Although my mum was brought up a Catholic and went to a convent school, and my dad was Church of England, my brother, sister and I weren’t baptized and from an early age I had a healthy distrust for any form of religion, as epitomised by the tedious assemblies at school where we were pressganged into the tuneless singing of modern hymns such as “You in Your Small Corner” and “Morning Is Broken”, as well as more traditional favourites like the frankly scary “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and “The Lord of the Dance” (“I danced in the morning till the sky turned black/It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back” was a particularly nightmarish line).
However, my sister and I, for a brief period, regularly went with the Carlins to attend mass at the Catholic church in Ormiston, a village a few miles from home. It took place in what seemed like someone’s living room and there was a definite air of the undercover about it. We stifled a smirk as the eldest Carlin boy shook the smoking samovar and rang a bell, silly in his surplice; and counted the moments till it was over so we could get out of there. The only reason for going through this? The chance to spend our pocket money at the best sweetshop for miles around, with jars and jars of sherbet lemons, and chocolate éclairs, and cola bottles, and pineapple cubes, and pear drops, all available by the quarter pound in little white paper bags.