Friday, 5 July 2019

Time travel #2 (2019-1972)

The world is full of ‘lost boys’. I’m one of that unfortunate crowd. We drift through life, not feeling any real part of society, sometimes even the human race itself. Part of me has enjoyed being different from the average person, with all the quirks and eccentricity, but a huge part of me yearns for just plain old normality. A world not ruled by anxiety, depression and out-of-the-box thinking.

As I write this now, I long to go back and change the world that I grew up in. No longer do I want the pain of the past - the drunken, violent, abusive parents who destroyed all but tiny fragments of my confidence and self-worth. I want to go back and reassure the young ‘me’ that things will work out, and I will make it through the torturous times.

To do this I must travel back through time. Some say it’s impossible, but to us lost boys it’s a gift we have. Events of the past are not just memories, they are moments frozen in time that can be visited or tapped into, whenever we choose to do so. All that is needed is the individual key to each moment to allow entry into it.

This time, I choose to travel back from this point in time of writing, 2019, to visit my seven, going on eight year-old self, in the year 1972. I want to stand in front of that little boy, put my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes and tell him that his future-self is right here, looking after him, guarding him, advising him - and that everything will work out. The presence that I knew and felt back then who was always with me was indeed my future-self, my guardian-angel if you like, trying to steer me in the right direction, away from harm. Many times I didn’t listen to the advice given, but through time I learnt that the entity I knew as “my strange companion” was real, tangible and was a genuine force for good.

Let’s do this. 1972 here we go…

I began the year 1972 aged seven and finished it aged eight. I was a gentle kid, frightened by the outside world. My parents had created such a hostile atmosphere in my own home that my logic turned to the perception that if it was as bad as this in the place where I should feel the safest, namely home, what horrors were out there in the world beyond the ‘safety’ of my own family unit?

I was in year four or ‘P4’ in Nettlefield Primary School, a small school with only a few hundred pupils which sat in a backstreet in east Belfast. Everybody knew each other. It was that kind of school - all kids from the local area who went to school together and came from the same streets.

By the age of seven I was discovering that I was a handy little football player, with a natural, fearless ability to make a ball do what I wanted. When I got my foot on the ball, I would be instantly transported to that other world of magical creativity, in which the only moment that mattered was NOW. I could carve my way through a bunch of opposing players with an ease that surprised me every time, even though I knew I could do it. Playing football to me was like an artistic dance of self-expression. Give me the ball and I was at one with the world. In later years playing football would be replaced by playing and composing music. The purpose and effect was the same - it gave me an escape from a world that I struggled so much to deal with on a mundane, everyday level.

1972 was also the year I was beaten in the school sports-day sprint final by Diane, a girl from my class. I was devastated. How could this happen? Beaten by a girl?! In front of a a packed playground full of kids and parents. As I stood, balling my eyes out, I want to take the opportunity now, to go back to that moment from this year, 2019, to that boy, and pull him to the side away from the crowded playground, to tell him, “It doesn’t really matter that you lost a sprint race to a girl. It’s all GOOD.”

To do this I need the keys to access 1972 from now.

Let’s got to directly to Saturday, 4th March 1972. It was the day of the Football League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Stoke City versus Chelsea. The match finished at 2-1 to Stoke City and the winning goal was scored by George Eastham. The sound of Brian Moore’s commentary on the game still rings around my head as he shouted “The Old Man Has Done It!”,  as Eastham, who was 34 years old at the time slid the ball into the net. I go back to seven year-old me, the boy lying on the floor, head resting on hands, watching this game on TV. I’m an invisible presence, sitting right beside him.

Let’s drift to another point in time, to Saturday 25th March 1972 and The New Seekers singing the song, ’Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ as part of the Eurovision Song Contest. I watched this show on television in our next-door neighbour, Mrs Nelson’s house. I’m guessing my parents were out on the lash and she was babysitting for me. I recall sitting beside the small fireplace watching as Luxembourg won the contest. From the year 2019, I sit invisible in that room in 1972, with Mrs Nelson, her son, Brian, and me. My presence is that of a Spiritual Guard.

Saturday, 6th May 1972. The FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The biggest football match of the year. Leeds United versus Arsenal. It was a yearly thing to look forward to. It didn’t matter who was playing, the FA Cup Final was the football event of the year. Like the Super Bowl in the US, millions would be glued to the TV set. Leeds won the match 1-0 with an Allan Clarke diving header. I recall Mick Jones suffering a badly dislocated elbow in the last minute of the game that had me feeling squeamish, as the slow-motion would replay his awkward fall over and over again.In the football world that I was so absorbed in, Derby County won their first ever league championship, pipping Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester City to the title, with just one point separating all four teams. I tell my over-excited seven year-old self to enjoy those precious moments - there will be many more.

As I delve further into 1972, I have to stop and consider how there are certain defining moments that happen in your life that stay with you, and go on to influence your future life in a major way. These beautiful foreshadowing events happen innocently at a particular moment, but their magic is cast out into your future universe to influence the you in the years to come. One such event happened on Thursday 6th July 1972 - Top Of The Pops was a Thursday night ritual all over the UK and Ireland.The show started in the year of my birth, 1964 and ran for many decades until 2006, when music itself had all but disappeared from the public psyche as being something that mattered, and had transformed into a digital, internet-based form of entertainment. Back in 1972, music was a vital thing in the lives of people and Top Of The Pops was a weekly fix of who was at the top of the singles chart in the UK.

On Thursday 6th July 1972 David Bowie appeared on Top Of The Pops singing his new single ‘Starman’. I watched, transfixed by this odd-looking guy with weird reddish hair wearing a multi-coloured cat-suit, playing a blue guitar. He sang and pointed to the camera “I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo…”. That was me he was pointing at. I’m sure he was. He was confirming that he was like me, an odd,  not quite fitting in lost-boy. That was the moment that I wanted to be a musician, (preferably a Rock-Star), just like David Bowie. In the future I never made it to Rock-Star status, but I became a humble musician, continually inspired by Bowie and that moment I unwittingly experienced on an average Thursday evening in 32 Ravenhill Avenue, Belfast.
I go back to that moment now, and put my arms around that seven, soon to be eight year-old boy and tell him, “You’ll be playing guitar like that one day. Heck, you’ll be even writing your own music, just like that guy on the TV.”

See? Time-travel is real. Use the keys to gain access to moments from your past. Feel the feelings. Hear the sounds.Smell the smells, Touch and taste the days before. It’s easy. Just for 1972 alone, I’ve got loads of keys to moments built up and catalogued in my mind. The same with every other year.

The Wimbledon Mens’ Singles Final, played on Sunday 9th July 1972. Stan Smith versus Ilie Năstase, It was a five set marathon. I sat glued to the TV, cheering on the rebel, Năstase. He was the baddie, Smith was the straight-laced good-guy. Smith eventually wore down his opponent to win 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 4–6, 7–5. I recall him jumping over the net to shake hands with Năstase. Back then Wimbledon winners often jumped over the net, like a tradition. It doesn’t happen any more. The world has moved on.

On Friday 21 July, 1972, Rod Stewart released his album ‘Never A Dull Moment’. My older brother brought a copy home and I played it until I knew every word and every nuance of the music. As the record played on the turntable, I would stare at and absorb the cover artwork, and the sleeve notes. Music allowed me to drift into another world in which nothing really mattered except what was happening right now. The past and future didn’t exist - there was only right here, right now, and Rod Stewart was singing “…and you wear it well…”. That’s all there was, and it was perfect.
I sit beside that seven year-old boy hugging my knees just like him, in a Belfast living-room that smells of tobacco smoke, with whitish, nicotine-stained wood-chip wallpaper and brown furniture. He can feel my presence. There’s no communication, just the two of us and Rod Stewart’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ playing. What more could a boy want?

You may read this and think it’s insanity to attempt to communicate with your past-self. The lost-boys know different. We, the not-quite-right folk of this world have the gift of secret keys, that the average mortal will never attain. This gift is the price of suffering. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Goodbye, love and blessings to 2019, all the way back from 1972, and vice-versa.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Time Travelling #1 (1980-1940)

Post-major-surgery to remove cancer seems to have given me the ability to transport myself back to certain periods in time. I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2018, and went through a nine-hour operation to cut out the gnarled growths. I’m still here, writing from the edge of trauma, and this allows out-of-the-box thought. This adventure starts in 1980 and goes backwards to the 1940s, just before the days of rock and roll and gradually towards the end of an innocence.

Let’s start in 1980, in a world of restriction. The year the film, ‘Gregory's GIrl’ was made. It was a different realm of being. A world before the internet, in which three television channels existed; BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. A United Kingdom of social confinement. People lived and worked in their own ‘areas’. Outside of that area was terrifying. The baby-boomers were finding their raison d'être.

Those born in the 1940s, 50s and 60s were the foot-soldiers of significant post-world-war social change. By the time the creative work of these generations would come to fruition in the future that is the 21st century, they’d be riddled with cancer, dementia, and a host of other ailments. Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, said, “we are the dead”.
It’s then Winston’s girlfriend Julia reminds Winston, “Don't you enjoy being alive? Don't you like feeling: This is me, this is my hand, this is my leg, I'm real, I'm solid, I'm alive!” Julia speaks much wisdom at a time of despair.

I can feel the past as a tangible, visceral reality. They are the feelings, emotions, touch, smell, and taste of naivety and innocence. From the invincible days. When death was an impossible concept. When music mattered, back in a time when rock-stars couldn’t die. No one could’ve known that music would lose its soul to the cold-blooded claws of the internet algorithm. Controlled. Everything today is perfect and controlled. In the future, there’ll not be a glitch. There’ll be only a harmonised, controlled perfection.

I can hear ‘Win’ from David Bowie’s 1975 album ‘Young Americans’, and be instantly transported to a summer afternoon in 1978, when I first heard it aged 13, about to turn 14, one month later. I can feel the heat from the sun. I can smell the cardboard album cover. I can hear the quiet of a mid-July Belfast, when most people were away for their ‘twelfth-fortnight’ summer holiday. I can touch the stillness of our house as my mother and father sat drinking in some local pub. I was okay with that, as it meant I could play the album loud, while watching the rays of the sun come streaming through the blinds into my bedroom.

“What happened to a sense of wonder, on yonder hillside getting dim? Why didn't they leave us, alone...” once sang East Belfast’s Van Morrison.

From the old world to the new 21st century world. Sit in your chair and push the buttons. Stare at your 50” wide rectangle with trance-forming pictures and symbols.
“You are now in a controlled Alpha State”.
“You deserve it”.
“Leisure Audio For The Modern Ear”
*This is trademarked. Do NOT touch*

Somewhere there is a soul in a box. Frightened. Sad. Full of love, creativity, and a smile that hasn’t been smiled in many years. Once, it had a daring and creative rage. Now it’s hammered into submission. The repetitive rain of blows from the algorithm is always too much to bear. The inevitable surrender was held off by a young, rebel heart, kicking and pushing its own way against the tide. But experience will eventually scar that, one too many times. That last particular scar will weaken and change you from a game-changer to non-participant.

This when you need to FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT. 
Think of that little inner light, that soul trapped in a box, in a nook within you.
That thing was your dare and rage, your fire.
It’s still there.
Let it out of the box.
Free it.
It’s still there.
Build the tension.
Watch the fire get brighter.
Let your little light SHINE, SHINE, SHINE.

Or don’t. The choice is yours.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Collecting for the Boney

On the 11th July each year the protestant tradition of lighting bonfires on street corners and in the middle of main roads was something all the kids from our area took part in. We had been brought up around this annual custom yet nobody seemed to have any knowledge of why these huge fires were lit all over the country. What it meant to us was being allowed to stay up late to wander around the local streets to watch other fires blazing. We also knew it was about burning an effigy of the Pope on the top of the fire. My mates and I weren't sure why, but the Pope was bad.
When the bonfires were lit, large crowds of people would gather around the flames to drink copious amounts of alcohol. The kids ate sweets and drank lemonade in between fuelling the great fire by throwing pieces of wood and car-tyres on top of it. The crowds sang along to Orange-Band music coming from a record player someone had rigged up in the street. This night of fierce Protestant pride .
My mates and I thought the ‘eleventh night’ was all very exciting. Kids from the various areas would begin collecting wood for ‘the boney’ months before the 11th July in a bid to see which street could create the biggest inferno. This competition led to huge rivalry between the various streets resulting in gangs from one bonfire raiding another to steal their wood. Running street-battles between the rival camps happened regularly. Gangs of kids from seven to sixteen years old faced each other in hand to hand fighting, all in an attempt to steal or protect a few rubber tyres and wooden pallets.
The war between the bonfire-crews entered into espionage tactics with the smaller kids sent out on a reconnaissance mission to monitor the other bonfires. These kids reported back times when the other bonfires were least guarded. The older ones would plan a raid on one of the neighbouring street’s stash of wood. Often the plan was simply to set fire to the rival bonfire in a bid to spoil their chances of having the biggest fire on the day.
In our area there were two main bonfires, the ‘Backer’ and the ‘Rossy’. The Backer came from a patch of ground known to everyone as the ‘back-field’ and the Rossy came from just around the corner in Roslyn Street. There was fierce rivalry between these two factions and each had a crew of around twenty kids. Quite a few violent running battles took place along London Road with bottles, stones and bricks being thrown amidst punch-ups.
Our wee bonfire could not compete on the scale of the Backer and the Rossy. There were only five of us collecting for our boney and we were all nine years of age. We were fodder for the bigger kids. My mates and I often watched helplessly as a large gang of older kids set fire to our puny but proud bonfire and casually walk away laughing at us. We would then begin collecting wood all over again from scratch. If we were quick enough we would get a few fathers out to chase the bigger kids away but they would inevitably return later.
To stop future raids from the bigger kids we came up with a plan of storing our wood on the roofs above the back yards. If the wood was up high, no one would be able to get at it was the logic.
We moved all of our wood onto the little roofs and stood on high amidst it all thinking that no one would ever rob us again. A few rival gangs attempted to storm our walls and as the enemy were hoisting each other up to get on to the roof we would stand on their finger tips or beat them with big wooden sticks. We watched them as they fell back to the ground. The enemy gang would gesture up at us hurling threats and obscenities. We stared back at them smug in our satisfaction that we were unreachable.
That year we managed to gather and build a puny excuse for a bonfire, but regardless, we were very proud of what we achieved. I think we did rather well considering our entire supply of wood was raided three times forcing us to start over again each time. We were persistent little buggers and determined that we would have a bonfire with a party - and that’s what we did.
On the 11th July 1973 as our little bonfire blazed we drank lemonade, ate sweets and listened to the flute-band music being piped out into the street. We all agreed that it would be the last bonfire we would arrange. The enemies made, battles fought and sheer back-breaking work that it took simply to light a small fire was definitely not worth the bother…

Monday, 5 May 2014

Prod-Mods and Taig-Mods (The Art Of Division)


The two political and religious sides of Belfast have lived together like warring teenage siblings who've been forced to share a bedroom for all of their lives. They've argued about and divided almost every conceivable thing, each side claiming certain elements as 'ours'. Whether it be 'aitch' or 'hatch', green or orange, "Northern" or "the North of", Derry or Londonderry, we'll divide anything. Division is what we do best in the endless game of Loyalists and Republicans trying to convince the world how they are right and the other side are the Spawn of Satan.

Many were and still are traumatised by the troubles in Northern Ireland, yet amidst the hatred, killing and mayhem people sought refuge. With me and many others, music was the escape. When you're lying back on your bed, staring at album artwork with headphones on and your favourite band are blasting out your favourite song at deafening volume, the world goes away for a few minutes.

We were musically starved in Belfast. Most of the big-name pop and rock bands wouldn't go near Northern Ireland on their tours. Dublin, London, Glasgow, Manchester et al were feasting on a huge musical pie and we were getting the crumbs and the odd small piece. Those who came to Belfast were treated like gods. Artists spoke of the amazing gigs in Belfast with an audience reception they had never experienced before.

Music would unite people like nothing else. Those who jumped up and down together when AC/DC played at the Ulster Hall in 1979 had not a care in the world if the band were Prods or Taigs. It was the music that mattered. However, we're talking about Belfast here and with our penchant for division, some music fans managed to include rock and pop bands into the conflict.

Yes, we divided certain musicians, bands and artists into Prods and Fenians.

Stiff little Fingers were Prods from Belfast and The Undertones were Fenians from Derry. Paul McCartney was a republican after his 'Give ireland Back To The Irish' song was released in 1971. U2 were regarded as republicans after that fateful night in 1983 in Maysfield Leisure Centre when they played 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. There was an urban myth that Marty Pellow, lead singer of pop-band Wet Wet Wet had stated in a fictitious interview on TV that his hero was loyalist Michael Stone.

That was it. Wet Wet Wet were Prods.

At a Wet Wet Wet 1989 concert in Belfast some of the crowd wore Rangers football shirts and waved Union Jacks to show their support for the band and their apparent Loyalism. This concert drove the band to not play Belfast for another twenty years. 

During the Ska music revival around 1980 there was a story going around about the band Bad Manners and how they gave money to the IRA. They were Fenians. Madness were adopted as the Protestant Ska band for some reason. Therefore, if you had a Madness patch sewn onto your coat you were a Prod. A Bad Manners patch, you were a Fenian.

From a musical perspective I think the Prods got the best band. I'd rather stomp to Madness' 'One Step Beyond' than the faux-West-Indian warbling of Bad Manners' 'republican' singer, 'Buster Bloodvessel' shouting "Leep-O-Fatty-Ya, Leep-O-Fatty-Fatty-Reggae!" 

During the Mod revival at the same time there was a dilemma for Republicans who wanted to become Mods. Everything 'Mod' had red, white and blue and Union Jacks all over it. There was no way a Republican would be seen dead in a Union Jack jacket a la Pete Townsend from The Who. Some clever entrepreneur seized the opportunity and began producing and selling duplicate Mod merchandise except in green, white and gold in opposition to the Britishness that was at the heart of the Mod movement.

We now effectively had Prod-Mods and Taig-Mods.

In Belfast we seem to bring EVERYTHING down to the "are you a Prod or a Fenian?" argument, as if that's all that matters in this world. It's a small, incestuous city where each gesture and articulation can determine which side of the political fence you come from. From which side of a bridge you walk on, to the football team you support, to how you pronounce certain letters of the alphabet, to which music you liked - all had religious and political meaning in Belfast. This was a world that mostly went no further than it's own area, stuck in an endless argument…forever it seems.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

...and the boy sat under the stairs.


When the gas ran out in our house I was always the one given the job of putting single shilling pieces into the gas-meter under the stairs at the back of the little cubby-hole that my da had built. Since I was smallest I was the natural choice to clamber over the piles of old shoes and bags stored inside this little room, with its angular roof. The room seemed to disappear from standing height into a small black hole. The old unloved coats hanging like dead scarecrows, gave off a musty whiff. The concrete floor was covered in old unwanted shoes, handbags, school satchels, cases and holdalls. My ma and da would occasionally have a clear out to make way for the next generation of coats and bags to be imprisoned there.

I didn’t mind the task of feeding a hungry meter with single shilling pieces, and over the years that wee cloakroom became a place of escape for me. I liked the other-worldliness and stillness of it. Once I got into this little cavern and closed the door behind me the world outside would go away and I could be alone with my imagination. The coldness and damp didn’t bother me as I sat reading war comics under a single beam of torchlight. I would disappear into the adventures of Lord Peter Flint, the British war hero from my favourite weekly read ‘Warlord’ as he foiled yet more German plots to win World War II with his cunning and brilliance. This was not just a cubby-hole cum cloakroom. This was a secret den where I would retreat when I needed to get away from the world. It was my own little angular Narnia. No-one knew I was there.

When my ma came gunning for me after I had done something wrong I would disappear into the cubby-hole shaking in terror. Hiding behind the rows of coats hanging up, in an attempt to merge into them - to become invisible by being part of the coats. I prayed she wouldn’t look down to see two skinny white legs with dirty knees sticking out from underneath a coat. If she did, I was dead. This hiding place usually worked. After she scanned the room for me, my ma would storm upstairs to look for me there. That moment was my one and only chance to escape by diving out of the cubby hole, down the kitchen and out the back door, like Lord Peter Flint on the run from the Germans, except to me my ma was much more terrifying than facing Adolf Hitler and his storm-troopers. I would hide a few streets away until I had to come home because it was getting dark. My hopes were thinly pinned on the possibility that my ma might have forgotten about our earlier incident. But a few hard slaps around the head were waiting for me as soon as I walked into the house…

In our house the cubby-hole was a hideout to help me survive life with my parents and the blazing drunken rows. In my tiny inner sanctum I would hear noises of perfect hatred as my ma’ and da argued and battered one another. I hid so that neither of them could bring me into their war. They would often try to do this. My da would call me to witness something my ma’ had done to him – usually a bloodied face slashed with her fingernails. She would do the same when my da’ had hit her, and I would stand in between the two of them listening to their accusations, like a reluctant judge and jury. If I chose the side of one, the other wouldn’t speak to me for days, as though I was a traitor. Sitting parked on the cold bumpy gas meter, I would ignore their calls for me join in and continue reading the comics which I had stashed under the stairs to keep me company at times like these.

A war raged in the hallway, yet I was engrossed in a Second World War story from a comic book. The Germans were getting their arses kicked and by the sounds of it so was someone else. I would feel them bouncing off the thin wooden walls of the cubby-hole as they staggered and fell about in a stupor. The now usual shouts and screams didn’t bother me anymore. I’d heard their threats of killing each other too may times to now take them seriously. As a ten year old, I had risen above their unhappiness, and left it behind for a world of imagination. A boy has to deal with trauma some way. Mine was through music and books. In those worlds there were no arguing parents - there was simply a better place, full of art and grace.

When the coast was clear and the shouting had exhausted the shouters, I would sit and savour the stillness. The quiet was a beautiful relief from the whirlwind that had been raging a few moments before. The front door of the house had just been slammed violently as my da’ stormed off to the pub for more drink. In my cocoon I could faintly hear the whimpering from my ma as she sobbed, wishing for a better life. Her solution was always to crack open another tin of Carlsberg Special Brew and sink it along with her hopes.

…and the boy sat under the stairs dreaming of what it would be like to be able to fly – far, far away..

Friday, 15 November 2013

Nettlefield Primary School And The Boy Who Sold Dirty Pictures


From the age of five years old I attended Nettlefield Primary School, a place with only a couple of hundred pupils. In this community all the kids knew each other in one way or another, be it friend or foe. Nettlefield sat in a quiet backstreet off the Ravenhill Road in Belfast. It was a school for the immediate area with no kids who were outsiders.

The pupils of Nettlefield came in all shapes and sizes. There were kids who continually wore a sticking plaster over one eye to cure a ‘lazy eye’. These poor kids went through their early school life half-blind. There were the ones who constantly had two streams of snot running from their noses. There were the kids with shaved heads to get rid of nits. The ones who smelt of wee. There were some gentle, clean looking pupils who looked like they came from respectable families. These kids formed the minority amongst the weather-beaten faces, reddened and chapped from the cold of winter. This is the place where the metal meets the meat; where nothing is expected from kids; where the forgotten ones of society live.

In Nettlefield Primary the whole school knew ‘Beezer’. He was the hard man of the school. Beezer was spoken of as being the best fighter in the school and had a legendary reputation. We heard stories of him taking on and beating up three boys at once. I was fine with this, for I knew the mighty Beezer from outside school. His mother was a hairdresser and used to style my ma’s hair once a week. This loose connection was enough to put me on the good side of the school tough guy. Therefore, I was usually free from any kids giving me hassle although I did manage to get into some scraps and scrapes along the way, Beezer or no Beezer.

One of the well known characters in Nettlefield was a boy in my third year class who operated a distribution service of dirty pictures. These were photos of ladies modeling underwear, cut out from his mother's clothing catalogues. The boy would bring his collection of sordid pictures into school to sell them in the playground during break and lunch. He traded not in hard cash but in sweets and toys. The racket ran as a true barter system;

Each day the nine year old king of pornography stood in a corner of the playground with a crowd of other boys around him ogling at the various pictures of very conservative middle-aged women standing in girdles, braziers, pants, stockings and suspenders. Like a market stall trader the boy would haggle with the other kids over the prices;

Customer: "I'll give you two Black Jacks and three Midget Gems for that picture."

Trader: "No way! Two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems!"

Customer (after deep thought): "Alright, two Black Jacks and six Midget Gems… but you're a robbin' shite."

Trader : "Business is business my friend…”

...and off I went with my picture, drooling all over it, and off went the boy who sold dirty pictures, with his pockets stuffed with sweets and trinkets of all kinds - a true entrepreneur who knew at the age of nine years old, where the market for a successful business lay.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Escaping Grosvenor High School

1976 - It was a Saturday morning when I received news that I had passed my eleven-plus exam. I was the first one in the family who succeeded in gaining entry to a grammar school. My ma’ and da’ boasted in the pubs and clubs about how their son was going to attend Grosvenor High School next year. To them Grosvenor was an illustrious academic institution and my parents used my achievement to impress their friends. This was perhaps fine for them. It was me and not them who had to endure being called a snob by the other kids, simply because I was going to a ‘good’ school where not many from our area went.

Boys from the nearby Orangefield Secondary school would stop me and mock. Many times I was taunted as I walked home from school. They would grab my standard-issue Gideon’s bible from my blazer pocket and wave it in the air shouting, “he’s got a fuckin' Bible! He’s a snobby Christian! GET HIM!”

Sod this, I thought as I ran for my life.

I had to get out of Grosvenor. If I was to going to survive life amongst the rough kids in the urban jungle I would have to get out of that school. I soon formed a cunning escape plan. It was to rebel in any way I could.

I refused to get a Grosvenor rugby jersey. Everyone had to get one, but not me. When the PE teacher handed me my new jersey which my parents had to pay for, I threw it on the ground at his feet in defiance.

I’m NOT wearin’ a Grosvenor rugby shirt!

The irate teacher glared in disbelief at this tiny kid who stood defiantly before him.

GET THE BAT!” he roared in a Dickensian tone.

That was my instruction to go to the store room and bring him a wooden bat so he could smack me on the backside with it. I handed the bat over and received the agonizing punishment, but I had made my point to him – I wasn’t playing rugby. I played football. It was the sport I grew up with and played continuously. I'd never been to a rugby match in my life and didn't understand the rules. No-one I knew liked rugby. It was viewed the same as hockey - a posh sport.

I actually liked cricket, but didn't know the rules apart from hit-the-ball-and-run back and forward between stumps. Being wicket-keeper with the big gloves, pads and everything was my thing, taking delight in putting off the batsman by calling him a “fruity bastard” or insulting his mother, just as he was about to receive a ball. However, these sports were not football. That was my game. I was a stranger in a strange land here.

The kids in my class were nice, gentle kids with smooth-skinned faces. They looked at home. I wasn't one of them. Being the smallest kid in the class was an extra factor to add to my list of insecurities, but these kids were different. I couldn't be like them. No way could I match up to their immaculateness. That was it. I was getting out.

The key to my emancipation from Grosvenor happened when I discovered through the grapevine that if a pupil failed their first-year exams, the school simply expelled them. Perfect. I had my ‘Great Escape’ from Grosvenor High School sorted, and I was to be Steve McQueen.

When the time came to sit my end of year exams I adopted the same approach to every exam. I turned the page after the teacher uttered the dramatic words “you may turn your papers over”. I then simply wrote my name, class and I hate Grosvenor’.

That was it. I put my pen down and sat staring into space for the rest of the exam, content with my rebellion.

During the week of receiving the appalling exam results that I knew were coming, all my teachers gave me a right going over. One by one they fumed, spat and yelled at me. They caned and beat me for my defiance and non-participation. That was all teachers except one, my Religious Education teacher. Not because he was too Christian to beat me like the other teachers, rather it was because I had somehow managed to pass my RE exam. In a multiple choice paper I had circled random answers out of boredom to simply pass the time during the exam. It turned out that I had circled quite a lot of correct answers and I managed to get a 68% pass...

My parents eventually received a letter in the post stating that Grosvenor Grammar School had “removed my scholarship”. In other words they kicked me out due to my lack of participation.

There was no investigation as to why this boy who had succeeded in passing his eleven-plus exam to gain entry into Grosvenor had rebelled in every possible way. I think the school wanted to get rid of me as quickly possible - and my parent’s response? They beat me too like my teachers had done but I didn’t care, I was no longer a Grosvenor snob and was back to being one of the lads again. I was going to Orangefield Boys' School and now my kudos was back again amongst the lads, however my education was about to cease altogether. Not that it mattered.

This was the world were as long as you could write, spell and count a bit, that was good enough. You won't need education where you're going – into a trade, in the construction business, or a labouring job. The kids in Grosvenor could keep their fancy lawyer, doctor, architect jobs. I was going to get my hands dirty. This was protestant working-class east Belfast.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Facts of Life


My group of mates would educate each other with second hand tales, myths and facts about the world. I was eight years old when I found out about the facts of life and making babies from my mate Jimmy-Rib. He came frantically running around the street corner towards us as we sat on Mrs Flanigan’s garden wall bored out of our minds. Jimmy-Rib stopped completely out of breath and dramatically declared;

"I know how you get a girl pregnant!”

"Tell us! Tell us!" we shouted back at him.

"Ya stick yer dick up her fanny and ya pump her up – and ya keep pumping and stop when she gets to about here!"

Jimmy-Rib gestured with his hands the desired amount of ballooning that should be applied to the girl's stomach area. That was it. You pumped the girl up like you would do with a punctured bicycle tyre.

We now knew THE secret!

Off we spread out in various directions to meet other kids to tell them "I know how you get a girl pregnant!" The jungle drums were now out…


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Video: 'Dusk' from 'belfastsongs'

'Dusk' - Track #1 from the album 'belfastsongs' by livingstone.
Film footage from East Belfast 1977 (Moorgate Street).
Used with kind permission of Ruth Girvan.
Music © Ian Livingstone 2012
Published by livingstonemusic


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Aggie Trimble

1986 - I have a confession to make. I snogged Aggie Trimble. Okay, I was very drunk but I don't think that is really much of an excuse. I mean, this girl smelt of chip-fat. Just say the name to yourself - "Aggie Trimble" and think of the smell of hot lard. I think you get the gist of how much of a brave public confession this is.

There ye go, I snogged Aggie Trimble. Beat THAT one.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Terrorist Games

1974 - During the troubles Belfast was a place where my mates and I had very limited options of entertainment. These were the days before the digital revolution, when there were just three TV channels and one of them was absolutely no use to me. BBC2 seemed to show nothing but gardening programmes and documentaries about garbage such as the building of the Manchester ship canal. This was a period when the entertainment we indulged in came from our own creative imaginations – there were no other choices and there were even less when the downpours of rain happened, or when it was simply too cold to play outside.

Children of the 1960s and 70s were at the tail end of the obsession with the notion of defeating the Germans in World War II. This generation would also be the last to watch and be mesmerised with films about the American Wild West. These Hollywood movies showed John Wayne kicking the arses of Red Indians. Films such as ‘The Great Escape’, ‘True Grit’, ‘The Guns of Navarone’, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and James Bond movies were the staple of our entertainment. There were good guys and there were bad guys. In the movies good guys always beat the bad guys. It was that simple.

My friends and I would re-enact scenes from our favourite war films and play at being cowboys in search of some ‘injuns’ to mercilessly slaughter. This would involve climbing garden walls, sneaking through neighbours’ gardens and usually being chased out of them by those same neighbours. They just didn’t understand that we were on a mission to capture and kill some Germans!

Sometimes we would play at being the enemy, the Germans. It’s good to see the problem from both sides. We would pretend to be Nazi storm troopers and go looking for British soldiers to take as prisoners. One of these captives was always Roy, a boy who lived two doors down the street from me. He was a year younger than us, which is a massive age-gap to kids. We could therefore by authority of age, make him do what we wanted. The poor boy always complied.

We approached Roy and announced in our best German accent that “vee hef cam to take yoo ez our preezonur yoo Eeengleesshh peeg!” Roy was whisked off to my back yard and tied a post for interrogation. We paced back and forth in front of him and shouted in our best German accents, “vehr arr yor vehpons you Breeteesh shvine-hunt!

Our interrogation stopped when Roy became very agitated and began crying uncontrollably. He was yelling “Mammy! They’re beating me!” Our prisoner was released at this point before his ma’ came to rescue him and also give me and Marty a hearty Ulster woman’s smack on the head.

Our world of play was also influenced by the troubles in Ulster and during the 1974 Ulster Loyalist Workers’ Strike we saw lots of masked UDA men operating about our neighbourhood. They blocked roads and stopped cars to prevent anyone from getting to work. My mates and I thought they looked great in their terrorist attire of combat coats, hats, dark glasses and a scarf over their face. That was the next form of entertainment sorted out for a bunch of ten year old boys - we were going to play at being the Ulster Defence Association…

Off we went on our separate ways into our houses to search for UDA-style clothes. I managed to gather a brown fishing hat, a green parka jacket, a pair of my da’s sunglasses and my Glentoran scarf. I put them on and stood in front of the hallway mirror posing with one of my toy plastic guns. I had the perfect UDA look. Out of the house and down the street I marched to meet up with my other junior UDA comrades. One by one they emerged from their houses with their best attempts at looking like UDA commandos. I was disappointed with Smickers’ efforts to look like a terrorist. With a black duffle coat, a chequered flat cap and one of his ma’s silk scarves across his face he was not really looking like a fierce warrior of Ulster and more like a dirty old man who would hang around school playgrounds. It was however the closest things he could find to UDA gear so he would have to do.

We set up our first UDA roadblock made from two buckets with a brush pole placed across them. It wasn’t quite a roadblock either – it was across the pavement but we thought we’d start off lightly by initially stopping pedestrians and eventually working up to bicycles and then cars. Down the street came Mrs Richardson. She was a really nice lady so we took down our roadblock to let her through.

How are you boys doing? Having fun?” she asked in her kind tone.
Aye, we’re bein’ the UDA!” we replied.
Very good, have fun” replied this gentle silver haired lady. Mrs Richardson was much too nice to hassle with our terrorism. As she walked past us we began waiting for the next person to come down the street.

Along came four boys from around the corner who we didn’t like and had many fights and arguments with. We weighed up the situation. If we tried to stop them there would definitely be a punch-up. We opted out and once more dismantled our barricade to let them past.

The next person to walk down the street was Mrs Dunne, a strange lady who always wore heavy face make-up. We all thought she was definitely a prostitute. As she approached we stood resolute and declared “Stop! We can’t let you past!
Why not?” asked Mrs Dunne.
Cos we’re the UDA – THAT’S why!” She tried to get past to take down our barrier but we crowded around her.
Yer nat getting’ past!” we told her. Mrs Dunne started smacking us each around the head.
Let me past ye wee buggers!” she yelled.

We eventually let her pass but this incident had made us feel a sense of that power, just like real UDA men.

This was our world of Cowboys, Indians, Soldiers and Spies and playing at being the Ulster Defence Association. This is how we relieved the boredom of living in Belfast during the troubles. There were other kids who would take this one stage further and actually join the UDA or UVF when they were old enough to be accepted into the ranks. Perhaps the Catholic kids played at being the IRA? I don’t know as I had never met or knew any Catholics. I went to a Protestant school, lived in a Protestant area and would probably end up getting a job in a Protestant company. This was the way it was, like it or lump it.


Monday, 2 January 2012

Hiding Me from the Minister

1968 - At the age of four years old I had a foul mouth. This was a logical progression in my vocabulary due to my parents continually using foul language around me in the house. If my ma' and da’ swore then I would too. I took pleasure in calling someone "a wee bastard". That was me, right in there at the deep end of swearing - no messing about on the periphery with mild swear-words. I was an all or nothing child.

I even managed to call the local Presbyterian minister foul-mouthed monikers when he came on one of his frequent visits to our house, in another attempt to bring my family of uncultured hillbillies to the Lord. The Minister leant his head to one side, beamed a big smile. He clasped his hands and leant down towards me.

“Hello son!”

“You’re a fuddin' tunt!” I replied.

There was a silence around the room as everyone tried to comprehend what I had just called a man of God. My mother went into a torrent of grovelling apologies to the minister while repeatedly smacking the back of my head as hard as she could.

“Wait til’ I get ya later, ya wee scamp!” she shouted at me, carefully watching her language and behaviour in front of the minister. As she pulled my by the arm upstairs and pushed me into my room, she ferociously whispered, “I’m gonna bloody kill ya’ when the Minister goes – ya’ wee shite!”

You see, I thought it would get a laugh; the same laugh I used to get when my mother and grandmother used to secretly goad me into calling my older sister “a fuddin' tunt”. My sister would be disgusted at this which would make my ma' and granny laugh even more. As my sister stormed out of the house I would repeat the phrase over and over, usually to a lilting little tune - "You’re a fuddin' tu-unt! You’re a fuddin' tu-unt..."

From the day I swore at the local man of God I was locked away upstairs each time he visited. It was as if I was a child of inherent evil.

"Where's Ian?" the Minister would ask. My mother would concoct an excuse such as "he's upstairs sleeping" or “he’s away for the whole day”. Meanwhile a family member had to sit upstairs with me to make sure I couldn't come down to greet the Minister in my own special four-lettered way.

…although what else can a four year old do when he is surrounded by parents who regularly screamed the worst obscenities which could be mustered up at each other during their wild drunken rows?

It’s obvious the four year old will learn from and imitate his teachers.

…and that's what I fuddin' well did.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Chasing the Girls

1969-1990 - For a boy to be able to say he had a girlfriend was hugely important. It meant you were cool. Having a girlfriend was a badge of honour. It saved you from those awkward moments when you are asked amongst a crowd, “are you going with anybody at the moment?” To be able to say “yes” and give the name of one of the more attractive girls from our area gave great kudos and nods of approval from everyone.

As a boy I spent 50% of my time playing football, 25% chasing the wee girls and the remaining 25% in quiet nooks snogging, fumbling and giggling with them. These were the days when a kiss would last forever. It wasn’t so much kissing rather it was two people sucking each other’s face amidst a torrent of slobber.

There are laws a boy has when finding the girl of his dreams. These laws exist like memes from ancient carnal man. They involve an intricate assessment or vetting procedure of the potential girl, by the boy. There are five criteria or rules;

#1: She must kiss using her tongue.
#2: She must allow you to put your hand up her jumper.
#3: She must allow you to put your hand down her jeans.
#4: She must put her hand up your jumper.
#5: She must put her hand down your jeans.

If the girl does not immediately apply rule #1, the relationship will end after two dates (give the girl a second chance). Rules # 2.3.and 4 had to be applied else the affair was off.
Crucially, the whole relationship hinged on rule #5 being applied - this was paramount. Only when this rule was brought into action could the boy consider himself to be ‘in love’. In the 1970s these were the Laws of Love to a Belfast boy. I would hazard a guess it hasn’t changed much since.

Finding a girlfriend was never a problem for me. I never understood why the girls liked a skinny little runt like me but they did, and I wasn’t complaining. There were young innocent loves in Diane, Julie, Helen and Debbie, and later in my late teens and early twenties, there were the girls who shared wild drunken nights with me.

One of those hedonistic evenings involved a drunken snog with Aggie Trimble. Being drunk is not much of an excuse for this action. I mean, this girl smelt of chip-fat. Just say the name to yourself - "Aggie Trimble" and think of the smell of lard. I think you get the gist of how much of a brave public confession this is. I lower my head in shame at the thought of cavorting with Aggie Trimble. I sincerely hope I never match THAT feat.

There were many strange, scary and hilarious moments in my love life. Even being threatened with death did not halt my experiences with the opposite sex. Like the night I was with a girl known as ‘Big Yvonne’. She was only about 5'5'', and her title of ‘Big Yvonne’ was not a reference to her height. Yvonne liked sex - a LOT. She would sit in a crowded bar and scan the male revellers. Once she had decided on her prey for the night, she would stare continuously at them. The victim would either become so unnerved they fled the bar, or they would be trapped by her hypnotic, mind-controlling glare and fall victim to Big Yvonne and her lust. I was one of those poor victims on three occasions. I was so terrified of her that I behaved like a captured hostage who didn't want to be killed. I simply obeyed her orders. It wasn’t worth not doing so.

Big Yvonne took me back to her house one night. While she was feeding off me in one of her lustful frenzies, a British Army soldier knocked on the front door and shouted through the letter box "Everybody out! There's a bomb-scare two doors away!" Yvonne once again demanded that our cavorting continued. "Just keep going!" she ordered me like I was her sex-slave. Against the background noise of army bomb-disposal trucks and voices from walkie-talkies, we got on with business. Not even the threat of death from a bomb could stop Big Yvonne's lust - and as for me, well I thought "if I'm going to die, this isn't a bad way to go..."

Long before I went on my wild lust-driven rampage in my late teens I did actually meet the girl of my dreams. This happened when I was fourteen years old. She was called Jane and was twelve years old. Her friend Kim was going with my mate Marty and when a fourteen year old boy went on a date his mates came along also. That’s the way it was for girls – you dated a boy usually in the company of his friends. My mates and I went everywhere together. Rules are rules.

One summer's evening Marty went to his girlfriend's house with me tagging along. Her friend Jane was also there. Once I set eyes on Jane’s blonde hair, jeans, cowboy boots and rather ample chest I decided “she’s the girl for me”. I said hello to the new girl of my dreams while wishing I was wearing something other than dirty jeans, tee-shirt and a Manchester United scarf. If I had known this tasty bit of stuff was going to be present I would have worn something a touch more classy, like my Glentoran jersey. Perhaps I would have washed my jeans or maybe even taken a bath.

Jane and I seemed to hit it off. Soon we were going out with each other to the point where I had written her name on my schoolbag and on my arm in a ballpoint pen tattoo. When a girl’s name makes it onto a boy’s school bag and the covers of his schoolbooks it must be love.

Each night Jane would come to my street to be with me, while my mates and I played football. When we stopped to take a rest, I would disappear up the street with Jane to a quiet nook for a kiss and fumble. Occasionally I left her standing waiting for me out in the street with my mates while I sat in my house watching television. These were the ways of an apprentice romantic without a clue of how to treat a lady. Jane stuck me for a year or two then wisely got rid of me and my ever-present mates.

This was the start of our on-off-on-off-on relationship which ended in us getting married thirteen years later after being apart for eight years. I can safely say that mates are no longer present in our relationship. In the ways of how to treat a lady, I at least learnt that much!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

I Once Played Trumpet for Duke Ellington

1986 - Old Tommy drank in a pub in an East Belfast back-street. He only lived a couple of streets away so he could get drunk and still manage to find his way home. It was a daily routine he carried out as if he was occupying his time while waiting for God to bring him home. He was a wee man who 'never bothered anybody'. Tommy did his own thing, drifting through life on the soft cushion of repetition. Tommy’s life had a gentle uncomplicated rhythm. He was in his retirement years and wanted no fuss or bother.

Tommy was a friendly man who struck up conversations with many folk in the bar. He would tell tales from his past and each time he eventually he would get around to reciting a story of how he once played trumpet for music-legend Duke Ellington. ‘The Duke’ came to perform in Belfast one night during the 1940's and Tommy was recruited to play trumpet for him at the concert. This was Tommy's conversation centrepiece. "There are not many who can say they’ve played for The Duke!" he would tell anyone who was listening.

That musical night was his little slice of fame on which he rested as he slowly gave up playing a musical instrument. Working in the Shipyard and raising a family was not at all conducive with being involved in the Arts. I once asked Tommy why he quit playing trumpet. He told me that he got married at the age of twenty-one when " she found out she was pregnant.” You got a girl pregnant and you married her. That was the proper thing to do in the 1940's. Tommy became a young husband and father and "one thing led to another and I just stopped playing." His dream of being a musician was replaced by the cold reality that this was not to be.

After the struggles of young adulthood followed by the middle-age years, Tommy had finally found his own routine in life. He seemed happy with his wife, son, daughter ("the gentleman's family") and grandchildren. He had a small crowd of good mates waiting for him every day in the bar. What Tommy had didn’t amount to fame or fortune but it was enough.

After that night when he played music with Duke Ellington, Tommy spent the following forty years slowly sinking into alcohol-oblivion. This hazy world softened the inner secrets and the 'what could have been' thoughts that swirled around his head. With alcohol they disappeared. Tommy had reached the stage when the war was over; there was no more fighting; no more dreaming of a possible past. Heaven was now waiting for Tommy to be with the wee wife he lost a few years back - "God rest her soul..." he would say each time she spoke her name.

Tommy may not have fulfilled his dream of being a musician but he did actually play trumpet for ‘The Duke’. There really aren’t many who can say that.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Euston Street versus Holy Cross Boys

1975 - Our football team at Euston Street Primary School won the district league and cup, an amazing achievement for a bunch of scruffy east Belfast kids from a backstreet school. I was the proud left-winger of this magnificent team who trounced most other school teams each week. We may not have been intellectual but we were genius with a football.

My biggest disappointment during our double-winning season was being pipped by one measly goal from being the team’s leading scorer. It was John McMillan and his sweet left foot which denied me that accolade. Still, I had a league and a cup winners’ medal to cherish.

Our team was drawn to play Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in a cup competition. The match was to take place at their school. They were Catholics and we would be going into their territory. This scared us. We were Protestant kids from a Protestant area in a Protestant school with Protestant friends. Most of us had never met a Catholic before. This was the way it was – you lived in your own area with your own friends, family, school and work.

On the day of the big match, we had visions of our team winning the match and all of us being beaten up or shot. We held an emergency meeting in the school playground to discuss strategy. We decided that our only option was to let Holy Cross Boys’ win. We didn’t want to die.

Walking out onto the pitch we got a first glimpse of the enemy. They looked just like us, another bunch of eleven year old kids from Belfast in all shapes and sizes – from the short and chubby, to the tall and lanky, to the small and delicate. Twenty two bony kneed youngsters in baggy shorts and wrong-sized football shirts stood shivering in the cold Belfast winter air waiting for the referee’s whistle to blow.

When the match kicked off we were polite and offered little resistance to them and by half-time they were four nil in the lead. We were still alive. Our strategy of keeping them happy so that we could get back home to the safety of East Belfast in one piece was working.

The second half started and soon it was five nil, then six, then seven. In a momentary lapse of concentration, our centre-forward Frankie scored a goal for us. It was a fluke goal, the ball rebounding off him into the net. An 'I didn't mean to score' goal. Frankie went into hiding for the rest of the game, convinced they would 'get him'. After pleading with the coach to take him off, he was substituted.

It was seven goals to one at the final whistle and we each shook hands with the Holy Cross boys in a moment that was more profound than we realised. This was the first time any of us had shaken hands with a Catholic. Probably those boys had never shaken hands with a Protestant either.

We travelled back home in our rickety mini-bus and they went home to their area. It would a long time before any of us would shake hands with the enemy again. This was Belfast in 1975 after all.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Signing up for Bolton Wanderers

1974 - I was a great wee footballer who was once described by two men as "the best boy footballer they had ever seen" - although you can't completely trust the views of two men full of rum, sitting in a Belfast pub...

At ten years old, football was my life. Kicking a ball was what I did constantly. On glorious summer days during the school holidays I would joyously play football with my mates in the Ormeau Park. This was Heaven. No school, scoring goals and lying on the soft grass watching ladybirds do their thing. I would capture the odd unlucky ladybird and keep it in an empty matchbox with little holes pierced in the lid for the poor thing to breathe. The poor creature would be very much dead after it had been thrown about the inside of a matchbox which had been in my pocket for the duration of an hour and a half long football match.

During one particular match, I noticed an old man watching us play. I carried on playing and during the match I dazzled and shone as usual. It was a position of immense power being streets ahead of my mates in football skills. I loved torturing and teasing my friends as they attempted to get the ball from me. They employed all sorts of tactics to put me off the game - shirt-pulling, clipping the back of my heels to trip me and throwing the odd punch. As the old boy watched us I scored goal after goal.

After our match which always finished with a ridiculous score, something along the lines of 36-29, the old man approached me. He told me he was "a scout for Bolton Wanderers". No Manchester United or Liverpool, just third division level Bolton Wanderers but hey, it's better than nothing. He was a tiny man of about 5'1" in height and wore traditional Ulster-man dress - brown suit, white shirt, brown tie, brown shoes and a brown tweed cap to hide his baldness. The old boy told me I was a great footballer and that he wanted to sign me up for Bolton Wanderers. “Wait, a ten year old signing for a professional football club? Was I THAT good?” I thought to myself.

The old boy took out a small creased notebook and pen from his pocket and asked for my name, age and address. He also told me that he would need to take a photograph of me. Alarm bells were starting to sound. As he opened his notebook he asked if I would meet him the next night in the Ormeau Park to take my photo. The alarm bells were getting louder. As he was speaking I caught a glance into his crumpled notebook and noticed other kids’ names which I recognised, one of them being a girl. I asked him "why have you got Mavis' name there? She doesn't even play football!". I noticed the old man panic. Why did he have the name, address and photo of an eight year old girl? Was he also going to sign her up for Bolton bloody Wanderers? My mates and I began to catch on to what was happening here. We were talking to a ‘dirty old man’.

My crowd of mates gathered around the old boy. "What's up?" one of them asked.
"He wants to sign me up for Bolton Wanderers" I told them.
"Bolton Wanderers?! But they're shite!" declared one of them.
"Are you REALLY a scout for Bolton Wanderers?" asked another.
"Yes! I really am!" the old man replied.
"He's not, no fawkin' way!" shouted another.
"He wants to meet me tomorrow night to take my picture" I told the gang.

By this stage the old boy was surrounded by about fifteen street-wise Belfast kids who had obviously rumbled him and knew fine well that he was an old pervert. He looked terrified as he was surrounded and bombarded with numerous questions simultaneously;
"Why do you take pictures of kids, mate?" asked the cautious one.
"Are you a pervert?" asked the direct one.
"Show us yer dick!" shouted the comedian.

The old boy was backing away as the pack paced after him and around him, playing with their prey with great amusement.

"I'm gonna get my Da - he's just over there..." said one, knowing this would finish the old boy off. At that point he turned and ran for his life with fifteen kids running after him shouting obscenities and threatening to report him "to the peelers". I remember the old boy tripping and falling on his face to which we all fell about laughing. I never saw him ever again.