It was only slowly that I became aware of the power of swear words. It was a gradual thing, a creeping realisation that blossomed into full comprehension round about my second or third year at grammar school. I heard bigger boys or ones from rough homes using these special, explosive, forbidden expressions, and once the realisation of their power dawned I knew that swearing was a thing I wanted to be intimately involved in.
Once I had got the most powerful obscenities straight in my head I came home from school determined to try out their effect on my mother. Full of excitement, I sat at the dining table in the living room. Molly put my evening meal in front of me, but instead of eating it I said, ‘I … I … I don’t want that. It’s … it’s … it’s fucking shit!’ Then I sat back, waiting to hear what kind of explosion it would prompt. After all, I conjectured, if the bathroom sponge going missing for a few seconds could prompt a screaming fit from my mother, a paroxysm of grief that might involve weeping and howling and crying out to the gods of justice, then me saying ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ was bound to provoke a tremendous reaction that would be heard at the back of the Spion Kop.
For a short while nothing happened as Molly considered what I had said in a calm and reflective manner. Then finally she said, ‘I don’t care if you eat it or not … but it’s not fucking shit and if you don’t fucking eat it I’m not going to fucking make you anything fucking else so you can fucking go and get your own fucking food in some other shit-fucking place you fucking little bastard shit fuck.’
After that day Molly rarely spoke a sentence without an obscenity in it, and I was often too embarrassed to bring school friends home because I was worried about them being offended by my mother’s foul language.
And once they had finished buying old overcoats and worn out socks the Lascars could come to our stall and purchase copies of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done?, Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy or Stalin’s History of the CPSU.
The stall itself had been made from an oak door that somebody had salvaged from a building site and was incredibly heavy — it took four of us to carry it the half-mile from the Simon Community hostel where it was stored. We didn’t know anybody who had a car. However, once we had put it up, Liverpool being the sort of place it was the stall did a reasonable amount of trade — better than some of the others that only seemed to sell twisted wire, broken fish tanks and rusted-up fuel pumps. There would always be some little old bloke in a flat cap coming up to us and saying, ‘Ere, son, do you have Friedrich Engels’ The Holy Family, the critique of the Young Hegelians he wrote with Marx in Paris in November 1844?’
‘No, but we do have Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.’
‘Naww, I’ve already got that.’
‘Make a lovely Christmas present for a family member.’
‘Eh, I suppose you’re right there. Give us two copies then, son.’