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.