From the age of five years old I attended Nettlefield Primary School, a place with only a couple of hundred pupils. In this community all the kids knew each other in one way or another, be it friend or foe. Nettlefield sat in a quiet backstreet off the Ravenhill Road in Belfast. It was a school for the immediate area with no kids who were outsiders.
The pupils of Nettlefield came in all shapes and sizes. There were kids who continually wore a sticking plaster over one eye to cure a ‘lazy eye’. These poor kids went through their early school life half-blind. There were the ones who constantly had two streams of snot running from their noses. There were the kids with shaved heads to get rid of nits. The ones who smelt of wee. There were some gentle, clean looking pupils who looked like they came from respectable families. These kids formed the minority amongst the weather-beaten faces, reddened and chapped from the cold of winter. This is the place where the metal meets the meat; where nothing is expected from kids; where the forgotten ones of society live.
In Nettlefield Primary the whole school knew ‘Beezer’. He was the hard man of the school. Beezer was spoken of as being the best fighter in the school and had a legendary reputation. We heard stories of him taking on and beating up three boys at once. I was fine with this, for I knew the mighty Beezer from outside school. His mother was a hairdresser and used to style my ma’s hair once a week. This loose connection was enough to put me on the good side of the school tough guy. Therefore, I was usually free from any kids giving me hassle although I did manage to get into some scraps and scrapes along the way, Beezer or no Beezer.
One of the well known characters in Nettlefield was a boy in my third year class who operated a distribution service of dirty pictures. These were photos of ladies modeling underwear, cut out from his mother's clothing catalogues. The boy would bring his collection of sordid pictures into school to sell them in the playground during break and lunch. He traded not in hard cash but in sweets and toys. The racket ran as a true barter system;
Each day the nine year old king of pornography stood in a corner of the playground with a crowd of other boys around him ogling at the various pictures of very conservative middle-aged women standing in girdles, braziers, pants, stockings and suspenders. Like a market stall trader the boy would haggle with the other kids over the prices;
Customer: "I'll give you two Black Jacks and three Midget Gems for that picture."
Trader: "No way! Two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems!"
Customer (after deep thought): "Alright, two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems… but you're a robbin' shite."
Trader : "Business is business my friend…”
...and off I went with my picture, drooling all over it, and off went the boy who sold dirty pictures, with his pockets stuffed with sweets and trinkets of all kinds - a true entrepreneur who knew at the age of nine years old, where the market for a successful business lay.