Friday, 2 October 2009

The Wolseley Hornet

I was idly talking with my pal Marty while the two of us were leaning against a white Wolseley Hornet car. We had been playing football when the car had pulled up and parked right across our goalposts which we had painted on a gable wall. We had lovingly painted the goalposts on the wall with white gloss using five inch brushes in our best artistic reconstruction of the goalposts at The Oval, the home of our beloved Glentoran Football Club. When the man parked his car in front of our playing area we were seriously miffed. The FA Cup final we were re-enacting was postponed until further notice.

Marty and I both had big black permanent ink marker pens in our pockets and therein lay a highly dangerous formula; boys plus boredom plus white car plus big black permanent ink marker pens plus being seriously miffed plus deviousness…

We began by drawing a pair of breasts on the bonnet of that Wolseley Hornet. That got us laughing. Next we next drew a huge arse on the boot. It looked great. An arse drawn on the arse of the car – what genius we thought. The pièce de résistance was quite obvious. It HAD to be a giant penis on the roof. We clambered up and stood on the bonnet of the car and carefully drew the standard classic boy’s drawing of a penis and testicles. We were in fits of laughter by now and faced with a decision – should we go minimalist and just leave the car with breasts, an arse and a penis or should we go for the full monty and cover the whole bloody car with our fine artwork? With the decision made Marty and I decorated the rest of that little white Wolseley Hornet car with slogans, football team names, more breasts and penises.

There came a point when it hit the both of us with what we were actually doing. This was a person’s car and this was permanent ink we were using. We had effectively ruined a person’s car and that person was an odd fiery character who was viewed as a bit of a nutter. He would definitely have strangled whoever desecrated his car. We stopped and stood back. “Oh shit!” said Marty. “He’ll bloody kill us!” I said. We ran…fast. I kept having visions of him leaving for work in the morning to discover his car was now completely covered in ten year old kids' pornographic-art.

Look, it’s simple; as kids of the 1960’s and 70’s we had three choices in life – 1. Play football, 2. Chase after the wee girls in the hope of a snog, and 3. Get into mischief. That was our lot, so forgive me if most of us were mischievous wee buggers…


Saturday, 1 August 2009

A Gynecological Tale

I once listened to a Doctor from India, now working in Belfast, speak about his first day in his surgery'. One of his first patients was a lady in her sixties. The Doctor asked about her medical problem was. The lady replied; "It's my vagina - it's killin' me".

"Okay" thought the doctor, and began asking questions about how the pain was affecting her. The lady told the doctor about the extent of her pains. He began consulting a gynecological manual and was stopped in his tracks as the lady informed him; " I sometimes find it hard to breathe because of it..."

The doctor thought, "Vaginal pain: Difficulty BREATHING?

The woman went on; "My chest gets tight and I struggle for breath..."

A light went on in the Doctor's head; "Don't you mean ANGINA?"

"Is THAT what it's called?" the woman asked. "I've been tellin' everyone that my vagina was killin' me".

I can just hear her discussing it in the local shops;
Friend: "How are ye keepin'?"
Lady: "Terrible trouble with my vagina. I's killin' me."
Friend: "Oh I know. My Davy has vagina too..."

Friday, 24 July 2009

Teenage Dreams

Graffitti in post millenium Belfast:

"Teenage Dreams so hard to beat" - a wall mural in tribute to BBC DJ John Peel, featuring a line from a song "Teenage Kicks" by Derry-based band 'The Undertones'. Peel loved this song so much, citing it as his favourite song he'd ever heard. In 1978, at the height of the troubles, the success of this song gave the whole music scene in Northern Ireland a glimmer of hope that others outside of this little corner of an island were listening...
...and just around the corner from this mural lies a stark reminder that the terrorists "haven't gone away".

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Boy Who Sold Dirty Pictures

1973 - In this digital-age the pornography industry arrogantly flashes huge, swollen breasts at us from every angle to entice us. However, back in 1973 in Nettlefield Primary School in east Belfast, the porn’ industry was somewhat different.

A boy in my class operated a distribution service of what we all knew as “dirty pictures”. These were cut out pictures of ladies modeling underwear from his mother's clothing catalogues. The boy would bring his collection sordid pictures into school to sell them in the playground during break and lunch times. He traded not in hard cash but in sweets and toys. The racket ran as a true barter system;
Each day the nine year old king of pornography would stand in a corner of the playground with a crowd of other boys around him ogling at various pictures of very conservative middle-aged women standing in girdles, braziers, pants, stockings and suspenders. Like a market stall trader the boy would barter with the other kids over the pictures;

Customer: "I'll give you two Black Jacks and three Midget Gems for that picture."
Porn’ Trader: "No way! Two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems!"
Customer (after deep thought): "Alright, two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems… but you're one robbin' shite!"
Porn’ Trader : (smugly) "Business is business my friend…”

...and off I went with my picture, drooling all over it, and off went the boy who sold dirty pictures with his pockets stuffed with sweets and trinkets of all kind - a true entrepreneur who knew at the age of nine years old, where the market for making a successful business lay.


Monday, 13 July 2009

Bobby's message to the Chinese

(1984) - I was standing in a Chinese takeaway on the Ravenhill Road with my mate Smicker after the two of us had spent the night in the pub having a bit of craic with the old regulars who drunk there. It was a Friday night thing we did regularly and as we stood waiting in the queue in a dingy Chinese takeaway we were pleasantly drunk. My plan was to go home with a sweet 'n sour chicken and fried rice and then off home to watch 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' for the umpeenth time. It was a thing I liked to do.

As Smicker and I were waiting on our food Smicker’s father, Bobby walked into the shop. This sent us reeling for Bobby was an Ulster man and xenophobe who genuinely hated anyone who was basically not the same as him. Bobby was a good protestant Ulster man and a loyalist through and through. He didn’t like the Chinese presence in Northern Ireland at all or any foreign presence come to think of it, and to see him entering a Chinese takeaway was a groundbreaking moment - although he was completely off-his-face drunk.

We watched as Bobby casually walked into the shop like a silent, mysterious cowboy stranger walking into a saloon in an old western movie. Bobby sauntered to the counter and without saying a word, indicated to the man behind the counter that he wished to borrow his notepad and a pen. The Chinese guy behind the counter smiled and pushed the pen and notepad across the counter. Bobby scribbled something on the paper, set it on the counter and pushed it back towards the man. He then casually turned and walked Clint Eastwood style, out of the shop. The man behind the counter looked stunned and then held up the notepad for everyone in the shop to see.

On the pad was written in big capital letters "FUCK OFF BACK TO CHINA".

Some say it's all in the upbringing…

Friday, 19 June 2009

Mr Toad

1971 - Mr Toad lived in the next street to us. He was a wee old man who I used to see walking slowly up and down the back entry between our two streets. Mr Toad was weird little man who used to both fascinate and scare me. His odd cartoon-like name seemed to suit his demeanour perfectly. He never spoke to anyone and seemed to be in a wee world of his own. I think he was a trauma-victim from World War II.

When Mr Toad came dandering up the entry we would stop our games to let him pass. He would walk past us, lost in a world of his own and quite often we would file in behind him to form a procession with him leading a line of four or five small kids silently impersonating his awkward, hunched-over walk. He would always be oblivious to this bunch of little brats taking the mickey out of him.

Mr Toad would leave the back door of his house open (in the days when you could leave your back door open), and we would often sneak into his back yard to look at the weird plants he grew. His yard was full of the oddest looking plants we had ever seen. I think a lot of them were in fact weeds that he grew in pots. This wee man held much weirdness and we were strangely drawn to it.

I remember last seeing Mr Toad as he walked down the entry as normal. As he passed me I noticed he had his penis out and was peeing as he walked. He seemed oblivious to the fact that a young child was there witnessing this very strange happening. A strange wee man was Mr Toad.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Willie Watt

Willie Watt lived in the next street to ours and in a moment of synchronicity it was named "Watt Street". I don't know why, but Willie always pushed a bicycle with a set of ladders attached to it around the streets. It was his "I'm the guy with the bicycle and the ladders" thing.

Anyway, to us kids the name Willie Watt was much too comical and we had only one option which was to torture the poor old man with songs about how "Willie Watt has no hair...underneath his underwear" and other poetic classics. We would gather as a dirty-kneed choir outside his house and begin our songs about "Willie Watt...."

There was extreme danger in doing what we did for after hearing our taunts Willie Watt would chase us - and he was TERRIFYING. He would be in the craziest, maddest rage as he chased us about the streets shouting things like "I'm going to kill you wee bastards!" If he had caught any one of us I'm convinced he would have actually committed murder, such was the level of frenzied rage he would be in. Being chased by Willie Watt was a case of running for your life. What a buzz. We would do this at least once a week...

Friday, 29 May 2009

Oyster Dealing...

1978 - If you want to be in the know in Belfast you need to frequent the backstreet pubs. The local bars were the places to find scams to get involved with or cheap goods (or 'pruck') to buy. Belfast pubs are full of people who know each other well. They all look after each other and when anyone knows where to get cheap goods, everyone is let in on the secret as if there exists an underground secret brotherhood of the proletariat, with each member wanting to beat the system.

There are however, some scams that can't be told to everyone for the fear of it being spoiled by too many people getting in on the act. In the Cosy Bar in an East Belfast back street, a place where my father would drink on a daily basis, there was one such scam that could only be imparted to the chosen few. It was the location of an oyster farm. My father was initiated into the knowledge of this place. All I ever found out from him was that it was somewhere near Greyabbey but he wouldn't tell me exactly where. No way would he break the code between himself and the other two who knew of this sacrosanct oyster farm. My father kept this secret to himself and every couple of months or so he and his two friends would execute a dawn raid on the farm. My father would come back with about four shopping bags filled with stolen oysters which were then packed into our freezer.

For the next two months the Livingstones would have oysters for breakfast and regular snacks. It made my Ma and Da feel posh - they were having oysters! Only the upper classes ate oysters and now we had a secret illegal constant supply of the food of the rich. When people called at our house my mother would take great pride in asking the visitors "would you like some oysters?" This would then have tongues wagging;

"The Livingstones must have come into a few quid - when I visited their house they gave me oysters!! Maybe he got a big claim from work or something…"

All of the questions of "how can they afford oysters?" would give my mother and father a sense of feeling above everyone else. As they conned others with "I had a lovely breakfast of oysters this morning…" spiel they would sit at night in their house getting bladdered and swilling oysters. May would wash her oysters down with Carlsberg Special Brew and Angus would do the same with his Vat 19 Rum. It wasn't so much upper-class, more gutter-class trying to catch a tiny glimpse of what it must be like to be from the rich side of the social divide. Whatever it may have been, being in possession of oysters and being able to eat them whenever they wanted made Angus and May feel posh.

My father also took one step further and began selling his stolen oysters to his mates in the pub while never revealing how he got his grubby hands on the food of the rich. This would give him the satisfaction of having one over on his drinking cronies and the profit from his oyster dealing would get him an afternoon's free drinking. That was a double win - the feeling of being superior and getting drunk for nothing. Sure, you couldn't beat that with a big stick.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Finding a bog on the Shankill

1997 - It was on a hot summer day when I stopped a busy local store on the Shankill Road, deperately needing to use a lavatory...

I discretely asked the girl behind the counter, "Excuse me, do you have a toilet in here?" in an almost whispered voice.

"Kentucky down the road!" she said in a loud broad Belfast accent.

A cryptic answer but I knew she was trying to tell me, "No, we don't have a toilet in here however there is one in the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant not far from here."

"Thank You" I replied and began walking towards the door.

The girl suddenly yelled across the packed shop to me;


I completely froze in horror at both the shrill skwak of her voice and her straight-between-the-eyes vulgarity. I attempted to get out of the store without anyone reaslising it was me she was shouting at. Was this girl expecting me to yell back an answer to her lavatorial question across a crowded shop?

I could have answered "I NEED TO DO A SHITE ACTUALLY!" however I digressed.

As I was going out the door she yelled again “IF IT’S ONLY A PISH YOU WANT, YOU CAN GO ‘ROUND THE BACK OF THE CAR WASH!

A store full of customers looked at each other with a "She's not talking to me!" glare on their faces. Meanwhile I quickly crept out of the store with head down and headed off into the sunset...

Wow! That girl had style


Belfast, 1968

This boy and his country have come through a LOT of experiences since this picture was taken in 1968...