Let me be clear here; I didn’t know the Troubles the way some did. I didn’t lose a loved one, a limb, a life. But there is no war that affects only a few. Scars ravage deeply, tearing at the psyche of a nation. No-one looks out their window at their red, white and blue painted street, UVF flags fluttering innocuously on the breeze and thinks, ‘I’m safe.’
This most recent trip, I went back to have a careful, lingering look at the council estate I lived in until I was almost 7 years old. I remember it so clearly; playing with other children in the mainly car free streets that snaked round the houses, their kerbs painstakingly marked in the colours of the British flag. I hadn’t a clue what it meant. I didn’t understand the complexities that marked our estate as the property of the local UVF paramilitaries. But I can remember with a clear metallic taste in my mouth how heavy the air weighed around all of us, my family very much included. A patchwork of wispy recollections are knitted together in my mind; the sweet sound of John Denver’s country melodies, the vibrations through my chest of the Lambeg drum, the adults dancing and swaying drunkenly past me as I played with my dolls at their feet. The clinking of glasses as they poured more Vat 19, the tribal beats of the drums louder until I thought I would burst, great gusty lungs belting out old classic songs that harked back to a different and simpler time.
I remember the walk home from school, the short bike ride to the corner shops, the area of green where I planted some apple seeds, our patch of garden where my mother dug up potatoes, the holly tree at the front of the house, making mud pies with cow parsley sprinkled on top. A house burned out because there were informers living there.
We just didn’t know anything different. That was life, and I thought the whole world existed with that dense, dark atmosphere.