1973 - When the weather was good my ma’ and da’ would bundle me into the car and drive to Millisle, a little seaside town adopted by the working-class as a holiday resort. This spot on the North Down peninsula consisted basically of one street containing a couple of amusement arcades, chip shops, sweet shops, and a pub. On a glorious summer’s day many would flock from Belfast to Millisle to get a break from life in the city. The North Down coastline and the little towns dotted along it like Newtownards, Bangor, Greyabbey, Donaghadee, Groomsport and Millisle. These were the places Protestants would go for a day out. Catholics would travel to different holiday spots along for their days out. The two cultures remained separate, even on a glorious summer’s day.
My folks and I would set off at about eleven o’clock in the morning and by the time we arrived in Millisle or ‘little Shankill’, my back and bum would be roasting and virtually stuck to the car seat as the sun blazed in through the car windows. When we finally came to a stop I would open the door and dive out of the car panting for breath in the blazing hot sunshine. And so our family day trip to Millisle had begun.
My folks would give me some money, order me to not stray far and off they would go into the First and Last pub for an afternoon's drinking. Great. I was alone in Millisle, with £1.50 to spend and drunken parents to look forward to dealing with. Things just can’t get better than that.
The first stop for me would be to buy an ice-cream, sit on the pavement outside the pub and watch the people go by. It was a thing I liked to do, not by choice, but by circumstance. With my parents spending most of their available time in pubs and clubs I had become used to being by myself. I got to like my own company and enjoyed watching the strange shapes, sizes and demeanour of other people. Each one, a separate universe of their own, had come to this little seaside town in an attempt to escape the grey of Belfast for just one day. They passed by me in streams of families. I sat back in the hot sunshine eating an ice-cream, watching the parade of men and boys in football tops and mothers shouting at their kids. I slowly licked and savoured each icy mouthful of ice-cream, trying in vain to make it last forever, like it was the last one on Earth.
All good things must come to an end and when my ice cream and people-watching was exhausted I walked to the amusement arcades. There I would pass time unsuccessfully trying to win prizes from the stalls. I watched groups of kids having fun together and wished I could join in with them. I never did. It wasn’t worth the risk of asking them “can I play too?” only to be ignored, laughed at, told to “piss off” or given a punch on the face.
After I had occupied myself for around four hours while May and Angus were having a great time in the pub sinking drink after drink, I decided hat was it. I finally couldn’t stick the boredom any longer. I stormed into the ‘First and Last’ pub, and began continually tugging at my da’s belt while begging him to take me home.
"Sit down son, we're enjoying ourselves..." he would usually say.
Realising my folks were not going to move for a while I would admit defeat and sit amongst them and their drinking cronies. A few of the people in the company bought me soft drinks and give me a few coppers from their pockets. In return I had to listen to drunken waffle, banter, songs and stories. I would drift off into the canyons of my imagination to escape the sound of the drunken ones warbling an off-key rendition of ‘Mexicali Rose’.
Finally my ma’ and da’ would decide it was time to go home. They would say their goodbyes to their company with drunken hugs, handshakes and long-winded farewell speeches which seemed to last forever.
Eventually my ma’ and da’ waddled off to the car with me following behind. I would help my very drunk mother into the car, who was as limp as a sack of potatoes. My da’ would drive us back home to Belfast in his orange Vauxhall Viva while very drunk. When he drove in this state, he would become extra cautious and would hit the brakes continually. The drink was making him hallucinate and he would slam the brakes on because he thought a dog had run onto the road. By the time we arrived home I was feeling sea-sick with being thrown about the back of the car each time my da’ panicked and brought the car to a violent stop.
Our car eventually reached Ravenhill Avenue. The orange Vauxhall Viva bounced along the street and came to a screeching halt at our house. My folks left me off at the house and told me they were going out for an hour. Off they rode into the sunset towards the Parkview bar. The taste of the drink was now on their lips and they needed more…
…and so ended another grand day out with May and Angus.