It was a Saturday afternoon in 1977, and I was on the top deck of a bus going up the Whiterock Road.
There was just me at the back and a group of lads at the front.
And the bus passed a British Army foot patrol. And the lads started shouting abuse out the windows.
So far… so normal.
But the foot patrol gave chase, Ran after the bus shouting at the driver to stop. And as they gained ground, the youths shouted at the driver to go faster.
And as the bus stopped and the Army got on board came up the stairs, I thought “hmm this is not good”.
They looked at me and ignored me. Although it was a Saturday, I was wearing a suit. Tip for those of you worrying about what to do when the Troubles start up again… always wear a suit. For some strange reason, the British Army are conditioned to think that their enemies only wear denim.
Of course, the youths on the bus thought they were dead men… or at least severely beaten up men… but actually the “Brits” just laughed at them saying things like “you’re not so mouthy now Paddy”. And the youths got very sheepish, and it could have been a lot worse.
But as this kind of thing was happening far too often, I decided I would buy a motorcycle.
Travelling on a bus or in a black taxi or even just walking, I always thought that my fate was in the hands of other people.
Besides motorcycles are cool.
So the next week, I went to Donegall Pass and bought a Honda C50… and Paniers (is that the word?) gloves and a white full face Bell helmet.
If I looked the part… the Honda C50 didn’t.
But to be clear, it IS a motorcycle NOT a moped.
Being a biker of sorts, I had to get a provisional driving licence. Forty-plus years later, I can’t recall if Provisional licences then had photo ID, but at least it was some kind of identification.
Of course, motorcycles are very cool. Easy Rider and all that!. And girls love a bad boy biker. I was really in a position to impress Theresa and Barbara.
After all, if I was an American biker called Jimmy and I went to a candy store. I could meet a girl called Betty who wouldn’t mind I came from the wrong side of the tracks. She would fall for me… the Leader of the Pack. (Admittedly it may not end well). Don’t mention Twinkle and Terry.
It is challenging to strike up a pose as a the Leader of the Pack when you only have a Honda C50.
My best friend and co-worker, Peter probably got it right when I parked the C50 in the car park. I might have thought “Easy Rider” but he said I was “born to be …MILD”
And the three local yobs who shared another Honda C50 (no helmet, no licence, no insurance) creatively and obscenely amended the words of Jasper Carrott’s “Funky Moped” just for me but if I could get the speed up to 15mph before I got to Whiterock Road, I could not hear the derision.
Besides…the joke was on them….it wasn’t a Moped.
And they missed the point… because if I got the speed up to 33mph as I passed the grandstand on the Dundrod Circuit, I felt like I was on my way to meet Suzi Quatro… down at, down at, down at Devil Gate Drive.
One morning, I went outside and I noticed that the brake light was missing. Stolen.
Later that evening, the three yobs were riding around and had a brake light in full working order. Indeed they drove past me in a way that the Sioux or Apaches have scalps of their enemies.
Not much I could do about it except go over on a Saturday on a bus to Castlereagh Road to a motorcycle parts shop to get a new brake light. My mother would not let me go alone to East Belfast.
So a new brake light fitted.
But a few days later, something strange happened. The three yobs were at my front door, and they had… incredibly and coincidently… found my brake light. Someone had stolen it… hidden it and by chance the three yobs found it.
Well I had too much dignity to accept my own brake light from the thieves who stole it. So I just said “its all sorted …forget it”
But there was a look of panic across the three faces.
They looked at each other.
“Take it” they pleaded.
“No” I said.
Then one leaned towards me “Mister, please take it…The men at the corner said we have to give it to you”.
So down at the corner of the cul-de-sac were two guys looking towards us. And I looked away from them as I did not want to remember the faces.
And I got the message and took the brake light.
Now who were those two guys who clearly had enough influence to persuade three lawless thugs to return stolen property?
See… the mantra that I always heard from unionist leaning bosses and British Army spokesman on TV was that nationalists in Ballymurphy. Ardoyne, Andytown etc were really unionists at heart and were intimidated by republican paramilitaries.
Undoubtedly the atmosphere was scary.
But within the demographic in these working class areas (and Id guess the same in unionist Glencairn, Rathcoole and Gilnahirk etc) there was a sizeable demographic of people termed “quiet”, “good living”, “Christian” whatever and two guys watching at the corner of the cul-de-sac understood the nuances.
A sniper in Springmartin intent on killing or a carload from the Village bent on abduction and torture would not have cared. And the foot patrol chasing a bus up the Whiterock Road would have been problematic… but wearing a suit helped.