Paddy Joe and Me.
Life can be a bowl of cherries. Whoever said this should have a good kick in the hooray henrys . This story is definitely one of two halves. It starts in the early troubles. You’ve heard the usual story of the young paramilitary, boy gets involved, defends his country, blah, blah, blah. I won’t bore you with all crap that but sufficient to say that as a team of four, we were pretty lethal. Me. I lived on the street to escape an alcoholic father who loved using his fists on any of us. I spent more time out of school than in. The beaky officer just loved me. His toughest case. My ‘father’ didn’t give a shit and my mum just cried. The last words I spoke to my so called father was when I turned on him after he started hitting me. I got stuck in with everything. I had honed my fighting on the street and caught him a lovely right hook. I put the boot in a few times. As he lay there cowering like a true bully I spat out to him that he would never lay another finger on me gain. I walked out. Thank heavens I had a bucket load of aunts and uncles.
My mate, Tricky Dicky, thin and small but would fight anyone who crossed him. Urchin would be the nice name for him. He moved like greased lightning. He seemed to have nice parents. His mum was always asking how I was doing and would always offer me tea and bread. His dad was a real church goer but Tricky hinted at things I didn’t understand. I worked things out later when I got older. Big Billy was a powerhouse. Even at primary school he was a match physically for the male teachers. If he got you in a head lock you were staying there. He was a nice guy. Until his temper went , then it was mad stuff. Fought like two men and a dog.
Last and not least was Chalky. He was orphaned early and didn’t have the best of luck with his adoptive parents. We kicked about the streets and then one night we had a good old scrap on the street. I forget what it was over. Anyway I beat him good looking but afterwards he said it was a good fight and the better man won. I didn’t tell him I hurt for days afterwards. We were the best of friends after that. One night he was in the city centre and had taken on a gang from god knows where. I went steaming in with fists, feet and napper. Didn’t really matter as the two of us ended up in the City casualty that night, laughing until it hurt. It hurt even when we didn’t laugh. He became the brother I never had. A blood brother.
What probably bonded us all was Maurice Coates. He was a young local guy who was a captain in the BB. He was tall and thin and lived with his parents. We all laughed at him in the street with his polite ways but he would play football with us. We slagged his moustache. We didn’t want to do the BB thing but he was dying to get us into church. Instead he died with a bullet in his skull in a car in the New Lodge. The four of us went into his folks house. Not that hi sfolks wanted us four as we already were seen as bad boys. Maurice was in his suit and tie. In the coffin. It didn’t seem funny now about us slagging over the shiny arse to his trousers. People were crying. The four of us looked at each other. Puzzled by life’s little ways. Him the good guy, lying dead. Us, the lost ones, looking down on him. It was the first time I heard about the IRA and the threat to all of us. After leaving his house, the four of us talked and said we would have to do something for Maurice. The four of us joined up with the ‘lads’. We became a team, a unit. Probably the most disobedient, most unruly team in the whole organisation. But also the most effective. And violent.
Together we done about everything a bad terrorist was meant to do. We broke a lot of hearts, but Belfast in the ‘70s didn’t seem to care too much about broken hearts and broken families. Of course time rolled on. Nothing stays the same. I was the lucky one. I got life. As recommended by the judge. Prison started for me with a rooftop protest. Loved the view of Belfast from the Crum roof. Remand was a pain. I was happy to get my trial and get it over with. The court was a real laugh. The dodgy guy with the wig wasn’t too happy with my cool attitude. Some call it cocky. I wouldn’t plead and refused to recognise the court. But there’s only so much you can get away with. When I heard the 25 minimum I was half way out over the dock when a screw just caught my leg. It was so unbecoming. Hanging upside down while screws and peelers all piled in with me calling lord Justice bollix every name under the sun. I took a tanking that night in the punishment cell. Later in hospital the Gov’ came and knew that his boys had gone over the top. He said I had a right to make a formal complaint. Despite my broken jaw and arm I mumbled that it was OK, as I had slipped. I tried to smirk but it hurt too much. I was already thinking about my revenge on each of them. They transferred me to the Kesh in an ambulance the very next day. I never made a complaint. The damage was minimal compared to what I had done.
The Kesh was the Kesh. You’ve heard all the stories. For me it was good. If there was a fight or protest I was first in. I swear that all those nicknames given to me where very harsh, Psycho, Crazy Harry, Hate the world. The boards were my second home. But 15 years can change any man. I trained and I studied. I read books. A lot of books. Ministers and pastors came to try and save my soul. Which was a pity, as I hadn’t been in touch with my soul for a long time. My mother visited faithfully every week for years. Despite her smiles I could see the strain. At least she had got rid of that waster. But change for me came creeping slowly. There was the odd occasion that I had a fleeting fantasy about escaping. Escaping into the Provo compound and doing a lot of damage before going out in a blaze of glory. I had nothing to lose here. It galled me to see ‘our’ men talking to them. For Gods sake we’re here because of them.
The end of Special Category brought a release of all the status men. But I had made my mind up; I wasn’t going back to the violence. I had been given a real chance. I was going to do my best for my ailing mother. I borrowed £5 as soon as I got out and brought her home the biggest bunch of flowers I could find. Once outside I wanted to see my friends. Real friends. While doing my life sentence I knew wee Dicky got a death sentence. The peelers couldn’t nail him so one night on his way home he took a mag of 9 mils from a SPG unit. They couldn’t break him and he didn’t stop doing ops. If he’s in heaven it’s because he threatened St Peter at the Pearly gates. I know he’ll sneak me in when my day comes. Big Billy during my time in prison went clean mad. On release my sister drove me up to the Burn. From one locked up god forsaken place to another. Only Billy had a real life sentence. Not fearless and fearsome now. My mate, my friend. A withered shell with dull eyes. I recall the night we went to do a Provo. He was to put the door in, I was tooled up and Tricky was driving. As Billy put the door in he fell over. Just as well. 3 shots came down the hallway. I could feel the whizz just past my ear. I emptied my mag. Billy got up and ran for the car. The two of us bounced into the back seat. I looked him in the eye. We both burst out laughing. But now a small dribble ran from the side of his mouth. No banter . No recognition. I was shocked. Numb. Empty. I never went back. And Chalky? Well Chalky went missing and no knows (or is saying ) where he is. I still miss him. If he’s in hell, he’ll welcome me in when I get there.
And much as my life changed on that night in ’74, when I was arrested, it changed again in ’90 when I met Sally. I was in a pub watching the big pampered jessies of England against the Lions of Africa. I was cheering Cameroon of course. ‘Come on Ekeke, you beaut ye’. I was still hyper alert and I felt I was being watched in the pub. I soon locked eyes with Sally. If I really did have a heart or soul, she melted it. Must be something to that love thing. I asked her would she see me. The rest is good history. She had a child already but we had two more. I was happy. The 3 kids were my angels. My life. There will be no going back.
We decided to leave Belfast after a little incident. One night in the pub one of the ‘boys’ offered me drugs. Despite being twice his age but twice as fit I felled him in one punch. He twitched a bit on the ground. I had never done drugs at any time and I wasn’t starting now. I was later summoned to see the ‘area commander’. Not the police one. I didn’t go as instructed but instead landed into his pub one evening, with all his cronies around, in front of a lot of people. I told him what I thought of drugs and moreover what I would do to anyone if they ever offered drugs to my children. Suddenly Crazy Harry didn’t seem so funny to the lads. I received no Xmas cards from any of them after that. I decided to move to Coleraine. Sheep shagging land but some of them were as sound and true as you could wish for. OK, it had its ‘connections’ but I was friends with a lot of the guys there. Good guys.
I couldn’t get a decent paying job but dam it I was going to work . Interviews came and went and it was always ‘my past’ being a huge problem for fair minded employers. In meantime I had volunteered with a church group that Sally attended. I went on picnics and seaside outings with the kids. I carried them on my shoulders. I fell over for them. Pulled funny faces. I loved them and it appeared they loved me. At last I got a driving job. I was delivery boy for meals on wheels. Go to A. Then go to B. Nice. Simple. I was going to be their best driver. Their best worker.
I was taken on my first round by the boss. Do you any problems going into any areas? I knew what he meant. No, I said. I was well away from the people who would remember me. I had no tattoos to give me or my background away to a stranger. I also started using my real name. Everyone thought my name was Harry because of Crazy Harry. I don’t know how that started. My real name was Albert so I started using that! Even better, after my mum divorced the Scumbag we all took her maiden name. Lucas. Happy days. My drops where located all over the north Antrim coast. Many in isolated country addresses. I loved it. From Portstewart to Carnlough. It was enjoyable. I was out in all weathers. Go to the persons door and hand in the requested meal. Either to the microwave, to the table or to the fridge. Have a quick natter. Pick up the lunch list with their request for the next day. Some people wanted 6 meals a week some only once or two a week. I got to know them all. We were instructed to look out for signs of hypothermia, distress or anything that didn’t look right. Whatever that meant. I enjoyed talking with the older ones who all seemed very lonely.
If I had taken my good health and fitness for granted this was a wakeup call. All bar one had health issues. Dementia, heart, diabetes, cancer, COPD, MS, hepatitis, one even had AIDs. I liked them all even the grumpy ones. One auld lad was never happy no matter what. We nicknamed him Charlie Caviar. Always wanted the very best. We were a meal provision service not the bloody Ritz on wheels. One old dear, who Sally would describe as a ‘wee dote’, was a gentlewoman. Years of hard work, raising a family. Now her dignity was being stripped away by this monster called dementia. She reminded me of my Grandmother. A great woman.
Quite a few people were immobile. Either couldn’t walk without assistance or where wheelchair bound. Some had severe disabilities and I would spend a bit more chat or banter time with them. One guy with advanced diabetes had lost his left foot and was in danger of losing the other. I had two blind people on my delivery schedule. I liked them both. Both striving to be independent. Both bolshie I would say. I respected them. One of them, Paddy, was severely disabled. Blind and no legs. But he stood out with his laughing and dear I say it cocky attitude. He was not browbeaten by his disability. I liked that. I could see the Novorapid insulin pen beside him. One old dear wanted to tell me every time of the precarious state of her health. I had heard it so often I could repeat her woes down to the last tablet.
Last but not least was Cecil. He worried me the most, if I can use that term. I had learned from a friend that he was ex-police. A proud man, the house was spotless and he was as sharp as a tack. It would be just my luck if he knew me from the bad old days. He was polite but distant. I had my issues with the police but it didn’t stop me respecting the balls they had to go out night after night knowing the shit they were facing. His room was full of photos of groups of children and adults. A family man. But his house had the feel of no one ever visiting.
While maybe not strictly to the rules I would do the odd message if I had time. A pint of milk, a loaf of bread. I looked sweet going in and buying the Bella and Chat magazines but I didn’t mind. It was a small thing but important to them. Sometimes I went to the chemist; more painkillers or laxatives. Poor old James always wanted me to go to the offie but it was always closed when I was doing his delivery.
One day I was calling at Paddy’s. The front door was always open but today it was shut. I buzzed the intercom. I heard a shout. A pained shout. I looked through the letterbox and there was Paddy on the hall floor. I had no key so chanced going around the back. Against all advice it was open. That was Paddy. He had slipped from the wheelchair going to the loo. I did the first aid thing, checking all over and getting as much info’ from him. He pleaded for me not to call his care team or the ambulance. After a while I linked my arms under his. This felt awkward. I’m not into hugging men. Despite the absence of legs he was still very heavy. I was glad of my fitness. I struggled him into his chair. ‘Im Ok, I’m Ok’, he kept saying. ‘Im fine, thank you, thank you’. But I could see the wince of pain across his face. We then proceeded to have our first angry words. I said I had to report this. After arguing back and forth he called me a ‘heartless bastard’ (pity close to the mark I thought) and that I wanted to get him into trouble. I said OK I wouldn’t tell. As soon as I could, I rang my boss and told him what had happened.
One day I called and he wasn’t there. A neighbour came out. They knew me and said he had been taken away in an ambulance. I made enquires and found out what hospital he was in. That evening I grabbed a ‘Get Well’ card and a bottle of Lucozade. Our mum made us drink that gunk when we were young and if we were sick. Good enough for her, good enough for me. As I walked into the ward I seen Paddy but standing at the bed side was Cecil. The ex-peeler. It was more instinct than anything. I didn’t go in. And he hadn’t seen me. I walked away. How did they know each other?
When Paddy returned home I carried on his deliveries. Nothing untoward was said. One day I called in and his mail was on the floor. I picked them up and seen the name Patrick Joseph Morgan. Name didn’t ring a bell and I certainly hadn’t recognised his face. Names I am shit at, faces I never forget. But I still had a small whisper at the back of my mind. But I couldn’t nail it. All seemed well with him. The banter carried on. It became obvious he was as much a catholic, as I was a protestant. Not very. That surprised me as he had all the usual trappings, Scared Heart stuff and all that, on the walls. We swopped jokes. We debated the football results. Paddy lived by the radio and was well up to date. More so than most people. I would often hear him singing before I got in. I would say that the cats where complaining about the competition. He laughed. He would often let me out of the house and then shout on me to come back , only to ask, how far would you have been if I hadn’t have called you. I always replied ‘farther away from a eijit’. We both laughed.
I remarked one day about a picture on the wall showing him in a football kit, foot on ball and arms crossed. I didn’t recognise the strip. What team I asked. Derby County youth team. 1974. I laughed at him and said he was shitting me. He explained he had went to England, had a trial, was accepted but got homesick and came back to Belfast. ‘Oh yeah so you met the likes of Hector and Lee’, and he cut in by saying ‘and Ricoh, Davies, Webster, Bourne and of course the boss himself Dave Mc’. I asked what happened Derby that year in the FA Cup? Clear as a bell he says, beaten by Leeds in the 5th round. 1-0. I was amazed. I had not said I was a Rams fan way back in the day. . All the rest of the girlies picked the big teams like Liverpool and Leeds just to support the winners. I picked Derby ‘cause of Cloughie.
While Paddy couldn’t see he could certainly listen. One day I wasn’t up for banter and he asked what was wrong. He said my voice was not right. He could hear something was wrong. I decided it was OK to tell him. My niece has just died. She took her own life. She was 21. He said all the right things. He was sorry. He hoped I was OK. And that her family was OK. Then out of the blue came the thunderbolt. He started. ‘I know something about pain and suffering’. I said, ’the diabetes or the blindness?’
‘No, far from it. I hope you don’t mind me saying’. Before he could say another word. My mind clicked. I just knew he was going to say. The world went into slow motion.
He would say ‘it was late 1974’.
He said “ it was November 74”.
He would say, ‘I was drinking in the docks’.
He said, “I was drinking in Garmoyle St”.
He would say ‘that there was 1 man killed’.
He slowly said looking straight ahead, “Auld Seany was killed right away. I was blown across the bar. I had massive injuries. The two feet gone. My ribs broken. But I was lucky, I was alive. My girl. My girl. Lovely Linda I called her. My dad was horrified when I told him she was a protestant. She was hurt bad. When she got better her parents took her to Canada. Had enough of the shithole they call Belfast. Couldn’t blame them. He went silent. I was standing in his living room with a Turkey and Ham with Gravy in my hand like a right tube.
I let the silence run. After a while he said, “It was a real piss when the diabetes came later. And then the eyes. My sight. Doctor said it was due to the explosion”. He hung his head. I had never seen him this quiet. He was reliving that night. So was I. A stolen car. The four of us. Two 9mms and a Webley. Adrenalin flowing. Waiting till there was no one about. A small gas canister. Lighting the thing, then shots through the door to keep them in there. The light, the noise, the crashing debris. Squeal of tyres. Dump the car in east Belfast (get them the blame). Meet up with a clean car. Get rid of the pieces. Two men would be driven the long way home while two of us walked into the town centre to get the bus home.
I remembered back. The charge sheet. All the attempted murders. I couldn’t recall all their names but I knew now. And the short news story 2 days later. Young promising footballer career ruined. Shit. After all this time. I said I had to go.
Never felt this way before. Was I in shock? My mind swayed as I tried to make sense of this. My victim, my responsibility. I really liked this guy. I went to the van and sat there. The unbidden tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks. Some sort of dam was bursting. I had never cried before. Not ever. Had never thought of the people I had hurt. I had never met them. But it was war. Never dreamed of their lives decades years later. My actions, my deeds. I couldn’t drive as I couldn’t see for tears. I knew I wasn’t going to see him again. But one small voice said, ‘have the balls to go in and say sorry’.
I resigned that evening. Sally was annoyed. I hadn’t told her the truth yet. I kept thinking of the jokes, the banter. Finally Sally snapped which was unusual for her. I told her what had happened. We sat together for most of the night. We talked of real things that get only spoken once in a lifetime. I tried hard not to think of a life in the dark without being able to walk. Of being bypassed by life and struggling day and daily. Of meeting life in the face and not being bitter or sad. Of right and wrong. Yeah , life can be a right bowl of cherries.