the Rambler 23/06/2000
'As I went through a guttery gap
I met my uncle Davy.
A stick up his back and a stone in his belly
Who's my uncle Davy?
(Answer: A plum).
An old man of my acquaintance was reminiscing about his school days in the nineteen twenties, and he concluded with the piece of doggerel verse quoted above (writes The Rambler).
For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with `Ulsterisms', `guttery' means muddy - very muddy.
On farms, plum trees and damson trees very often shed their fruit, of a wet summer, into a patch of mud in a gap leading into a field.
My friend recalled with nostalgia how all the school boys, or 'scholars', as they were called, shed their footwear in May and did not retrieve them until late August or September.
For many boys there was no choice because of poverty, but peer pressure forced all the pupils to follow suit.
Some hardy boy, probably a bit of a bully, would set the challenge by arriving first in the classroom barefooted and a competition ensued.
Any lad who 'chickened out' got hell.
In fact he could only remember one boy who defied all the pressure, even bullying, and manfully retained his footwear.
He was 'a mammy's boy', an only child who lived near the school with no opportunity to deposit his shoes between home and school.
Some pupils did. They left home well shod, hid their shoes and retrieved them before they headed home.
My friend was a farmer's son and his parents could have afforded to dress him in shoes, but he had his pride and was always one of first to arrive barefooted at school in May.
Since he was a farmer's son he even went barefooted after school.
Guttery gaps had to be taken in his stride, leading eventually to a trip to the pump in the yard ('street fountain' in the language of 'townies') to wash.
He recalls crippling around over pebbles, picking his steps and treading softly for the first day or two barefooted, but avers that inside a week his soles were like leather and even the thorns around farm hedges were no great problem. Nettles were.
His pet hate was the stubble left when corn crops were cut. That was 'a tarra'! But a 'crigged' toe was worse!