Thursday, November 18, 2010

45. Belfast and bigotry

Where on earth were we going to live in Ireland? Tom was appointed Officer Commanding RAF Police Detachment in Belfast, somewhere in the dock yard I think, where there were no married quarters and no furnished houses to rent, at least not in our price range. The children and I spent some time with Tom’s family in Milford Haven while Tom went to Belfast on a recce and found us lodgings in a Boarding House in Bangor with breakfast and high tea supplied. Tommy would stay in Milford for the time being and go to Milford Haven Grammar School with his cousin, Allen. We bought an Austin Mini and Jeni and I drove to Fishguard and caught the ferry to Rosslair, in Southern Ireland. During that night President Kennedy was assassinated and all the people to whom we gave lifts throughout the day, on our way north, were devastated.

We were welcomed at the boarding house by Mrs. Baron whose husband was at work and her son at school. The family were vegans and followed a very strict, healthy diet. She told us that her husband had been dying from something nasty and the doctors could do no more for him, so they had turned to nature’s way of healing. He stopped smoking cigarettes, they ate very small portions of fruit and vegetables, he was cured and none of them was ever sick. I saw their supper, already prepared in the kitchen, on tiny side plates, just a few grapes, some dates and bits and pieces. Not much for a growing boy. I read some interesting cases in their health magazine. There was this one chap who was covered in ulcers which would not heal, and he was given up as a hopeless case, until he went to a health clinic. There they wrapped him in hot, steaming blankets, and when they unwrapped, him the smell of anaesthetics from surgeries undergone many years back that came out was overpowering! Eventually he was healed. Amazing.

Mrs. Baron did not inflict the small, healthy meals on her boarders. Our table was laden with every kind of home made bread and scones you could think of, plus dishes of butter and home made jam. The stew and “tatties” were delicious and within a month I had gained 8lbs. Oh, but it was luverly!

Bangor was about half an hour's drive from Belfast; in 1963 it was a delightful little town, although I am told I would not recognise it now, and I felt we would be very happy there. There was an excellent Grammar School and the climate seemed to be quite mild, in fact I did have roses in my garden in December. But first we had to find that garden. There seemed to be very little property to rent. After buying the car my “secret stash” had been reduced to four hundred pounds and we had the expenses of the boarding house to pay. Anyway, just out of interest we consulted an Estate Agent to see what was on offer and we were a bit taken aback when his first question was “What religion are you?” I thought for a moment and then said, “Well, Church of England I suppose. Why do you ask?” “Well,” he replied “You would not want me to show you houses in a Catholic area would you?” I was confused. “Why not?” I asked. “No, matter,” He replied “I will try to find you something suitable in a nice protestant area”. And that was that. Later I understood what he meant. The cheering information was that property in Ireland was less expensive than in England, and paying off a mortgage would not cost a great deal more than the usual married quarter rent. I was very excited at the possibility of buying a house.

We were driving round a little suburb in Bangor when we saw a semi-detached dormer bungalow with a “For Sale” board displayed. I suggested that we knock on the door to see if anyone was at home. Tom said he did not think it was the polite thing to do on a Sunday, but I told him that if the people really wanted to sell they would not mind. So I knocked on the door and was invited in, and Tom and Jeni followed. It was a darling little house, almost new with two bedrooms upstairs, a single bedroom, dining room, lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs, and in spotless condition. Each door was painted a different pastel colour which relieved the white paint everywhere else and looked very pretty. The garden at the back was small and a front garden was open to a quiet side road that circled the estate. Oil fired central heating, I would never have to chop wood or break up coal again! There was a problem in that the only toilet was in the bathroom, which was to cause much clutching of groins and hopping on one leg early in the morning, but we coped. I really liked the house and its position, and I did not care if it was in a Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Heathen area. Cyprus was a hard act to follow but this was near the sea and the scenery was beautiful.

Property in Ireland cannot be sold outright, I think because all the land is owned by the church; however a 99 year lease was acceptable, as was the price. It cost two thousand four hundred pounds, with a 5% deposit. So, with a deposit of one hundred and twenty pounds I had two hundred and fifty pounds left to pay the legal fees, light and water connection and buy furniture and carpeting. Tom said I would be unable to do it. Big mistake! Tell me I cannot do something and I will show you that I can.

While we were waiting for the owners to vacate, I started going round the auction houses, sometimes even taking Tom with me, in spite of the leather hat-box incident. Second hand furniture was cheap but, remembering the bed bugs in Egypt, I did get new beds in a sale. A small wooden commode came under the hammer and I thought it would make a nice sewing box and an extra seat, so I put up my hand and started the bidding at half a crown. People turned and stared at me. There were no other bids, and I could probably have got it for a shilling. I never again made the first bid. One could sit on old sofas and armchairs during the auction and I used to amuse myself by surreptitiously sliding my hand down the sides of the furniture to see what I could find and up came combs, ball point pens and hair grips and sometimes a coin. As children, Jane and I used to search father’s chair from time to time and sometimes we found enough money to buy ice creams. After the restoration of the natural yew table at old Mrs. Dragon Dear’s house, I felt I could restore any piece of furniture by scraping it down, sandpapering and polishing. Again Tom said “You’ll never do it, far too much work.” BUT! Would he never learn?

No comments:

Post a Comment