What did you do this weekend?
Serving a life sentence or not there was a routine to be followed in the Special Category Status or cage section of the old Long Kesh. I was in Compound 21 from ‘77 until ‘88 when we left to go to the H Blocks. Saturdays was when many men got their family visits.
Only one Saturday visit per month although that changed towards the end days. No football of classes on a Saturday and no visits -bear legal visits – on a Sunday. Our routine was that there would be a ‘muster’ parade on a Monday morning. This meant your room or cube had to be cleaned, top to bottom ,and you had to have your black uniform in tip top condition. So you had a choice, either Saturday or Sunday, you could ‘bung out’ your cube. Most of us were doubled up. So either both do it together or do it week about. Getting a cube or room of your own was a most prized situation.
‘Bunging out’ was literally taking everything out of your room and cleaning, wiping and scrubbing what you could. Some chancers may bluff their way but were easily caught out. So after doing the chores in the morning. Every morning. (Clean the shower unit, the hot plates the centre floors, clean outside the huts, etc) many would start the task and get it out of the way. The centre part of the floor in the hut middle would be a scene of activity. There were only so many deck scrubbers. Loads of Vim and wire wool. The vinyl floor tiles would be scrubbed until there were ultra clean. We would make someone with OCD proud.
The wire wool disappeared after the powers that be found it burned with a brilliant brightness and heat. Green scouring pads became the norm. The timbers or the inside of the curved walls – corrugated iron actually – were all wiped down. All clothes came out of your individual steel locker. Getting extra shelves was seen as a blessing. At one time I had 5 shelves. Wow. Fold your clothes them up and wipe out your locker.
The problem now was what to do when your floor was drying. Go for a walk around the wire? I wonder how many will remember the cage chorus when on the wire. ‘Do yer whack’? Or go and do a bit of training? (If you had a visit this process could be done on Sunday. I recall bunging out on Sunday afternoons with the radio playing top 20s from years ago. In summer time the sun would stream into the centre of the hut from the many half windows. Windows would be wide open to assist the drying of the floor. The hut was lit up and alive) Or you could go to the study hut and study or write a letter. Of course you could always slide into someone’s cube who wasn’t bunging out. ‘What about ye mate. How’s you? And start an innocent conversation as subtly as possible. And maybe even get a cuppa out of it!
The point of all this was Monday morning. Never mind the drill and parading round the yard. Our uniforms, boots, buckles and badges would be inspected out on the parade. When finished that, we all had to wait by our doors for the inspection. One of the brass would come in and go into every cube. He would check lockers, floors, beds, etc. Run his hand over ledges and surfaces. We made bed packs every day. Bed packs is were you made blankets and sheets into a standard British army bed pack. I was hacked off once when my cube mate left a cig’ butt in an ashtray, which he had hidden. (Not hidden well enough!) I got the punishment for it despite never having smoked a fag in my entire life. Punishment for having failed the inspection (despite the inevitable slagging) was usually a half hour fatigues. This entailed some menial and boring task. Picking up butts, sweeping the yard, etc. When the inspection was over then it was get out of the black gear and get back into your own routine. Usually there was a rush for the single water boiler that served 30 men. Who all wanted a cuppa.
OK, many of us bitched about this little part of Kesh culture but it gave us a structure. A purpose. Discipline. And it meant that cleanliness was very high on the agenda.
Of course today I still do this at weekends? I don’t think so. That was then. This is now. But our home sparkles. I got the love of my life. Who has OCD.