To beard or not to beard


Yes we seem to have averted a total meltdown of regional government as in “we’ll all throw our toys out of the pram”. This is a common occurrence at Stormont’s non-functional and divided administration. Not to drag you down some winding path but do keep in mind this is about that bit of facial hair i.e. the beard.

The near collapse was the result of a murder in the nationalist redoubt of Short Strand, Belfast. In brief, two former IRA assassins had a falling out, one shot the other dead and was then shot dead by unknown gunmen. This, in turn, shot the Stormont administration in the foot with the accusation by the DUP that the IRA’s military machine was still functioning contrary to the Good Friday Agreement. Has the issue been resolved? Well let’s just say they are still drawing their salaries.

Remember the Beard?

I recently grew a beard not as a metro male statement but to add some volume to my thinning visage Stay with me now as this is relevant to the precursor as, hopefully, will become clear. The potential tsunami of political uncertainty that threatened to sweep the country caused tightened security at ports and airports. On a recent return from Scotland through the seaport of Cairnryan we were subjected to security not see since the bad old days. The slow progress of the traffic into the port did not immediately suggest a security alert. As we reached the barrier the beard marked me out as a potential suspect. In the psyche of the ever vigilant security operatives a beard is the trademark of all terrorists, freedom fighters, jihadists, therefore: documentation? check; search boot (trunk)? check; underbody of vehicle? check. Is this a bout of paranoia or the minority oppression flag being raised? Maybe, but there again, maybe not.

Let me take you on a brief tour of those bad old days alluded to previously, days of high security when N.I .was at the nadir of political upheaval. If I wore a beard I was often stopped by Police or army demanding ID and sometimes searched. Returning from my mother’s funeral in Scotland through the same port I was sitting in the middle backseat of the car, bearded. I was the guy asked to step from the car and ID,ed Travelling through Manchester airport on return from the States, bearded, having cleared emigration I was followed to the baggage carousel by two special branch officers, ID’ed and questioned. Six O Clock in the morning is not a good time for me. I was not polite.

Clean-shaven my saintly and angelic coupon caused me no intrusions. So beware all metro males, the beard is a changing face.




Thomas Marley

Tommy was a childhood friend. We lived in consecutively numbered houses, 3 and 4, which coincided with our respective ages when we first became friends. During childhood and early teenage we did the things kids do and some they shouldn’t. We beeked school, smoked Parkies, and played cards for pennies under a street-lamp. As teenage years progressed our paths no longer ran parallel, Tommy joined the Merchant Navy while I landlubbed. Our paths would cross time and again over the ensuing years, providing an opportunity to compare notes on life, old friends, and family.

When Tommy joined Belfast Citybus in 1982 our encounters became as predictable as the timetable. Occasionally I would join him for the return journey, fare paying of course, and our conversations would pick up where we’d left off. On a Sunday afternoon a chance encounter at the traffic lights on High Street had me board the 39 with my bicycle and camera for the round trip. A consequence of these trips made me aware of the solitary existence of the bus driver, and their vulnerability. Tommy told me of abuse, assault and robbery, which were common occurrences of a driver’s working day, at the hands of those he served.

For one who dealt with this stressful working environment on a daily basis he maintained a wicked sense of humour. He remarked to an Inspector who offered him overtime driving the 2am from Shaftsbury Square, “If you see me anywhere near Shaftsbury Square at 2 in the morning boot my arse and send me straight home.”

In memory of shared experience.

In memory of a childhood friend