We've Got to Get Out
By Niven Dallas
Scotland & Ireland
Life was looking better now, gradually I was becoming known around Birmingham as a good Continental car mechanic. In addition, the specialised Flaxley Garage electronic tune-up bay was always booked out for weeks in advance. With the elimination of my debt and the extra spending money available, I could now afford to enjoy a little more pub life and my passion for rock music... Feeling more secure, I then made my big move.
In late August 1962, I had purchased my dad's old 1958 Ford Zodiac MK2. I always liked this car and allowed to drive it only once. On that special occasion, I brought it back two hours after the promised, "trust me I will be back" time. Then to top that, the next day, the old man ran out of fuel halfway to work… he was not happy.
Our new Dad and Son understanding erased nearly all my past disasters from the family record, as we were to start anew. The old man now accepting that I knew more about motorcars than he did, I was surprised when he invited me to help him in negotiating the purchase of the next Dallas family carriage. Thus, I went along with the old man to buy his next car from Ford City. Dad had his eye on purchasing a new Ford Zodiac MK3.
To me, the deal looked like a standard car-dealer's hook. A firm promise on the phone of a good price for the trade-in; then tell you when arriving at the dealership the owner claimed condition was not as described. In fact a heap of shit and worth far less. The old man looked devastated; the deal was going to fall through, he needed another one hundred-and-thirty quid to make the deal work.
My keen eye noticed the demo Zodiac we were in was the same colour the old man wanted, it had almost five hundred miles on the clock; as such, was due for normal demo replacement. Twenty minutes later, I had convinced the car salesman to sell Dad the demo Zodiac MK3 and to finance the old MK2 Zodiac trade-in to me at the low offered trade in price, plus the now small shortfall. The deal eventually accepted as a rare win-win deal, the old man never seemed to notice that he went guarantor for my finance with Ford Credit. His only condition being I could not park his old car, (now my new car) in the house driveway. You see, protocol decreed, the neighbours must notice he had bought a new MK3 Zodiac.
I had washed this car many times… and now it was all mine. Just five years old, with only twenty-six thousand miles on the clock, it was a bargain at my buy price of one-hundred-and-eighty quid. This being only twenty quid below Dads promised two hundred quid trade-in price. Now all I needed to do, was drive somewhere in this magnificent reliable motor car.
With my two weeks holiday now available, a grand motoring trip soon planned. I had arranged to drive up to my birthplace Edinburgh Scotland. Apart from the good long drive, this was an ideal opportunity to show off my flash car to all my old Scottish friends in Edinburgh. Jim Mac, my quiet Irish pal who lived down the road from me would come along to share the huge travel and fuel costs. This, on the firm agreement we came back via a visit to his old family home in Ireland.
The excitement grew, as this would be my first trip back home to Edinburgh in over ten years; also, it was going be my first visit to Ireland. Strange to say, but this was about the same time I began to form my very first positive view on all religions, there wealth, power, and control. In this my first example, I would be learning at first hand all about the Catholic religion.
When we eventually reached my childhood home in Edinburgh, I was both surprised and sad. This return being some ten years after my mother had sent my older brother Denis and me down to my father in Wales. As I then understood, sent as a small, but horrid wedding gift to disrupt my Dad's pending second marriage... My first true understanding of the saying. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
Let me further explain. Unfortunately, my parents had split-up when I was four, being some two years after the end of the Second World War. Only now, in these later years could I fully understand; that those who had survived that war were all permanent, lasting victims... including myself.
I have with the advantage of hindsight and time; I now understand the events that caused the Dallas family disaster.
When the British declared war on Germany 3rd September 1939, Dad at twenty-six, along with many thousands of other young men, then swiftly conscripted into the British army. For the old man this meant leaving his good-paying job as a Guild plasterer, his home, wife, and his two young children to fight in a lengthy war for his country. All of this was long before my older sister Louise and I were even a twinkle in his eye. By my calculations I must have been conceived in late October of 1942, some three years into the Second World War, and while the old man was on leave, just prior to him shipping out to fight Rommel in the Middle East.
At that time, the war was not going too well for the British military or my parents. Back in 1940, a year after the start of the war, the old man had just completed a pre-action four-day army leave. While departing for his return to base, and being picked-up from the front of his house, the army ten-ton truck accidently ran over and killed my then three-year-old brother Ian.
In our obviously much later Father Son chats, I became convinced that Dad had blamed my Mother for this tragedy... This, the unfortunate death of his second son together with the burden of a deteriorating war, brought about the start to the eventual breakup of their marriage.
At this grim period, the Dallas family morale, and that of the British nation were then at an all-time low. In addition, tension was raising at the coming Middle Eastern action now considered crucial to the outcome of the war. As such, my parents were convinced this was the last army leave they were ever likely to have, or possibly to see each other again. With the war, and my Father rarely being at home, it was easy for me to calculate this last army leave and his farewell fuck, the exact time when I was inevitability and irreversibly conceived.
I had convinced myself over the years that I was a normal wanted and planned-for child. In my mind, maybe as some sort of substitute for the unfortunate death of my brother Ian. This fantasy thinking, later lost in the actions and words freely used by my parents in their many loud arguments. What a blight I must have been on my parent's fragile relationship. In later years, I had often wondered at the level of their arguments and the fighting that would have ultimately taken place when my Mother reported she was pregnant again... with me.
This unfortunate family matrimonial situation became a very powerful reason for my first personal lifestyle principle... From that early age, I vowed a promise to myself that before I ever got married I would have my own house and a good income. In addition, that I would never have children within the first two years of married life. This, a time to test if my personal damaged view of the world, and that of married life, could sustain a workable marriage that would last with someone like me....
I must confess, that my old man and I; or for that matter, my entire family could never be described as close. As for family contact with my old man, I doubt that myself, or my older brother Denis had seen him more than half a dozen times since I was borne in1943... Until that sad meeting in 1954, on that rain-swept train station platform at Llanfair Wales. It was the old man's immediate intention to send us both back on the next train to my Mother in Edinburgh. It was fortunate for us; the next train north was not due until the following day, so Dad had to take us home to his lodgings for the night.
It was Marge the Vicars daughter; Dad's intended wife, a person we had heard about many times from our mother, but had never met who changed that decision. Marge convinced the old man he should keep us, liking the idea of an instant family. Marge saved us, a brave and kind woman. Looking back with more mature eyes and mind, I now regret all the many problems I had caused that good woman.
Here I was at the age of twenty, for the first time in my living memory, having a nice quiet drink at a bar with my old man. I was looking at this fifty-one year-old; small, but very fit and lean looking man, drinking his normal pint-of-beer with a scotch chaser. This all while I pondered in my mind over what had happened in the past two decades that had created our sad and dysfunctional Dallas family.
We were both bracing the bar in the old man's RSL club, his favourite drinking hole. My Dad had found this RSL club only a week after arriving in Birmingham... a place not far from his home. To him a refuge from his world of troubles and reality.
An immediate change of thinking and subject was called for. These dark thoughts, although educational, were all bad memories; therefore, deciding I should take a leaf out of the old man's book on life and simply move on. As such, I drew that line in the sand asking at this rare occasion to enquire about the old man's war experience.
During the war, Dad was an army Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers. I knew this because it was listed on my birth certificate. The old man never talked about the war, but I know from his campaign medals he had fought in the Middle East and Italy. Wounded twice in action; Dad insisted both wounds were only scratches, adding you should see the other men. He reckoned he got through the war quite well, and surprised he had survived.
I did ask him why his eyes were always watery and bloodshot, asking was that the result of one of his wartime scratches. His reply gave me a brief look inside this modest yet complicated man. Placing his beer gently back on the bar, then raising his scotch chaser, took a sip, smiled, then spoke for the first time in my life about his time and life at war. His blunt point of view was most interesting.
'Niven, most returned war soldiers will never talk about their war experience, not because it was so frightening, ugly, or horrifying; but because it was so damn wasteful, un-necessary, and outright fucking embarrassing. Aye that's right, embarrassing for the soldier, and for his country. The fact of the matter was Niven; we were all expertly trained by our respective warmongering governments to kill people. People we had never met or known; ordinary people just like your friends and me. I do know for a fact that I have never killed anyone, but those unfortunate ones who did know, are the ones still having nightmares... decent people, forced into a bloody action who would normally have never hurt a fly.
If you thought the Germans were cruel to the Jews, consider this. If you wanted to get some immediate cooperation from a captured German soldier, all you had to do was whisper "Black Watch" into his ear. This Scottish regiment was famous for their barbaric and sadistic treatment of German soldiers, men who were merciless killers and enjoyed every moment of it. For that, and being a Scotsman myself, I am both embarrassed... and sickened.'
I had never known much about what the old man did in the War. I urged him on with another pint and scotch chaser, asking 'what about the scratches that you have?'
'Well, if you must know, while serving in the Middle East it was quite normal for a soldier to use the services of a trusted local Arab for washing clothes, cleaning brass and polishing boots, and the like. In return, a soldier would share his food ration with the local. My local Arab had a wife and two kids to feed, so I gave him half my weekly rations. One day I returned from the bog to find half my equipment had gone... the little fucker had pinched it.
With the help of some local paid Arabs. All Arabs rat on each other. We soon found the little shit in the act of selling my army gear. There were five of us squaddies against twenty or more skinny Arabs; they only fight in packs like rats. This was a fair fight; we beat the shit out of them all; this being the only fighting I ever did in the war or for that matter in my life. During the fight, I got stabbed in the arse with my own bayonet. Now you would have to admit Niven, that is a bloody embarrassing thing for any serving soldier... hence never mentioned.
If we had never recovered my army equipment, I would have been before a court-martial. All I was trying to do was help a man feed his family. Look at all the troubles in the Middle East seen on TV today. Remember what I say, never trust a fucking Arab, they are cunning ratbag shits, they tell lies and steal as part of their normal everyday way of life. They think this is okay and the same as what we would do. When you ask them why-the-hell they do these fucking things, the bastards tell you it's the will of Allah... aye, that's who they bloody call their God.'
This was interesting stuff, should I push the old man for more of his wartime experiences?
'Is that when you your eyes were damaged, during that Arab fight?'
'No that was another time, and another country.'
It was like extracting blood from a stone, the old man was being evasive again, and then I noticed that he was out of scotch. I ordered another and the old man slowly started telling me war stories again.
'My eye problem was caused by utter Yank stupidity; we were bunkered down at the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. A blockade had been in place for over two months, the top brass had orders not to blanket shell or destroy the fifteen hundred year old Monastery, yet the Germans continued to rain down mortar shells on our positions from just outside the walls of this mountain Monastery... and they were very accurate. The only way to remain alive was to keep moving and stay out of range.
Many of our soldiers and allies had been killed in the previous four separate assaults while trying to comply with the firm orders to save the Monastery from any destruction. We tried every way, scaling the steep sides, precision shelling and mortars; then the Yanks took over running the show, they started taking the battle of Monte Cassino down another path.
If you really want to fuck things up then bring in the Yanks, they know the best way to do that with total confidence. I had seen them in action before and lost many friends by the way they did things. The ignorant Yanks had decided that saving a fifteen hundred year old Monastery was a waste of time and planned to blow the place to hell... and they did. This made all the sacrifices of the British, New Zealand, American, Indian, and Polish troops all a waste of effort and life. There were never any Germans in the old Monastery when it was bombed; they had complied with the British and allies in a bilateral agreement not to occupy the place. However, the Germans soon scarpered when they heard the loud-mouthed Yanks were going to blow the place to bits... Then after the place was bombed flat, the smart buggers for the first time did actually occupy the Monastery, achieved by a daring parachute drop, even before the dust had settled.
This happened only two days after the Americans had dropped fourteen hundred tons of bombs on the old Monastery.
I was seconded to drive around a loud-mouthed American one star General. We were in a wee Willis jeep on the base perimeter road around the bombed-out Monastery when the boss told me to stop. I advised him this was not a good idea since the new Jerry defence had this road well sighted for accurate five-inch mortar range. The Yank one star asked me if I was fucking deaf... so I stopped the jeep. The one star got out and started looking at the Jerry positions through his binoculars. I thought I might take advantage of the stop and wandered further down the road to take a piss. I had just turned around when a Jerry mortar landed right in the back of the Jeep blowing it to bits, including the one star Yank General.
I should have pissed a little longer then I would not have had the GrW42, thirty-five pound mortar round blast into my eyes, almost blinding me. Now I would say that was embarrassing for the Yanks... and lucky for me.'
This was interesting stuff; my old man actually disapproved of violence, well what a turn of thought, he was really a true pacifist. The old man told me many years later he thought he would not survive the war. I also knew from our early conversations that my Mum was convinced she would end up a war widow.
When you hear of relatives and close friends dying almost every week in the war zones, and at home in the blitz, you soon began to think; will you be the next one to die. Most people, who were just normal people, soon became "war-mad." A common term used at that time for people living each day at a time, taking and sharing what small pleasures they could… and might I add, with whom they could. All were convinced their loved ones, and a normal life had little chance of ever returning. The family unit as we once knew it gone forever. Who would be the next to lose their home or a family member to a German bomb, or to receive the dreaded death telegram, that the father of your children will never come home.
On arriving in Edinburgh, to my horror, I found most of my old school pals were still living at home in the same dreary granite-block of tenements. They were all in the same place, doing mostly the same things as when I left almost ten years ago. Well those that had not acquired compulsory lodgings in the local prison system… or had taken the blunt choice of military service.
The only difference was; all were now hard drinkers and chain-smokers. None was married, all had fulltime girlfriends, and some were accidental fathers. Any actually employed, had crappy dead-end jobs… I was thinking how lucky we were, that out of bitter spite and loathing of my Dad, my Mum had chucked my brother and me on that train down to Dad in Wales, just to spoil his and Marges wedding day. Looking around at these sad, busted arsed childhood street friends, I thought; Denis and I would have without doubt, ended up in the same almighty hopeless rut. Who knows what kind of strange things in life that may ultimately end up thrown into your path? Good situation luck can only be realised later in life when you can look back at the then options; being thankful you had by some good fortune, ending up with the best option.
I was amazed at the lack of progress in the old town of Edinburgh. Remember, this was 1962, the time of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the founder of Pop music Elvis. We also had the Beatniks, Mods and Rockers, flower people and free love; yeah we also had the mighty contraceptive "pill." Why was life so difficult in Scotland? None of my Scottish friends had a telephone at home, few had TV, and none had a motorbike or car… well, none that they owned. Much as I proudly showed off my pride-and-joy Zodiac, none of my old Scottish friends was impressed, or interested. Then casually advising me, if they wanted such a car… well, they would just simply steal one. Yes, I had missed-out on nothing of any good… thank-you Mother.
Speaking of Mother, my brother Denis did give me a Scottish address; however, while in Edinburgh I could not locate their whereabouts. Both my Mum and my older sister Louise had both moved in the past year. Sadly, we had been out-of-touch for too many long years; in fact, my last, memory of my mother and sister was when my mother put both Denis and I on that train down to my Dad in Wales ten years ago.
The few relations I knew of in Edinburgh were never close. Any relations who had a house, shunned us for fear that we might want to move in. Other past family friends, who had aspired to a regular job, a telephone, TV, and a car, at that time thought of as snobs, considering themselves well above our lowly deprived dysfunctional Dallas family. Had I now joined them in becoming a snob?
With no current address or phone number to contact any Scottish family members, there was simply no reason to stay in my birthplace. Frankly, at that time, I only had my childhood view of my nine years of life in Edinburgh, and they were not good memories. This visit was stimulating my childhood memories as they came flooding back. I was more than happy to move on, yet at this point I feel compelled to add a small wedge of amazing childhood information here.
In later years, I was to discover some interesting things about my city of birth Edinburgh, also about the very suburb where my family and I once lived. We lived in a small inner-city area of granite Council flat tenements on an old cobbled road called High Riggs. Only two streets away from where I lived, is the world prestigious Edinburgh College of Arts. Five streets away was the famous Usher concert hall, and within easy walking distance was Princess Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle. As a seven year-old child, I played in and around those areas every day, and knew the streets well.
On my home road, just three doors away was the famous Burke & Hare pub, now a trendy strip joint, named after the notorious murderers who supplied fresh corpses to the world-renowned Edinburgh Medical School, a building also within easy walking distance of my tenement home.
In my child's mind, this very rough worker's pub became a source of great interest. Mostly because of the loud noise on Friday and Saturday nights, this caused by the regular bloodbath of bare knuckle fighting. I watched this fighting and the sound of vulgar swearing with childish terror from my tenement window, four floors up.
The arranged bare-knuckle fights were soon thrown out of the pub, and held in the street as the drunken, hard navvies bet-on, and practiced their favourite end-of-the-week relaxing sport… bashing the living hell out of one another. Although both my parents liked a pub drink, they never frequented that one. Today the Burke & Hare, pole dancing strip pub on my home street High Riggs, now joined by many other strip pubs close by, such as "The Western Bar," and "The Baby Doll." This has created a seedy strip club area in Edinburgh, where the boozing crowd go for a good time. The area now affectionately called, "The pubic triangle."
On the opposite side of the road from this pub was Lauriston Street, less than a minute's walk from where all of my friends lived, (and by all accounts still live) in similar dark dreary tenements.
A little way up this street was the magnificent Lauriston Blue Halls Cinema, built in 1930 with a massive seating capacity of some 1,760. You can imagine the excitement and noise at the regular Saturday morning children's film matinee.
Yes, our early dysfunctional family did indeed live in a block of high-density low status council flats. However, we were also living in an exceptional inner City area of Edinburgh. Our area was rich in Scottish history and the arts, music, architecture... with many leading medical and engineering world-first acclaimed achievements created in the nearby institutions.
Below are listed a few of the many past and present famous people who were born in the City of Edinburgh. I suspect you will recognise a few names, if not you will know them by, and use what they invented or created.
Charles Darwin: Author. The Origin of Species.
Ronnie Corbett: The Two Ronnies.
Sean Connery: Actor Dr No,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Author Sherlock Holmes.
Alexander Fleming. Discovered penicillin.
John Logie Baird: Inventor first TV.
J. K. Rowling: Author Harry Potter series.
Charles Mackintosh: Inventor of the raincoat.
Alexander Cummings: Patented the flushing toilet.
Sir Robert Watson-Watt: Inventor of Radar.
John McAdam: Invented road tarmac.
Alexander Graham Bell: The telephone.
John Boyd Dunlop: Invented the rubber air Tyre.
Alexander Wood: The hypodermic syringe.
In addition, many more, in fact over three thousand notable great Inventors, Authors and Engineers were born in or near Edinburgh. I should also mention one last name... me Niven Dallas Author... Yes, I am proud to be Scottish, born in Edinburgh.
I had left Edinburgh with more questions than answers. I could not get my head around the fact that so little had changed in all those years… or was it me? Jim Mac was not impressed with the place either. We were also about to find that things had not changed much in his birthplace Ireland since his family had left some eighteen years ago.
While waiting for the ferry at Stranraer, Mac got talking to a few returning Irish locals over a pint, then reported his Irish findings to me. By all accounts, the Protestants loathed the Catholics, and the Catholics hated the Protestants. Apparently, the minority Church of Ireland (Anglican) had tried to be impartial, but failed as it too joined the other two in despising the British army based in North Ireland. The South wanted the North back and few, if any in the North wanted to join the South.
Then there were the known Irish names, only heard of accidently while the oldies were watching the TV news; among them, Sinn Fein and the IRA. These Irish locals warned Mac to say nothing about the religious sectarian division, civil rights, Irish poverty, military activity, or the Communist Party. Seemingly, there was a bubbling brew of hate for all, and warned that these were not subjects to bring up in an Irish pub over a pint of Guinness.
Apparently, at that time in Ireland, if you were sympathetic to any one of those factions or groups you were at risk of losing your life, by bomb or bullet. At the very least, you would receive a swift punch in the face for discussing your imported and unwanted views. This was assuming you happen to be in the wrong place at the right time.
Boarding the fast ferry at Stranraer Scotland for Larne Ireland, we soon caught up on all the latest Irish news… there was none? After several hundred years of mayhem, they were all still at it.
Even before we drove off the ferry, armed soldiers boarded first. It was obvious to both of us the military tension was grim. There was a huge amount of British army presence; they were everywhere. Driving off the Larne ferry in a long line, within a short distance, all vehicles flagged to stop at a British army checkpoint. The checkpoint looked like something out of a war movie, complete with a high wall of sand bags protecting a machine-gun nest, the gun pointing our way.
Time and tension ticked by, we were now the third car in the slow moving queue. As a nineteen-year-old dumb young man, I thought this was exciting stuff. With a bit of luck we might witness some real shooting. Now that would be a good story to tell the lads down the pub when we got back home.
Just then, a soldier, who looked to me like an important soldier walked past.
'What's going on Sergeant?' I politely enquired. 'Has there been some sort of incident?'
The smartly dressed soldier paused and briskly turned around on his heel giving me a long, cold, hard, stare. Then demanded in a loud Liverpool scouse accent…
'Where the fucking-hell in this world 'ave you come from young man?'
I thought having just come off the ferry it was obvious, and abruptly taken aback by his quick, defensive, angry response. Both startled and confused, I was not aware that he was referring to his rank, and my poor understanding of the current Irish situation, and not where we had actually just came from. The smartly uniformed soldier waited for my answer, eyes bulging...
'Scotland, we have just got off that big boat over there from Scotland.' I spluttered, pointing at the ferry.
His reply was far worse…
'You have just come off the fucking Stranraer ferry dick-head, so I know you have just come from bleeding Scotland. However your accent says you're from the midlands, and your observation and general news knowledge, tells me you are a fucking idiot.'
This soldier was not finished with me yet. Leaning forward he placed his right hand on the butt of his large automatic pistol and continued my education. Pointing to his hat with his left hand finger…
'This 'ear flat hat tells you that I'm a bloody officer, and these ear pips on me epaulettes tells you I'm a bleeding Captain.'
There was a small pause in his drill parade ranting to draw breath. Taking this brief opportunity, I butted in trying to raise my idiot status a bit. I then asked what I thought was an intelligent question.
'We were just trying to work-out what all the military action was all about?' waving a hand through the open car window at all the soldiers.
My innocent action caused the angry Captain to take an immediate step backwards and a firmer grip on the butt of his large pistol. Then realising that no hand grenade was coming his way, resumed his parade-ground rant.
'This being a Sunday morning is what you might call our quiet time for the men. All the fucking IRA shits are in church receiving their bleeding Hail-Mary's of Christian forgiveness for causing mayhem and terror to our lads over the last frigging week.'
The Captain then spun on his heal and briskly marched off. Just then, the line of cars behind me started honking for me to move forward.
At the checkpoint, Jim Mac and I were ordered to get out of the car, then six soldiers with mirrors on sticks, and two mean looking Alsatian dogs went about checking everything inside and outside the Zodiac. Unprompted one of the soldiers volunteered some grim information.
'You nearly got your fucking head shot off back there lad. The boss nearly drew his weapon; if he did, he would have used it. That's what we're trained to do. Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning just like this one, three of our lads got badly shot-up in an IRA Border Campaign attack on this very checkpoint. We're all still a bit touchy about that lad.'
Then looking up from reading our entry information card…
'I see you are booked on the 6pm Dublin ferry to Holyhead Anglesey. I would suggest that with your dumb nose for trouble, you both drive out of Northern Ireland as quick as you can. And keep your stupid bloody mouth shut.'
Eventually he waved us on our way, only then did the speak-shy Mac make known his thoughts.
'Shit, you nearly got us both fucken shot back there, you and your big mouth. I reckon we should drive the quickest bloody way to Dublin, we should get there easily by midday, and then catch the first ferry back home.'
Jim Mac had a point. This was my first visit to Ireland, and it could have easily been my last.
The drive out of Larne was interesting. On the other hand to me, best described as a depressing place with many working aged people just hanging about. This sad situation reminding me of my old home High Riggs in Edinburgh. Then suddenly a welcome change of mode; we were eventually driving out into the stunning, unspoilt, striking Irish countryside... a feast of rich green.
Somehow, distracted by the magnificent views, I had missed the direct A1 coastal road to Dublin. We were now heading sort-of inland on another trunk road the A2, heading to a place called Monaghan. Being Irish, Mac decided he should navigate; this with the help of an old school map he had brought along for this purpose. A map I noticed that showed few roads. I then observed in the drizzling rain that the roadside markers said we were now on the T12. You might think that with such few roads to drive on it was impossible to get lost; the sad fact was we had we gone the wrong way again.
A quick chat with a friendly local farmer, who claimed he was speaking English, soon resolved the problem. We had now crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland. On this side of the Irish boarder, all the main road signs had a "T" and not a British "A"… simple when you get your head around the Irish road thinking. Oh and the road numbers were different, the A2 became the T12 at the border.
These road signs were confusing to both of us, and remember Jim Mac was Irish. We never noticed a North-South border crossing or, any military checkpoint; we later found there was none. Apparently, the IRA, Sinn Fein, and all the others can come and go as they please... anytime. There was no physical boarder to cross, well none that we could see.
More confusing was these "T" class trunk roads, they looked very much like our B or C class country roads back in Britain. Worse still, farmers driving large tractors, and blokes moving huge herds of sheep or cattle used the roads constantly. I calculated that we had travelled less than twenty miles in the past hour. At this speed, we will never reach Dublin before the ferry leaves at six.
Mac had a better idea; we should turn onto the next road left and try to regain the T1 for Dublin.
With the next left turn taken, we travelled at a cautious pace for another hour or so along a narrow one-lane road, with grass growing down the middle and high stonewall hedges both sides that you could not see over.
Jim Mac spotted it first from a hill in the road, or was that just a hill in the lane. Dual church spires pointing to the heavens, thinking, as you would, we must be close to a large town. Two miles further on, the dirt road became a normal two lane potted bitumen road, and we soon came across a small village. The village centre was easy to spot; pulling over, we parked outside the front door of a beautiful old Irish pub. I could not help noticing there was not a soul in sight. Only one rusty old car that looked like it will never move again, and three carts with sad looking horses attached, waiting in the misty drizzling rain… for something.
My eyes drifted directly across the road to admire the huge, magnificent gothic style church with twin spires… Alongside, and built in the same gothic style was a large rectory, the priests house. However, what really caught my eye was the immaculate Zodiac Mk3 parked outside in the curved through driveway… It was the same colour as my old man's new motor, British Racing Green.
I was thinking; this car could not belong to the church, why would a Southern Irish church priest choose British Racing Green, these people hate the British. Surly white for weddings or black for funerals would have been a far more suitable choice for a church motor colour. No, this vehicle must belong to a visitor. A quick jab in the side from Mac redirected my thoughts, and eyes… he was pointing to a small sign on the pub door,
"Sunday opening 12:30"… it was now 12:15. Then Mac spoke.
'I promised my Mum I would attend Mass while in Ireland, I might as well pop over and tick that one off the list as done. At least until the pub opens.'
With the door of my Zodiac half open, we could clearly hear the ranting priest giving a stern lecture in Gaelic, no doubt on "giving freely."
Mac did his stuff with the holy water at the church entry, as a skinny man in a robe holding a blue velvet bag rushed passed us to stand at the entrance. My eyes then scanned the church interior; it was just as opulent as the exterior.
I was surprised at the small congregation of about fifty worshipers; they looked quite lonely in this vast church. The Priest in the pulpit had just finished his sermon with arms outstretched, ending with a long amen; then in one vast movement the entire congregation stood up and made a dash for the door. Mac was down on one knee doing his water cross thing as the gathering rapidly filed past, he was too late for the service. However, the velvet bagman at the door collecting money caught us all.
It was obvious to me this congregation were poor people. If what they were wearing was their Sunday best, then the local people were facing hard financial times. As they passed me, I was also surprised at the number of children with no shoes on their feet. This was a first for me; we were from an underprivileged, low social district in Edinburgh. However, in my early childhood I had never seen any of my friends running around with no shoes.
I was for a moment distracted, Mac was now at the front of the church lighting little candles and putting money in a stout wooden box fitted with a large padlock.
'Catching up on God,' I casually enquired. 'Why are you lighting all those skinny little candles?'
Jim Mac turned around with a knowing smile on his face, nonchalantly replying…
'These are prayer candles, or votive candles. They indicate someone is praying about something. Anyway, I promised my Mom when we got to Ireland, I would light a candle for her, Dad and my sister. You don't know much about religion do you?'
Mac was right about that, I did not. Then again, he was much smarter than I was, but I was learning fast. I did however have my religious education from Mr Rose at school to fall back on. Then I hit Mack with my thoughts on this my first Catholic Church experience.
'I've been thinking Mac. I reckon you are only doing this church thing to avoid telling your oldies any lies after promising to go to church. Moreover, maybe it is just to keep your foot firmly in each spiritual world in case there really is a hell for none practicing Catholics. Come on, let's face it Mac, I have known you for many years; you are not very religious now are you?
I can tell you this Mac, what little I did learn about religion from my old teacher Mr Rose, was the second commandment. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath." Take a look around this flash church Jim, and try telling me there are no carved images, or likeness. Granted that quote is only from the English Standard Version of the many Bibles, but the other seven versions of the Ten Commandments taught in the various religious denominations are almost identical on this business about carved images.
I am going to ask you two questions Mac. Why are there at least seven variations of the Ten Commandments; I was taught that Moses only brought down one set of stone tablets from Mount Sinai. Another thing, these carved images of Jesus on his cross, and the Virgin Mary are both white skinned. Mr Rose taught us that they were both born in the Middle East; they should be very dark skinned. This church is not only breaking the second commandment, but it is also teaching followers bloody colour discrimination. What do you say about that?'
Jim Mac held his smile and then added a steady stare of concern, looked at his wristwatch then grimly announced.
'The fucking pub across the road has been open ten minutes while I have been stood here having my fucking ears bashed about your shitty religious views. I'm going over the road for a pint of Guinness.'
He then briskly walked past me, out of the church and over to the pub. Yes, Mac was smart, he kept his religious views, and all of his other views that he may have had to himself.
The pub was a hive of activity and noise, all speaking Gaelic Irish. We had a small problem ordering two Guinness, even when I used my two fingers to indicate my order and pointing to my mouth. I had figured out that the entire church congregation was in that little pub.
Bracing the bar with smiles of confidence was the Priest and his bagman. Strangely, I never noticed the Priest pass me in the church, so he must have snuck out the back. However, what I did notice was in over twenty minutes of drinking, neither he, nor his bagman bought a single drink. These poor village people were buying all the booze.
My staring must have tweaked his interest, as with a beaming smile and a majestic wave, he called Mac and me over to him. His willing booze buyers started to move aside to let us at the bar. His opening words were like that of a sermon…
'Well praised be to the Lord, we have a few visitors to our little village. Now we don't see many visitors here, can we be buying you boys a Guinness?'
My mouth opened to accept, but Mac got in first.
'No thanks Father, we will be on our way after this one drink. We've got to catch the six o'clock Dublin to Holyhead ferry.'
Too late, I had already responded to the invite moving over to have a chat with the priest, Mac followed mumbling urgently in my ear.
'Don't you bloody stir him up; with luck we will be out of here in fifteen minutes.'
Too late, I was already on my first question…
'Hi Vicar, Mac and I have just been in your beautiful old church. Christ, the maintenance must cost a bomb to keep it so nice.'
That did it. The whole pub stopped talking Gaelic and the pub fell into a deafening silence. They may all normally speak Gaelic around here, but everyone froze at the single well-known English word "bomb." My jaw was in the dropped (what the fuck did I say) position, when Jim Mac casually added a rare comment.
'Trust you Dallas to fuck up a nice drink in an old Irish pub. We will be lucky to get out of this place in one bloody piece.'
Suddenly the priest let out a staccato of Gaelic that created a catholic miracle of calm, the pub tension then gradually moved back to a normal mode. The smiling priest with his terrified looking bagman alongside him advised us that the matter was now resolved. He then suggested that we buy a round of drinks, it would go a long way in repairing things. Knowing I was broke, Mac reluctantly ordered a round for the pub… and all was well… until my next question.
'That's a nice new Zodiac Mk3 you have parked outside your house, my old man bought one just like it in the same colour. You obviously have some important visitors?'
The priests face took on a hardened expression of deep suspicion, and then his eyes narrowed with evil cunning as he slowly replied.
'Ta answer yer first fucking inquisition. Ta maintain this seven-hundred-and-twenty year old church is very expensive indeed. We still have ta raise another twenty-six thousand pounds ta sandblast the outside stonework, and tar-mac the rectory driveway.' Then in a rapidly changing tact. 'Be Jesus; for the life of me, yer nearly caused a fucking riot in the pub ye bloody ignorant British shit.
My eyes were still blinking rapidly, staring back in frozen shock at this vicious cursing priest attack. In the moment of pause, the bagman spoke for the first time in his heavy Irish accent.
'Atall, atall. The new motor belongs ta the church, and is used fir important church business. It was donated by these kind parishioners you know.'
My anger and voice had both elevated. I could not understand this weird level of madness. There was no stopping me now. I then blurted out...
'What is wrong with you lot; can't you see that your parishioners are all stony broke, they obviously don't have the money to pay for motors, they can't even afford to put shoes on their children's feet? Why the hell is it so important to maintain such a large fucking church, and why do you need such a large car in this little village. You Irish blokes all hate the Brits, you must know that Ford colour is called British racing green.'
That did it; the Priest and his bagman were stunned into silence. Both were now displaying dropped jaws and wide eyes of utter amazement, I thought the Priest was about to explode, and in a way he did, snapping back with a twisted loathing face...
'Would you be thinking that the British Irish Protestant northern orange be the better colour for a Southern Irish Catholic Church motor? For fucks sake you dumb British turd... Dark green is the Irish Republic's national colour, and flag. As we all know, it's been so for over three hundred and twenty long fucking years.'
Just then, I heard the jingling of keys close to my ear, and turned to see Mac dangling my car keys. His face blank with no apparent expression.
'I'm off to Dublin, you coming.' He then turned and walked out of the pub. I followed him out at a rapid pace.
We drove in silence in the unyielding drizzling rain; no doubt both thinking about the Irish pub drama, and what the outcome could have been. Within an hour, the road came out onto the T1 for Dublin, just as Jim Mac had planned. Then another hour later, we were on the outskirts of Dublin, heading for the ferry. With luck, we should be able to catch the 4pm ferry for Holyhead in Anglesey Wales.
I attempted to apologise to Mac for the mess I had caused at the village and that we had now ran out of time to visit his old home in Ireland. Mac graciously said not to worry as it looked like we were now both going to get out of Ireland alive, which was a better outcome than it looked only two hours ago. Adding, he did agree with me about the way those poor villagers were being exploited in the name of religion. He then mumbled that this was the way of life in these parts for hundreds of years, the people knew no different. That being so, in any argument, the locals would have sided with the priest. As a result, we would have been totally fucked.
Jim Mac was right again; what could we have done to expose the hundreds of years of religious exploitation, with only one day in Ireland. This was their way of life; however, it did give me a further insight into the way religion worked, and I did not have to agree with the threatening way the Catholic religion went about its hell-fire business. My silent curiosity was; why did all these poor Irish village people agree with it?
I had learnt many things about the differences in my old life in Edinburgh, and my new life in Birmingham, mainly how lucky I was.
I had also learnt about everyday people, life, religion, and a bit about myself, such as my outspoken ill-timed views could get me killed. Also on that short trip, I had learnt one thing more... I could not afford to pay for the fuel, insurance, rego, and the HP payments on my dad's old Zodiac; I was continually broke and now back into deep debt. The Zodiac, the car of my dreams had to go.
END OF SAMPLE