Life, Living, Becoming...
Gerry Coughlan

 Shopping and schooling

My dad had had enough of blind people's work: collecting for charity and selling umbrellas and wicker baskets door-to-door.

The National Council for the Blind agreed to help him to find a shop where he could feel like a contributing member of society. They acquired a small grocery store in Bolton Street, a rough part of town full of old run-down buildings and newer high-rise council flats.

It's a child's dream to play shop for real and there I was 8 years old serving at the counter and doing my homework in the back room. On Friday nights I went to the local Boy Scout troop meeting but more of that later.

I had been at school at Larkhill in Whitehall but now I had to change schools so that I could help my dad open up and get started in the mornings before school and in the afternoons after finishing my homework.

The school was a Christian Brother's in St Mary's Place and it was quite a change for me. I went there one afternoon to have a look and see how I would fit in. First thing, I stuck out like a sore thumb; being the only one in shorts.

My classmates were a collection of streetwise kids who were born and raised on the inner city streets and I was bussed in every morning from the suburbs.

Once I'd sat on a drawing pin, talked my folks into buying me a week's supply of long trousers, my classmates taught me all the worst swear words and I settled in.

I was just the guy with the blind dad who had the shop down the road.

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