I’ve been absent of late. Was convinced I was being stalked by His Grimness. You get strange looks when you dart behind a tree as a long shadow is cast across your path. Fortunately ‘The Seventh Seal’ scenario is not on my chequerboard as I’m crap at chess but I know for sure the fucker is out there.
Why am I telling you all this? That’s a fair question and one that leads me into my story of the dark past of this small sod we call Northern Ireland when the work of the Grim Reaper was carried out by armed and masked men. A shadow cast on a door pane or window was enough to put the fear of god into many a soul out for a casual nights drinking with friends or simply for the comradeship of the local bar.
My partner and I were in the heart of the countryside in a small village of a Friday evening when we stopped for a drink. As we entered the bar a tide of silence swept through every corner of the bar as the clientele took in the strangers. Like a murmur from another room the conversation resumed in an uneasy truce when we sat with our backs to the window and ordered a drink. We shared the bench seat with one other not unduly fazed by our presence, nodding in unspoken greeting.
The drink continued to flow, the atmosphere lost some of it’s tension as he began a conversation, not unfriendly, which sought to identify the stranger with the Belfast accent. “What has you up around these parts, boy?”
“My partner here she’s a local and we’re up visiting.”
We introduced ourselves and the volume went up a further notch. When the lineage was unraveled he stared at her and with something resembling recognition he declared I think for the benefit of all,
“Jesus, sure don’t I know yer brother well. We’ve worked together many’s the time. What are ye drinking?”
The bar seemed to breathe easy and resumed it’s pre-stranger volume. As I passed through the bar seeking the toilet people nodded, we were home. The toilets perplexed me though. I stepped into a gravelled yard with no obvious facilities.
“Where do you take a pee round here?” I asked
“Anywhere.” came the reply.
For a staggering drunk a perfect arrangement, and for the landlord a convenient solution, everybody’s happy I thought to myself as I re-entered the bar. But it got better. When I took my seat last orders were called, more protocol than fact. The barmaid came from behind the counter pulling blinds, closing doors, and dimming lights, then took orders from each table for the chip shop across the road. On return each table was delivered fish suppers, pasty suppers, sausage suppers, onion rings and chips as ordered, while the landlord landed pints and shorts amidst the unwrapped newsprint. By this time the atmosphere was of a family sharing a banquet.