Insult leading to nearer injury. The most salutary lesson, though, was to come on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of July 1949. By this time I had learned that it was referred to as the Glorious Twelfth. An aunt living in Bangor who had borrowed a camera from our next-door neighbour, had unfortunately been rushed to hospital. The neighbours were going on holiday that evening with the result, the camera had to be collected and returned that day. We had a council of war and it was decided that I should cycle to Bangor and fetch it. The reason for the bicycle was that public transport would be packed and it might be quicker by cycle.
As I passed the ‘Field’ at Ballyrobert, which bordered the main Belfast to Bangor road, I saw the Orangemen lying about on the grass enjoying the glorious sunshine, it was indeed a Glorious Twelfth. With much to-ing and fro-ing I collected the camera and headed back to Belfast and all went well until I was on the outskirts of Holywood, a seaside town about five miles from Belfast. These days the road is a wide dual carriageway with at least six lanes and a hard shoulder. In those days it wound picturesquely between overhanging trees and was about wide enough for two cars just to pass in opposite directions, comfortably. Whether it even had footpaths I forget.
I came across the Orangemen on their return journey some half a mile from Holywood, and they were marching between cheering crowds to the extent that there was no room to pass on either side. I could hear the strains of the band and way up ahead was a man striding out in his bowler hat, his dark suit and his white gloves, sword to the ready.
The problem was to get the camera to our friends PDQ and as there was no way round, the solution seemed to be to go through. After all I assumed as I was riding on the King’s highway I had the right of way. No sooner had the idea presented itself than I acted, but I had hardly advanced more than a couple of ranks before I was being stabbed from behind with a sort of pike, it was a long stained pole topped by a brass emblem like a fleur de lys, which I then recognised as a Deacon Pole, taken from a church pew. This prodding only hurried me on through the ranks and I suspect that as I was the first since the days of King William to have had such gall, I took them all by surprise and got away with it.. I was some distance ahead of the march as I cycled on my way and I looked back to discover that the man with the sword had forgotten to put his collar and tie back on since lying in the grass in the hot, hot sun, at the ‘Field’. Ultimately I reached home, the
camera was duly handed over, and all was sweetness and light.
At the time, I was a student and had a summer job on a building site as part of my training. I was under the supervision of a Clerk of Works (COW) on a sewer contract. The COW was also a Worthy Master of a very influential Orange Lodge and many a time I was asked to leave the office while someone was seeking an audience with the COW and many of the ‘someones’ were often to be seen in photographs on the front pages of our local newspapers, standing importantly in front of some official building. I believe the COW was a person to be deferred to and whose political career was even more extensive than his job. When I had successfully returned the camera on the Twelfth and was having my evening meal I related the happenings of the day with great amusement and it was greeted by the family in the same vein, not so the COW. Oh dear no!
When I related it to him, smiling as I spoke, slowly his face turned to thunder and he wasn’t kidding either. When I finished he said one sentence with such venom, any thought of him being humorous was out of the question and then he stumped out of the hut and off down the site. He said,” Prod you with a Deacon pole? Prod you? I’d have stuck the f…..g thing into you so far I’d ‘ve had to put my boot on you to pull it out”.
Over the next few months I shall be posting a number of stories based on my life in Belfast and Northern Ireland and trust that you will discover that like many other parts of this country that have had to bear hardship through unemployment, the people here are just as generous, compassionate and friendly as they are in those similar parts of the UK.