Monday, 5 July 2010

Primary School Love Affairs

1969 - School life and I didn’t get on much. I could never really get used to the ordered days with the same routine. I was a daydreamer who spent his time in the farthest reaches of his imagination. Sitting in the same seat at the same desk, beside the same kids, in the same classroom, with the same teacher every day, was not for me. I couldn’t wait for the three o’clock school bell to ring to get out into the world and have fun.

There were three things that kept me going through the ordeal of school: My mates, playing football and gaining the attentions of the girls in my class. I was after the ladies, even at five years old, the age when I first fell in love.

Her name was Diane and I walked home from Nettlefield Primary School with her every day. We would walk hand in hand the way young lovers do and when we arrived at her house I would give her a puckered-lip kiss and say goodbye. Diane lived at number 32 and so did I. With such synchronicity as that it could be nothing else but love. That was until I met Julie the following year. Julie was a real woman - six years old with the body of a woman of seven.
The relationship with Julie was much more intense than with Diane to the point that one day at lunchtime in the Nettlefield playground, we decided to get married. We were two six year olds madly in love so marriage was the next obvious step. After all, those are the steps you are supposed to take - Girlfriend, Marriage and Family.

Julie and I set a date for the wedding – it was to be the following day after school. We went back into the classroom after lunch break and informed the whole class we were getting married tomorrow outside Ravenhill Presbyterian Church at the top of my street. Everyone in the class seemed very excited for us, two young lovers about to embark on the journey of married life.

The following day was the big day. Julie's friend Ellen got fully into the spirit of the occasion and came into school wearing an actual bridesmaid’s dress instead of her school uniform. The teacher asked what on earth she was doing and Ellen informed her that she was going to be bridesmaid at Ian and Julie's wedding. The teacher went into a fit of laughter and wished us all well for the big day. Ellen sat in class the whole day doing her school work in her bridesmaid dress.

After school the wedding party consisting of about ten kids from our school class walked to Ravenhill Presbyterian Church and climbed over the railings and into the church grounds. There were a few yelps and screams as many of us caught body parts on the railings, but we all made it eventually made it into the grounds without too much injury.

The wedding party walked up a set of steps to the front door of the church which was locked. This was to be however an open air service. One of the boys Noel was given the job of being the minister, a role he took very serious. He coughed and began the ceremony. Noel asked me in his most serious voice, "d'ya take this wumman to be yer wife?" I replied "Ah do". He asked Julie if she’d like to marry me and she replied in a posh voice “Ay do”. I gave Julie a ring as a symbol of my true love and devotion – it was a ring with a monster’s head on it and was a treasured possession of mine. She on the other hand went one better by giving me her grandfather's actual wedding ring which she had stolen from her mother's treasured possessions.

The ring had to be returned a couple of days later when Julie's mother discovered that her dead father's wedding ring had been given away to a six-year old boy...and so ended our marriage, but to us it was two fantastic days as husband and wife.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Bourneville, Lucozade and Arthur

1975 - I was very envious of my mate and his family. They just seemed so normal in comparison to my family of hillbilly freaks. The head of their household was Arthur, a conservative Ulsterman who had an array of quirks.

I remember often watching the ‘Benny Hill Show' in my mate's house along with Arthur. As semi-naked, busty, blonde women chased Benny Hill across the TV screen in classic 1970s sexist British comedy style, I would hear Arthur making lustful "phwoooaaarrrr", "mmmm...." noises at the titillating sight. The ladies in French maid costumes seemed to bring forth a rampant lion that lay underneath Arthur’s Ulster Protestant Christian exterior.

Arthur loved Bournville chocolate bars and Lucozade. Every night he would treat himself to six squares (it was always six squares) of Bourneville placed on a small plate and a glass of Lucozade. He would settle down to watch TV with his treat. This odd little nightly ritual seemed to comfort him.

Arthur was a fan of music. He sat alone for hours listening to reel-to-reel tapes of 'Big Band' artists. He loved the music of Syd Lawrence, Joe Loss, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. Arthur sat in a deep meditative state as he immersed himself in the Music. If someone came into the room and disturbed his state of Nirvana he would shout at them. My father loved music too, but not like wee Arthur – he was a connoisseur. While my father listened and sang along to sentimental Country-Music drivel Arthur would be swinging in his front room to big-band jive music.

It was from his front room that wee Arthur operated. When he wasn’t listening to his music, he would be spying on the neighbours through his venetian blinds. Arthur had derogatory names for almost everyone in his street. He would peer through the window and comment on everyone who passed by while giving a running commentary;

Here comes oul’ no-neck. Look at him! LOOK AT HIM! Bloody good-for-nothing!" he would declare at the man passing.
"Look at her! She hasn't had a bath in weeks! Dirty Cow!" he would say about another.

Arthur would let out chuckles at his own remarks. This activity was a huge source of entertainment for him.

Arthur was a man who took the quiet life and eventually a golden handshake when he retired. He was a family man who worked ‘all his days’. Like many other Ulstermen, he kept things internal, locking away a secret side to him. This was the Protestant way. Keep it all in and give very little away about the person you really are. In Belfast it was the women who did the talking and crying while the men hid behind a mask of silence.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Mr Connor's Three Thumbs

1973 - Mr Connor lived across the street from me. He had three thumbs. On one hand he had a second thumb growing out of the first. To me it looked both grotesque and fascinating. I used to tell my friends about Mr Connor and his three thumbs but they would never believe me no matter how much I tried to convince them.

To prove my point I would use some cunning. I kicked my football into Mr Connor's back garden and bring my mates with me to knock on his front door. I would ask for Mr Connor to retrieve my ball and apologise for disturbing him.

Mr Connor was a nice man who always obliged when I offered an apology. He would troop off to his back garden to look for the football. When he returned and held out the ball to me he revealed his three thumbs. I would yell in excitement "LOOK! Ah told ye! Th'ee Thumbs!!!" My mates would ogle at Mr Connor and his three thumbs like it was an atrocity exhibition from a freak-show.

"Eeeaauuuggghhh!!!" shouted one boy.
"No way, he HAS th'ee thumbs!!!" exclaimed another.

We would retreat with Mr Connor shaking his fist and shouting abuse at us. I was however, left with the satisfaction of saying to my disbelieving mates "I told ye’ so!"

In 1973 it didn't take much to make a nine year old feel on top of the world.