55 Celtic Illumination, part 55, vodka, a ferry and the French Foreign Legion.
Yes, being treated as adult was nice but, as you might expect, this wouldn’t last for long. Our exam results were out, and we had to make the obligatory telephone calls home. It wasn’t that we wouldn’t want to speak to our parents but it was the same questions they would ask all the time. Are you staying out of trouble, are you getting enough to eat, are you going to church every Sunday? Finbar, who was a very clever fellow indeed, in fact he still is he’s quite an important and successful doctor in Belfast. Finbar passed every exam he had looked at whereas I had only passed the important ones, maths, physics, English and the like.
I remember that day well, we had to decide how we were going to return home. We opted for the Heysham boat train. We didn’t want to go near Heathrow in case the British airways staff noticed us and demanded we pay for the flight that brought us there. On our last day in London Finbar went to visit his brother and say his farewells I however went into central London for one final look around. I was just wandering along Oxford Street when I saw something that made me stop.
I was a creature of impulse. I had the loveliest legs in Ireland; I was to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and the future King of Ireland. I waited for a break in the traffic and began to cross Oxford Street. Sod going home, sod Warrenpoint, I was going to join the air force.
Unfortunately the air force let me down. I had hoped that by that afternoon or the very next day, at the least, that I would be flying spitfires over East Anglia. No, first of all there was the paperwork, and then there was the testing and interviews. This process would take one week and then there was the fact that I wasn’t eighteen years old, I needed my parents’ permission to join. Now why they couldn’t have been like the French Foreign Legion I shall never know. At that time you could walk into any French police station and state that you wanted to join the French Foreign Legion. You would be offered a seat and within a couple of hours you would have been collected and brought to a central point from where you would be taken and enrolled into the French Foreign Legion. Perhaps this is why my sister was always being allowed to go to France and I wasn’t.
There was nothing for it but to return to Ireland and Warrenpoint. I would say that the train and boat journey was uneventful but it wasn’t. We were both steaming drunk. Finbar and I decided that we might need some refreshments on the train journey which would have been a good five or six hours so we bought two bottles of vodka and a packet of crisps. I do get certain flash backs of a belter of a party on the train.
At Heysham we had to go through the normal police and custom checks. Our bags were thoroughly searched for with long hair and flared jeans it was quite obvious we were drugs dealers. We were both cleared through customs yet couldn’t resist taunting the customs men that they had missed. We had removed the batteries from our transistor radios and filled the space with marijuana.
Customs men or police didn’t worry us. We knew that the IRA shot drug dealers so bring drugs into the country, even small amounts for your own use was quite a dangerous thing to do. At the time it was widely accepted that the IRA were decent fellows who were protecting the local population by eradicating the drug trade. Of course what we were not aware of was the fact that the IRA wanted to control the drug trade and couldn’t have cared less about the morals of the local population.
Finbar and I parted in Newry; I made my way to Warrenpoint and once again dragged myself up the Bridal Loanan. As far as I was concerned my life had changed. I didn’t have to go back to Violent Hell, the air force was processing my application, and life was good. My father had a different idea though. They gave me a day or two to settle in and then one meal time cornered me.
“What’s your plans for the future?”
“I’ve joined the air force,” said I, pleased that I had trumped their straight flush.
“But when are you going?”
“I don’t know. They are processing my paperwork.”
“And what are you going to do until then?”
“I’ll sign on as unemployed,” I claimed.
My father became furious, I mean really furious, even more than when I had been expelled, both times. “No one in this family has ever been unemployed and you are most certainly not going to be the first!” Suddenly I could feel that any progress I had made was being taken away. “You will go to school, you will continue with your education, you will become either a pilot for Air Lingus or a dentist and I will help you!”
I think the double top secret cabal that were organising my training to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker had bugged the kitchen area of our house with listening devices and my reply to dads statement would show how far I had come. I couldn’t reply, what could I say? Although I did try. I reminded him that Violent Hell wouldn’t take me back.
No problem says he. First thing Monday morning you are to go to Newry Technical College, see the principle and ask him for permission to attend his school. And I did. On the Monday morning I took myself into Newry, went to the technical college and waited to see the principal. I asked him if I could attend his school and study A levels. He said yes. I couldn’t believe it.
I know you will probably think me a bit of a nerd but I actually liked and still like working out a complicated mathematical equation. There is a certain satisfaction which I find hard to explain. I loved the English language and literature so lapped up the work they gave me. I followed other courses too but settled into the routine quickly enough.