Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pillaging the Isle of Man

Sinking pool balls - Isle of Man, 1979

1979 - My mate Marty and I went with my parents to Douglas, the capital town of the Isle of Man for a summer holiday during the glorious summer of 1979. My folks allowed me to take Marty along for a couple of reasons – I would have a companion therefore they didn’t have to entertain me which meant this meant that they could go to the various pubs and clubs on a two week alcohol binge. This arrangement suited us all - my mate and I were free to do whatever the hell we liked with no one watching over us, which was heaven for two fourteen year-olds. May and Angus were also free to do whatever the hell they liked. The deal was struck – you leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone.

Throughout the fortnight and with no parental control to restrain us, Marty and I embarked on a near non-stop stealing spree. Our fortnight of thieving began with stealing a few sweets from the local shops and within one week we were walking into souvenir shops and walking out calm-as-you-like with armfuls of Isle of Man trinkets. We also continually nicked booze from behind the bar of the guest house we were staying in. When the owners of the quaint little house were busy with their cleaning duties, we would sneak behind the bar and pilfer bottles of beer. Marty and I would take the booze up to our room and drink it. Being fourteen year-old alcohol-novices we couldn’t drink it all so we used our entrepreneurial talents to scout out a few local teenagers who we could sell the surplus stock to. We began selling alcohol on a daily basis to the same bunch of kids who became our regular customers. Marty and I decided this was a most excellent holiday.

With the extra cash made from selling booze to local kids and from the savings we made from stealing presents for everyone back home, Marty and I were loaded with money to spend in amusement arcades, pool-halls, go-kart racing and generally live in decadence on a diet of chips, sweets and soft drinks. We would go sunbathing on the Douglas beach, lying back on the warm sands with our skinny white frames on display to the world like two little working-class Johnnies-made-good. All the while May and Angus were somewhere getting hammered in some local pub - wherever the cheapest drink was on sale. Marty and I hardly saw them at all over the fortnight. We were robbing the local shops of their stocks while May and Angus staggered and crawled from bar to bar in a drunken bender. The vulgar ones were infesting the Isle of Man.

Soon our fortnight of bliss was ended and it was time to return to the fierce grey Ulster skies and a world of army Saracen vehicles and road-blocks with soldiers pointing SLR rifles. Marty and I stuffed our stolen presents into our suitcases which couldn’t hold all of the ‘pruck’ therefore we had to steal an extra case from a cupboard in the guest-house to pack the rest of the stolen gifts into. When we arrived back in Belfast everyone was delighted that we Mart and I had been so generous in buying everyone presents. My Grandmother couldn’t believe her eyes when I presented her with a huge Isle of Man weather vane, a pile of Douglas drink-mats, a souvenir t-shirt and a few random books nicked from book-shops. My brother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all received illegally procured gifts and no one questioned how two fourteen year-olds could afford so many trinkets. I brought Jain, my childhood sweetheart a stolen “I [heart] the Isle of Man” badge to further cement our relationship and to prove that romance was still alive and well.

I mean, what else would two fourteen year olds from working-class East Belfast, with innocent looking faces, a hidden sense of deviousness and a lust for danger do when they were left alone in a holiday resort for two weeks with no adults looking after them? Mart and I had been given a license to live for a fortnight in that wild, boyish carefree spirit, where the world revolves in its entirety around you. In this world there are no laws except the ones you set and life for us kids was a process of doing, getting caught and being punished. This time Marty and I executed our cunning beautifully to the point where didn’t get caught - until this little confession. To the locals of Douglas on the very beautiful Isle of Man, I’m sorry. Forgive us for bringing a little taste of the Belfast I knew to your beautiful little island.


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