improvised toilet for us city dwellers. It had a nonflush bucket in the middle of the floor.
The farm had a small pond with a white duck. One day the duck was nowhere to be seen. It’s hard to explain to a child the ways of the real world, and it was upsetting to find out I had probably eaten the poor thing and never realised it. But I’ve never forgotten one of my aunties killing a chicken, breaking its neck, and the chicken running around for a minute or so before dying. It horrified me, and certainly put me on the road to being a vegetarian in later life—although it took a while, as I’ve always liked my mum’s burnt steak. No one burns steak like my mum.
The cottage’s open fireplace was kept lit by burning turf, cut from a peat bog some miles away. My uncles took me out one day to the peat bog in the horse and cart (that and bicycles were the mode of transport at the time). They even let me drive the horse and cart out onto the road. I almost took out a gatepost while manoeuvering the horse out of the farm—there was no servo steering! My uncle let fly with a few Gaelic expletives before taking back the reins.
After we’d cut the turf and loaded up the cart, my uncle made us a cup of bog tea, which is tea made from peat water. A better cup of tea you will never taste. It’s funny how small things stick in your mind even after so many years.
Very early on during my time there, I was told not to speak to strangers—my uncles or aunts would speak to them in my place. The Troubles were in full swing, and even a child with an English accent might warrant some unwanted attention. How do you explain that to an eleven-year-old?
My time in Ireland was drawing to a close, and it would soon be time to return to England and start at my new school. This would be my last visit to Ireland as a child; the next time I would be back would be under unhappier circumstances some thirty years later.
Praise Minger`s Tale by R.B.N. Bookmark“Have you ever had a “bad” day, I mean a day where the world seems to be lining up to give you a swift kick, or maybe toss a pie in your face? Welcome to Ribban’s life. R.B.N. Bookmark’s tongue-in-cheek, witty and sometimes painful, A Minger’s Tale. Everything in Ribban’s life is NOT one big joke or one-liner, far from it, but it is in the manner in which this author uses his light-hearted hindsight that we find humor in the painful moments of self-doubt, self-recrimination and even the sense of knowing he does not fit in. Feel the frustration, and be amazed at the resiliency of one boy who keeps trying to move forward through the maze that is life. One of the most purely entertaining books I have read, because everyone has a story to tell, some are just quirkier than others.”-Dianne, Tome Tender Book Blog
“Bold is how I would describe this book in one word. It is the voice of a man who felt he needed to be heard and that his story was every bit as valuable as that of any celebrity. Honesty shines through in abundance, along with a lack of apology for the tone of the book, which is every bit the way a bloke down the pub would talk to you, fusing nostalgia with humour. A Minger’s Tale a refreshing read, and a story well-worth hearing.”- Benjamin Francis Cassidy, Humanity Hallows
“Even from the title you get an idea that this book leans on the side of deadpan during an underdog story, in essence it is a deliciously honest and positively told autobiography lit by hilarious anecdotes and dazzling insight. A Minger's tale is an insight into the frustratingly mundane and difficult side of the trials of one man desperately seeking improvement through tough times on the breadline of England 1970s. It is amazing to see that this is Bookmark’s first book, there is undoubtedly much more to come, and after reading this awesome first book I’ll be the first in line. A Minger’s Tale is an honest account, from an honest gentleman, who has lived. I guarantee this is a star who will shine bright in the near future.”- Martin Skate, Author of ‘Start Right Here’ & ‘The Spike Collection’
About R.B.N. Bookmark
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