Saturday, 19 March 2011

Summers in Dundonald

1973-1975 - During the long summer days of the early 1970s I often stayed for the entire two month school holidays with my Aunt Margaret, Uncle Tom, two cousins David and Elaine and Ned the dog at their home in Dundonald. To me it was a proper family home and far removed from the alcohol-fuelled cess-pit where I spent the other ten months of the year. The Livingstones from Dundonald were like a completely different species from the Livingstones of Ravenhill Avenue Belfast. The Dundonald clan were people you could love and feel loved in return. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Tom didn’t fight the way my ma’ and da’ did in a drunken war against each other and everyone else. If Aunt Margaret and Uncle Tom had any problems I didn’t see them whereas May and Angus acted out a living hell marriage in full view of the whole neighbourhood.

Aunt Margaret was a person who cared about people. I liked being around her. I sometimes went with her to help clean the interior of her local church. She let me polish the large golden eagle statues on the pulpit and in the stillness of an empty church I would enjoy each moment of just being with this very dear Aunt of mine. Her husband Tom was my da’s brother and a totally different being from his uncouth sibling. He was a man who made me laugh a lot and that is how I remember him. When Uncle Tom died from cancer in 1978 I guess part of me went too.

The lazy summers in Dundonald with its soundtrack of children playing and neighbours mowing grass lawns, allowed me to venture into happy childhood experiences. I played on an old obsolete railway line. It was a perfect place to enact my favourite Wild West and War movies from ‘True Grit’ to ‘The Great Escape’. I had the delight of playing cricket matches with the other kids from the area. Playing tennis matches and hitting golf balls in Moat Park were wonderful new things to me. It was very different from Belfast life and I loved every moment of it.

I loved my two cousins David and Elaine dearly. David was older than me and I thought he was great. He played football for his school team and had his hair cut in the David Bowie ‘Aladdin Sane’ style. To me he was the perfect ‘cool dude’. I loved spending time with Elaine and her friends. I fancied a few of them however to my disappointment none of them managed to be attracted to my skinny nine year-old frame.

I loved exploring the old Dundonald railway line by myself. I would awaken early, pack a few biscuits and a bottle of juice. I went wandering along the railway track with a gun-shaped branch of a tree as my protection from any Red Indians or German Storm-troopers who I might come across on my journey. I meandered along the tracks totally happy with my own company and my wild imagination, stopping every so often for a rest and a snack. I would find some long grass to lie in to soak up the summer sun and its stillness and silence, which was only disturbed by the industrious buzzing of bees and wasps. I remained still watching the little creatures at their work. This was my own world of magic and wonder, and in this world there were no political troubles or rough kids to fight with. Everything seemed to be gentle in comparison to the streets of Belfast. This was a different world and I wanted to stay here forever, however the days immersed in golden summer sunshine and life with a family who were ‘normal’ felt couldn’t last. Soon it would be time to return to the grey of Belfast, school and life with my ma’ and da’.

From the moment my parents brought me to Aunt Margaret and Uncle Tom’s house at the beginning of the holidays, I never heard from both of them. I think May and Angus were glad to get rid of me. It meant they were free to drink themselves into a stupor without the responsibility of a child to look after. I was happy with that arrangement and every day I secretly wished I would never see the two of them again…
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