Small pieces, loosely joined

St Patrick’s Day was fun, lots of people wearing Guiness-inspired hats, and the rest. I did the same and went down my local the Barking Dog only to find myself thinking of a few coincidences surrounding ‘the Troubles’. And so to the list which came out of my head at the pub while waiting for Shirley:

1. I once shook the hand of Gerry Adams at a book launch in London and tried to get him to subscribe to Red Pepper magazine, that’s my approach to pushing business! I was nervous about this though noted that there was an impromptu crowd outside who cheered when he arrived which struck me as very interesting.

Later on I wrote a book review for Red Pepper about ‘Black and Green’ by Brian Dooley, which compared the civil rights struggle in the 60s in Ireland and the US. I was particularly struck by the line that: “The American movement never had to cope with the rise of paramilitary forces. with an army sent by a national government wich turned out to be hostile, or with sweeping internment without trial.”

Ironically in hanging out with a former Black Panther in Memphis in 1998 in covering the 30th anniversary of MLK’s death for the BBC he was still experiencing hassle over his driving licence from Federal authorities. It’s a small thing I know, even though I don’t drive a car.

2. Part of the reason I was nervous was the simple fact that I have an uncle (and a cousin come to think of it) who served as a CO in Northern Ireland; we went an stayed with him in the late 70s on the Hollwood base outside Belfast. Until recently his car dashboard sports little ‘stickies’ of active service units’ registration plates in the area to look out for. Post-it-notes have many uses! My Uncle later did me the honour of involving me in some small intelligence gathering when Military Attache in Prague, but that’s another anecdote.

3. By funny coincidence when I was a reporter in far flung Diss in south Norfolk my mate Frank, an Irish cobbler who travelled in from Norwich with me every day, had his sister’s Nissan Micra stolen. It turned up as the car used in the attempted bombing of Heathrow airport, and was paranoid as hell he’d get pulled in as a result! (Ironically the car I passed my driving test in back in Telford was a Nissan Micra, though it had a dent in the back where another car had run into it just before my test.)

4. My elder brother married a girl from the west of Ireland who’s grandmother reportedly knew the IRA general Michael Collins, but that may just be a nice story. I recall Liam Neelson played him of the film of that name, and turned up again in K-19 The Widower.

5. At my brother’s wife’s local pub before the wedding I made the crass joke when downing a concoction of brandy, creme de menthe and baileys named the Irish Flag – ‘burn the flag’ I said with a grin, and very nicely it being a weddign I was allowed to get away with that!

6. Talking about burning one of the most unusual journalist assignments I had to cover was attendigng a slide show for the Nursing Standard of ‘Bomb blast victims from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast’. I was particularly struck by the special bed they had for treating victims of car bombs, which oftern leads to complete loss of one’s buttocks. The Royal Victoria is a world leader in such work, as a result.

And that’s my St Patrick’s day drunken rant for the world. Cheers!