To the uninitiated, Long Kesh-and I suppose the other correctional establishments of the time had a certain vernacular they could lay claim to inventing. Common phrases of the time include…
“ Do your whack”-Be content in serving your sentence.
“ Do the beef”-Administering a sharp instrument to one’s wrists.
“ Dry your lamps”-Please refrain from crying.
“ On the box”-Staring into space and oblivious to all surroundings.
There are more of course. Too many to mention here. There are also abbreviations that outsiders-i.e. non jailbirds would wrinkle their brow at.
The big ‘A’-usually mentioned in a conspiratorial whisper and referring to the one thing that was hoped-and prayed-for the most, which proved to be mere wishful thinking-Amnesty. Big ‘A’ must not be confused with the most common abbreviation-at least during my tenure in the various penal institutions. The big ‘D’s-synonymous with feeling low, a plummeting of self esteem, missing of a visit-an expected but undelivered letter-or much worse-an Unexpected but delivered letter-the dreaded Dear John. Yes-the big ‘D’ stood for Depression.
If a fella closed his curtain and pulled a blanket over his head, ostensibly for an innocent afternoon nap-for all intents and purposes he was suffering from a bout of the big ‘D’s.
Another sure sign of the big ‘D’s was to see someone boul-walk-around the compound on their own. A dead giveaway for sure. But the biggest indication of an approaching double dose of the D’s was to glimpse someone stroll nonchalantly past with an LP under their arm-the cover portraying a gap toothed wholesome Texan or a bouffant laden Southern gal, who, if given the chance would relay their tales of pitiful woes to us.
It’s a well known fact-apparently-that if you were to play a country and western record backwards you get your job your wife and your dog back. When a colleague is in the throes of the big D’s and his chosen elixir is a caterwauling country artist, you know you’re in for a couple of hours of tear inducing-toe curling and teeth gnashing renditions that could conceivably have you reaching for Blue Gillette yourself.
By the time Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner had strangled the last ounce of sentiment out of Jeannies Afraid of the Dark, you felt like sticking your toe up wee Jeannies hole.
And if you weren’t Crazy when you started out listening to Patsy Cline’s warbling you sure as hell were by the end of it. And let’s be honest-if you seriously gave a fuck when Old Shep’s peepers were growing dim then I’m afraid all hope had been long abandoned. You’d have been closer to turning the shotgun on yourself never mind the demented canine.
Should it be Hank Williams aiming to melt your Cold Cold Heart or the delectable Freddie Fender advising you what to do just Before the Next Teardrop falls, the feelings are just the same.
And to paraphrase our great leader of the time-A. A. Spence-true and abject misery.
This isn’t to make light of the bouts of darkness that overcame some of the guys during those long days and nights. No.
This isn’t to poke fun at those who felt that the best refuge in those downbeat hours was in the grooves of a lamentable dirge. No.
this isn’t to make little of those who sought solace in the comforting tones of a seasoned country performer. No.
When the exponents of this dispiriting and dismal form of popular culture were wallowing in their individual misery, I only wish they’d thought of the rest of us.
And, in deference to that country stalwart and he of countless, melancholic refrains-Hank Williams-when he claims, There’ll be No Teardrops Tonight-well-I for one beg to fucking differ!!