The Northern Ireland Troubles, 2

THE CASE OF THE FARCE AT THE BARRIER One day in the 70’s I was faced with yet another typically Irish question, equally stupid, but highly charged, It was at the height of the bombing campaign by the IRA. I was telephoned from Head Office to be told that bombs were ‘on all the bridges’. This was referred to road bridges over the River Lagan. What I and my colleague did not realise was that applied to all the bridges, over culverts, and the railway The site was closed down to facilitate people making their way home and I decided on a route round the outskirts of the city. At every turn I was frustrated and slowly found myself herded by circumstance into what was then thought of as ‘no-go’ areas. At one point soldiers appeared from behind a hedge and held me at gun point until they were satisfied I was bona fide. I then had to decide whether to either drive through a certain UDA (Protestant militant) barrier or possibly one set by the IRA. I chose the former. I found rails driven into the roadway at junctions by the UDA to stop speeding bombers, and was brought up short at a barrier with no escape route I locked all the doors of the car and put the car into reverse with the clutch out and the engine running, and while I was deciding what to do, a young thug dressed in camouflaged army surplus, with a bush-hat over his eyes, swaggered over to the car and knocked on the window.
“Show me your licence,” he said parroting the police and military in similar circumstances.
“I will not. “I said, firmly. I resented these vigilante groups. “You’ve no right to ask.” I added. This conversation went on its boring and repetitive way until finally I became fed up and said, ” you might as well let me through, because I’m not giving you my licence.” The irony and indeed stupidity of the whole performance was that when I was stopped by the barrier, I was leaving the area they were supervising, not entering,A large man in his forties appeared, clearly a man to be reckoned with. His gait was steady if slow and his face expressionless. By this time, while outwardly calm, I was in a state of high tension. Alone, with no witnesses, completely vulnerable to say the least, I had made a stand and now was not the time to capitulate. There ensued a question and answer session between the two men and older man asked me if I had any other means of identification. I showed a pass through the window.. This seemed acceptable, and I was about to put the car into forward gear, preparatory to departure when the man said, “Get out and open the boot.” It caught me off balance so I said the first thing which came into my head
“If you intend stealing the car,” (a common occurrence at that time), “you’ll have to steal me with it, I’m not giving it up.” In truth I was incensed, although I immediately saw how ridiculous the threat was.
“No,” the man said, “I just want to see into your boot.”
“I suppose I have to trust you,” I said, he played along and nodded, and I duly got out of the car and opened the boot.
Inside was a set of golf clubs belonging to a professional, circuit golfer, each club chosen and modified to suit, the whole set representing his livelihood. I could see the interest shown by the man and worried whether I would lose them to him, it would not be the first time things were ‘liberated’
“A golfer,” he said, smiling broadly, “what’s your handicap?”
The sudden volte face, the drop in tension, the banality of the words in this charged situation were nearly my undoing. Up until that moment I had been prepared for anything and was playing it by ear , but that final remark left me weak.
I silently got back into the car, the barrier was removed and I drove round the corner for a hundred yards; I could go no further. The tension, the build up of adrenaline in the system and then the sudden release had produced a pain in my back of paralysing proportions. For a while all I could do was sit there and wait for it to disperse, my brain in limbo.
A few minutes later I was sufficiently recovered to start to drive home and as I drove I was astounded, not only at the bland stupidity of the whole exercise, but the total ignorance of these people of the effects their charade could have on a law abiding citizen.
The rider to this story took place a couple of nights later when Soph and I were visiting friends and I was relating the experience. I was explaining how I felt strongly about handing over my car to these people who appeared from nowhere and demanded a car at gun-point. I was heard to say, “I wouldn’t give them the car unless Soph was in it.”

Categorized as General

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