Celtic Illumination, part 312, The green, green, grass of home.
One of the hardest things in life is perhaps knowing when, if at all, you should give up. In the armed forces we were constantly encouraged to give that last, final, push, always, so it wasn’t really in my nature to admit defeat. There is one survival training course that aircrew must undertake where they are shown exactly where their breaking point is. So if you are captured you know what is going to happen and the point where you will give them a little more than just your name, rank and number. You are always given one week’s leave afterwards so that the bruising would disappear. Most people looked at the media images of Flt Lt’s Peters and Nichol, when they had been captured and tortured by the Iraqi’s, and felt sorry for them as the brutality they had suffered was quite obvious. Many of us knew it wasn’t the first time they had been through that situation and that they had been well trained and knew exactly what to do.
As for little old me, I suppose I was constantly being trained and pushed, having my confidence and sanity tested in the extreme. As the double top secret cabal were training me to take up my role as King of Ireland, the leader of The Illuminati and quite possibly, eventually, the leader of the free world, they decided to take my training to another level. I was to be put on the world stage, not in the spotlight, but in a position where world events would now affect me, directly. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against the writer Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. I’m sure if the Ayatollah knew that his fatwa would directly affect me he would have rescinded it, as no one messes with an Irishman and gets away with it, especially the King of Ireland. Rushdie’s publisher was Viking and they now decided that they couldn’t afford to publish any new authors that year as all their spare money was now to be used for improving their security system because of the fatwa. My book deal and my editor vanished into the either.
Despite the fact that I knew most of my family would be overjoyed with this news, because now I could get a proper job, I decided that it was time to show young Master Charles, Ireland. Tony, he of the bent mortgage, still popped in to the cadets now and again and offered to drop me at the ferry terminal at Stranraer if I wanted. He had an appointment in Glasgow and as Stranraer wasn’t that far away, at least it didn’t look too far on a map, he would drop me at the ferry. Charles was eighteen months old so any help along our journey was appreciated. The journey to Glasgow was uneventful as was the forty minute wait in the car outside as Tony sold the fellow inside whatever it was that he peddled. It was the journey to Stranraer where things got interesting. It’s easy to look at a route on a map and calculate how long it might take you to complete the journey. Glasgow to Stranraer on any map would look as if two hours would be sufficient time to complete the journey.
What you haven’t calculated is small twisting roads and every Sunday driver in Scotland coming out for the day, to look at the sea and to see how slow they could drive while doing it. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre is often used to encourage people to drive safely, I think on this journey it was more of mileometer, speedometer, watch. Once we had the ferry port in sight I am sure we got airborne once or twice as we, well Tony tried, all I could do was sit and hope, as we tried to catch the ferry before it sailed. We did, just in time and I do remember jogging toward the ship with a rucksack on my back, child in my right arm, bag in my left, as if the final whistle is about to sound and I am about to attempt to score the winning try. The fellow at the end of the gangplank insisted on inspecting my ticket, which I produced and gave to him. I’ll never forget that he asked, in a thick Scottish accent, “Aff te Paddy land then.” Had it been a rugby match, I might have boxed his ears for him, but with the ferry crew waving at me to come on I stepped on board and wished the fellow a long and happy life, or words to that effect.
In Larne I was quite surprised to find staff who actually helped me with my bags and settled Charles and myself on the train to Belfast. I am not in any way comparing the Scots and the Irish, just saying what happened. In Belfast I went over to the bus station which is next door to the train station. It is also next door to the Europa Hotel, famous for being the most bombed hotel in Europe as it had suffered twenty eight bomb attacks. Not wanting to experience bomb attack number twenty nine I took young Master Charles off to show him Belfast City Hall. It was getting dark and I actually became a little wary as I walked along, through the centre of Belfast. The deep shadows and the passing army patrols didn’t help. I don’t think I had ever felt like that before in Belfast, perhaps I had never been concerned about my own safety whereas now I was responsible for Charles. I went back to the bus depot, feeling a little safer in the bright lights, despite the fact that we were still in the shadow of the Europa.
It was nice to be sitting on the bus as it pulled away and headed for Newry. Unfortunately there was a fellow seated on the bus, who wasn’t seated just because he was a passenger, but because he couldn’t stand. The fellow was rotten drunk, a state that people like Clancey, Lort and Browne have tricked me in to many times over the years. I didn’t object to the fellow being drunk but the fact that he had selected me as the person he was going to chat to all the way to Newry. It had been a long old day for Charles and he was nodding off in a makeshift nest I had made for him on the seat next to me. I didn’t want to communicate with the drunk, as I didn’t want to disturb Charles, but at the same time I didn’t want the other passengers on the bus knowing my business. As politely as I could, I asked the drunk to keep his voice down as I didn’t want to disturb my son. As you all know drunks can take this one of two ways, well; there’s probably a lot more ways they can take it, but you know he will either stop talking or he will start arguing.
This fecker started arguing but, at the request of some of the other passengers, the driver stopped the coach and came back to warn the drunk that if he persisted, he would be thrown off at the next bus stop. By this point we were somewhere around the Loughbrickland area, pretty much the middle of nowhere, so I was pleased to see that he took the drivers advice and settled himself down for the remainder of the journey. I did manage to glance at him once or twice, hoping that he would have fallen asleep, but instead he looked as if he were seething with rage. I hoped my transport would be waiting for me at the Mall in Newry as I would like to get away from this fellow as quickly as possible. Rather than contact the good ol boys, I had telephoned Pat, my old girlfriend, and asked her to pick us up in Newry. Thankfully she was waiting for me and we skipped out of Newry before the drunk had managed to get himself off the bus.
It was nice to get back home to Warrenpoint, and as Tom Jones once sang, the old town looked the same, but then it was dark. Charles was kidnapped by his grandmother so I wandered off ‘down the street,’ as they say, to have a well-earned beer and meet up with some of the good ol boys. There was no point in trying to find Phelim as he would be moving from pub to pub, hoping that no one was keeping a tally on the amount of vodka he was hoovering down his neck. I knew it would be best to choose one pub and stay there. The word would go out and the good ol boys would find me. I went to Bennetts and was surprised to see a couple of fellows that I knew, propping up the bar. In England I had been rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Duke of Norfolk, the Poet Laureate, I had even been, tentatively, connected in with Salman Rushdie and the Ayatollah Khomeini. So it will come as no surprise to you for me to say that I now found myself standing at the bar, in Bennetts, having a beer with an IRA gunman, Brendan, my old friend from Warrenpoint had just been released from prison after serving twelve years for murder. As you may expect I had one or two questions I wanted to ask Brendan, but first and foremost I needed to know why his father blamed me for him joining the IRA and ending up inside?