I recently found the above video of Belfast from 1976. Goodness, that brought back memories! My friends and I were regular visitors to the city centre, mostly because the shops at home were crap, These days we are all used to Amazon shopping but to my 15 year old self everything of importance was in the mecca of Belfast, a range of comics, toys, gadgets and games that was impossible to source anywhere else.
To get into the city centre we had to go through security barriers, these barriers surrounded a two mile wide section of the centre so it was stop and get searched, everyone, old, young, babies as well. The security people would wave an electronic magic wand over your body that apparently detected explosives! Then it was into one of the large department stores but again checked at the entrance, the ladies would have their handbags checked again. After a while this just became instinctive, it became a matter of life, a habit, you could only enter a store via one door and you’d automatically raise your arms to be searched at the door.
My first trip overseas (well, to us the Isle of Man was overseas, we had to get a boat there!) was a revelation, I walked into Marks & Spencer and stopped by the door waiting to get searched, the customers behind me walked past me, it was very strange NOT to get frisked when entering a large store. Old habits..
Even when I moved to London it took me quite some time to get out of the reflex of looking for the security guy to frisk me, it’s interesting what becomes ‘normal’. Walking around in Belfast you’d become oblivious to the bombed/firebombed shells of stores, life went on. Every five years or so the IRA would place car bombs in our local town and blow up the Co-op, Woolworths and Wellworths, there was a rhythm to it and we all just got used to it.
I know this may seem frankly bizarre to non-war torn cities but here’s two points to remember.
- On the telly there may have been a mob of rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs(!) at the police and army, BUT at the same time there were 1.5 million people NOT throwing stones and petrol bombs at the police.
- My friends and I were surrounded by armed police and army in ‘meat wagons’, loyalist and paramilitary groups marching around (when the coast was clear), frequently I watched controlled explosions of suspect devices, I was there when bombs went off in my home town and in Belfast, all this was happening; kneecapping, rioting, murders – but to a 15 year old living through all this, my greatest stress BY FAR was making sure I got my Maths homework in on time to Mr Macaulay, our dreaded Maths teacher! Life is strange, isn’t it?