During the 70’s and 80’s we had a spot of bother in Belfast, we call it ‘The Troubles’ and for a lot of folk it wasn’t much fun, terrorism, bombs, shootings, assassinations, knee-capping etc..
However, as a kid growing up during these times it didn’t really impact on us too much, at least not in a bad way. Every few years the IRA would fire-bomb the Co-op, Woolies and Wellworths , like clockwork and EVERYONE would know, it was always a Saturday afternoon in the summer and they would ring through a warning to the local police, the police would go through the well observed routine of clearing the High Street and a hour later the fire-bombs would go off and burn the stores down. The stores would get gutted and rebuilt and two years later the cycle repeated itself. It was rumoured that a local building contractor was actually paying big money to various folk to make this happen but was never proven.
So, we caught onto this routine very quickly and the next time the High Street was cleared we would nip around the back streets and wait, we’d see The Meat (we called the police The Meat because they drove around in armoured Land Rovers or what we called Meat Wagons), we’d see The Meat clear the area and then fall back themselves waiting for the Army Bomb Disposal to come along, and like a swarm of locusts, dozens of us kids would run into Woolies via the back goods entrances and help ourselves to assorted goodies.
For some reason Duracell batteries were all the rage, everyone made a bee-line for them and anything small and electrical like torches and small transistor radios… (and dirty mags too!). We’d grab what we could, filling our pockets and scooping anything and everything up in our jumpers before running out the back and heading off home via the backstreets.. We used to grab boxes and boxes of Duracell’s and in the school playground would trade them for sweets or cards, the market rate being one trading card for one AA battery or a box for a football, I was particular canny and would eek out my supply of batteries over a few months and trade them for a lot more rather than immediately trade them when the market was flooded, an early lesson in market economics..
This was life, a nice treat every couple of years but then one year when I was about 13 me Ma seen me with all my Duracell batteries and demaned to know where I got them from, she thought I had shoplifted them and was about the scalp me arse when I told her the truth, I told her that we all went into the back of Woolies and grabbed whatever we could..
So, being the kind loving generous mother that she wasn’t…she thought about it and then said..really? so next time you’re there can you grab me one of those new microwave ovens?!!
And of course I said yeah, no problem… and two years later, same routine… but this time I ran into the store and grabs the biggest microwave oven I could find and off I go with it… Sadly it was much heavier than I imagined it would be and it was still in it’s box (well, I’m not going to be getting me Ma a shop spoiled one!) but I struggled up the street with it…and other kids were running past with small portable black and white TV’s too.. Unfortunately I actually lived quite a distance from the High Street and by the time I got the microwave home it felt like me arms could scrap the pavement whilst standing up..
However, me Ma and Da were hooked and the next time I was told to get a colour TV, they had just come out and were horrendously expensive but we managed to get one of these, I had to enlist the help of my younger brother ( did I mention there was 9 of us?) but we got this monster home and it was like Christmas in our house during the middle of summer.. Me Ma invited all the neighbours around and when I came home from school one Monday afternoon there was about a dozen of them in the front room watching horse racing on the new Channel 4 TV station..everyone was amazed at the colours of the grass and my Ma was Queen Bee for many a moon..
It was a right few years before me Ma actually had to buy any major electrical item, she was gutted when the IRA called a cease fire, I’m sure if I could have lifted one then she would have asked me for a chest freezer but what I wonder is this, after the fire-bombs went off and the flames had been put out, did the Firemen wander around the store looking at the empty shelves wondering WTF had happened to all the goods, they must have thought Jesus, the heat was so intense that everything has vapourised..
So although the Troubles caused a lot of heart ache during the 70’s and 80’s, for my family at least there was a silver lining…or a full colour one 🙂