On the site of a large sewage works under construction in the 70’s I was telephoned from Head Office to be told that bombs were ‘on all the bridges’, this meant rail, road and river. I closed the site to give the men time to get home and tried to pick a route for myself which would be trouble free. It was at the height of the bombing campaign by the IRA, 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 railway rails driven into the roadway at junctions by the UDA to stop speeding bombers, a not unusual occurrence.
I was brought up short at a barrier with no escape route except to retreat the way I had come. I locked all the doors of the car and put the car into reverse with the clutch out and the engine running, while 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 almost as much as the IRA itself, although I could understand their predicament. “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 it.
At this point a large man in his forties appeared, not in camouflage, but 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 then the older man asked me if I had any other means of identification Luckily, I had a work pass which I showed through the closed 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.” I hadn’t expected that, caught off balance, incensed, I made a totally stupid remark at anytime, but especially in those circumstances. “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.” “No!” the man said, “I just want to see into your boot.” “I suppose I have to trust you,” I said, he nodded, I opened the boot. Inside was a valuable set of golf clubs belonging to a professional, circuit golfer, each club chosen and modified to suit I was scared it would be ‘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, was nearly my undoing. 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.
Over the years I have had a number of stressful instances, and this final one made me evaluate the degrees of fear, from apprehension to terror, an exercise I found illuminating and totally contrary to what I had expected. The problem was I could not generalise, we are all different and must respect that.