Fair Deal’s Twelfth

This started as a short reply to merrie’s query about how my day went but somehow kept growing.I kissed my wife goodbye responding to her gentle chides to drop-out/get in car/rest if my legs/feet get sore with the non-commital ahah and walked down to Sandy Row Orange Hall.

For the first time in a few years the Lodge has decided to take the large banner out. Two young eager volunteers saying they would carry it the entire way. So there is much fiddling with poles, ropes, orange lillies, cable ties and banner straps.

During the mandatory standing about I catch up with two lodge members who live in Dubai but come back every year. Then the “Fat Controller” aka Chief Marshall wanders round the corner and barks out his orders to get the banners on the road and five minutes later we head off. In addition to our members we have four visiting brethren from Scotland and three children with us, two sons and one daughter of lodge members.

We fell in behind a lodge led by a Scottish band and just behind us a band from Ballymena. The band strikes up and the walk has started. First order of business, help dip the banner at the war memorial beside the community centre, then fall back in line. We head towards the city centre and then a short delay (don’t know why and after a number of parades you stop asking). Beside us there are a bunch of excited Chinese tourists so we pose for photos with them and let them wear a collarette (shush don’t tell Grand Lodge technically we’re not supposed to do that).

Then straight on through the city centre. Try to keep in step behind my WM but he has a rhythm and timing all his own so give up by the time we pass City Hall. Plenty of what look like tourists snapping away and on round to Clifton Street for the gathering of the Lodges.

We arrive round in Denmark Street and wait for the start of the parade. Our district is near the front so not too long to wait. The clouds look ominous but two of the older members start waxing lyrical about how if you can see the Belfast hills clearly it won’t rain. The hills are clear. A few minutes later the parade starts again and as soon as we progress five yards it starts to rain. Lots of looking at the hills then the two old timers, they appear oblivious.

Up round Carlisle Circus and down Clifton Centre. On one side of Clifton Street, some of the pensioners from Clifton House out to watch the parade, on the other some police landrovers with a small group of residents from Carrick Hill standing watching. I think I recognise a few faces from interface meetings but not sure, (make mental note to visit opticians).

Just as we reach Donegall Street the parade stops to allow the County Officers to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. Fortunately the rain eases. Another member and I spot a bunch of pyjama mamas and a bunch of kids, nearly all wearing hooded pink dressing gowns, standing at the flats development at Carrick Hill. We start debating if they are out watching the parade. It’s not exactly protest attire and the kids are youngsters and seem to be pointing at the bands and getting excited. Before conclusions are reached the parade starts up again and down Donegall Street where I do my usual estimation of the size and height of the Lenin statue (more of which later) and back through the City Centre. Wave and shout hello to friends as the parade progresses. Dip the banner duty again as we pass the Cenotaph.

As my lodge reaches the Dublin Road I ring my wife to tell her I am almost there but too late she has had to get her lift to work. Three Twelfths together and she still hasn’t seen me walk in a parade, (although I used the Battle of the Boyne documentary last night to continue her education).

As we exit Shaftesbury Square the heaven’s open and at the same time the usual crisis with bringing children hits, multiple urgent needs for the toilet. Fortunately the extra portaloos provided this year come to the rescue.

Up past Tates Avenue and the parade halts for a 10 minute rest break. Our stop point is 20 yards short of were a bunch of my mates always stand. So I dander on up for a chat. This year one of the husband and wife pair’s have bought their new dog bedecked with Union flag, Boots, half husky, half collie, all mad. It makes repeated attempts to jump up and lick everyone round it to death until it finds an appreciative Glaswegian. One of the bunch is also a quasi-slugger addict we talk about the south Armagh thread and he tells me he emailed a link to a map for the South Armagh/Not South Armagh debate. Even on the Twelfth slugger is never far away.

Among the group are two fellow conspirators, are we ever going to put that sash on Lenin’s statue for a bit of crack? This idea was first suggested by one of us many years ago and has now become an annual chat topic. The planning is done yet again with all the earnestness of people who know that they actually have gained sufficient maturity that they will never do it but like to remember when they were younger and dafter.

The Lodges and bands show signs of getting ready to head off again so I say my goodbyes and back to my Lodge. No more stops straight on to the field. The rain stops completely as we reach the end of Balmoral Avenue. An old timer’s knee goes and he hops in the car. There are new instructions about what Lodge cars and bands are to do when they enter the field. The result, about one third do the right thing, one third do it half right and one third do what they did last year i.e. completely wrong. Lots of hand waving looking at instructions and shouts of houl on and where you going but tired legs mean everyone soon decides to get it sorted out when the return parade starts. It is memories of incidents like this that always make me smile when someone describes the OO as some sort of grand conspiracy.

A spot to set the banner down is found. The Lodge car parks up and after wrestling with ground sheets, poles and cable ties we have a nice spot to rest and have something to eat and drink. The bantering and chatting starts. As the ‘newly wed’ in the lodge I get all the usual joke ‘horror’ stories of married men augmented by the terror of children. This is interspersed with the entertainment of one of the families in the Lodge – two sons winding up their father.

A few aimless wanders around the field to see who you see (better to keep walking rather than stand, standing makes sore feet very painful). Listen for a few minutes at the platform. Ring Mick and shoot the breeze with him a few minutes. A few seconds after the call finished I get a text from him needing an explanation of bowlers. Ring back with the explanation I was given. Get introduced to some visitors from Tennesee. Later chat some politics with a DUP councillor. Unfortunately the field is as you would expect after a few months of rain, muddy. However, after you step in a pile of mud and get your shoes and trousers covered in glar better to be philosophical and plough on. It’s the dry cleaners problem now.

A few sit downs to rest legs and feet. Quick inspection of foot condition but no need the first aid tent this year. My cunning plan to avoid blisters has worked. Then have the fish that got away conversation with other lodge members instead about blisters, “It was so big…”. The worse year for me was the first re-routing of the Twelfth to Ormeau Park. Our car clocked 19 miles and I was doing marshall that year so lots of running about. It required a long visit to the first aid tent followed by a painful walk home.

The kids are taken to the toy stalls to spend the money Lodge members have given them. Unfortunately, the stalls are selling airhorns so continual tooting but all three are enjoying their day so resist a Scrooge moment. Just as things start to get boring in the field its time to set off again. The mess begins to untangle itself, much stop and starting, we should be in there no you shouldn’t where’s the marshal etc. The sun also begins to emerge as we leave the field and by the time we reach Balmoral Avenue it is bright sunshine. As we progress down the road the daughter of one Lodge member decides to put her Highland dance classes into practice – jumping and twirling the steps to the flute band tunes. Lots of cameras snapping shouts of encouragement to her and occassional ripples of applause for her spontaneous efforts.

As I thought there seemed to be little/no action on public drinking by the police, by my own estimation it was down a bit on previous years but still far too much of it. We reach Shaftesbury Square. The crowd closes in, singing along as the band plays the Sash. The banner carriers have kept to their word and carried it the whole way. They have enough energy to dance around with the banner but a marshall spots it so we’ll probably get fined. Turn off the Dublin Road and back round to Sandy Row. Memorial duty for the last time then into a side street.

The Lodge falls out then the banner is propped up against the wall and post parade arrangements discussed. In the midst of this a gust of wind catched the banner. It falls over but caught a few inches from my head, almost end my Twelfth with a cracked skull. The Lodge car is unloaded of possessions then some go to the WM’s house for a bite to eat and some drink. Others head on home with shouts of see you at the Lodge meeting. I am among those to head home. A much needed lift up home and the releif of getting into the house. Take off the shoes and jacket. Reply to well-wishing text messages from friends in England and Spain.

Switch on the hot water for a good soak but make the error of switching on the computer. Update the Orange Halls thread with the South Armagh link and then check out my Twelfth thread. See the good wishes and Comrade Stalin’s queries in public drinking. I reply but when I double check it appeared I spot merrie’s query for an update on my day. I sit down to do a brief reply but it seems to grow until I decide to just do it as a thread. That strange surge of energy your body finds at times when by rights you should be horizontal. Now the surge is declining and good sense is telling me to to get into the hot bath I was supposed to have an hour ago or so ago. So enjoy this tome or not, I will be enjoying the warmth of a good soak and coming up with my excuses for not listening to my wife’s sensible advice this morning. How does “You don’t understand, it’s an Ulster Prod thing” sound?