Belfast Thrills

Excellent thriller, 71. Set in Belfast at that date, its on one level a dirty old town version of Black Hawk Down. A squaddie is cut off, the Army,its  undercover squad.the Provisional and Official IRA, the Police and the UDA all have an agenda.  And the violent dance reaches its finale  on the various floors of the once  notorious Divi flats. Great.

It brought back the often forgotten fact that  I lived through this small war. London was after all the  subject of bombs, bomb threats, drive by shootings, security clamp down, disrupted transport and the rest for twenty five years. Only recently have the bins  been put back on the underground.

Ironically I started off as a sympathiser and actually in 1971 went to Dublin to visit a girl and l to try and find work. Having failed miserably to get a white collar job(and with the girl) after a month I resorted to applying for a job as a security guard. My friends in the pub told me that it was just a question of turning up. When I got there they asked me how could they be sure I was not a member of the UDA. I was on the next ferry home

During the early 70s I had briefly   a  job as a supply teacher in Tottenham. Explaining the  situation in Northern Ireland to a class of D stream 16 year olds one question has stuck. The lad asked “If we give them back Northern Ireland will they give us back Paddington?”

One of my first jobs in journalism around 1974 was writing advertorial features for Estates Times. They wanted  someone to do one on Northern Ireland. A rust bowl anyway, the NI Executive was despite the bombs was trying to drum up investment.(De Lorean resulted). Any way on the basis that I might bet killed I managed to negotiate a £30 bonus over my normal fee!

Ulster was a  dump. What hadnt been blown up was  falling down. Yet the people had really put the boat out for me so I was desperate to try and say something positive. The last part of call before the  flight home was the Bushmills Distillery. I got there early, was well away when lunch started and by the time I was on the plane felt that Northern Ireland was  the most exciting investment opportunity in the world!

And so it went on. The drive by Balcombe Street gang meant that on many nights(1975) the police totally swamped London with road blocks. We were coming back from a party. Our driver the legendary John Richardson saw a road block at the end of  Pall Mall. Did a U turn into St James Square and before you could say Up the Provos we were surrounded by very serious policemen piling out of  Black Marias, all carrying machine guns. Ooops. Luckily it didn’t end in tears just an expensive taxi  ride home.

But my family had a very serious connection with the troubles. My legal father,my dad, was the Court of Criminal Appeal’s Registrar. The equivalent of an under secretary. Master Thompson prepared the papers and ran the show. The British  legal  establishment was  severely embarrassed by the false imprisonment and appeal denials of the Birmingham and Woolwich  suspects. On retirement  Dick Thompson  did not receive the obligatory  knighthood that had honoured all his predecessors , for him it was the lesser CBE. He was convinced  until his death that it was the Birmingham Seven which had demoted his  honour.  Last year I met Chris Mullin  the Sunderland MP who had spearheaded the release of the men. I told him my father’s story. He  couldn’t have cared less. Why should he?

At Chelsea soccer games because of the same colours there was a big Glasgow(Protestant/Hun) Rangers sympathy. No Surrender to the IRA was a common chant from the terraces.

AS it turns out the Gracey part of my family comes originally from Ulster. That name is on the Orange Order leader board. I always get something of a thrill when I hear the bands-surely the greatest folk art in the British Isles. People often  accuse me of being anti Catholic-sure.

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One Response to Belfast Thrills

  1. Robert Pemberton says:

    You enjoy our country churches, our abbeys, our magnificent cathedrals – They are all quintessentially English are they not – yet built by the Catholics stolen by the Protestants. They are not a bunch of dago imports but the people who created the civilization of this county. So why be anti Catholic, just be anti religion it makes more sense.

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