Friday, 29 July 2011

21 - 'Dry yer eyes, son - sure it'll harden ye!'

Milennium Stone (Mourne granite), Delamont Park, Co. Down
July 01, 2010

One thing very particular to the way we talk in Ulster is our habit of understatin' things a lot.  Everything tends to be played down.  During all the years of 'The Troubles' here, the often repeated phrase was, 'Business as usual.'   Every time a bomb went off and smashed all the shop windows in a street, the next thing you'd see after the all-clear would be shop assistants sweepin' up the broken glass, vans arriving with plywood to cover the windows and, of course, the 'Business as usual'  signs poppin' up all over the new plywood.  I think the word for Ulster people would 'a' been, 'undaunted?'
I remember walking through some very quiet, empty streets in the city centre one night on my way to catch the train home from Belfast.  I could hear a lot of sirens in the distance, so I knew something was up, but at that time that was fairly common - and the bomb, or whatever, might be a good few streets away.  Suddenly an angry policeman appeared out of a shop doorway in front of me and said, 'Ye just walked past the [so and so] bomb!'  'Well, it's a bit late tellin' me now,' I replied - thinking to meself, 'Why was he hiding in a doorway, instead of shouting a warning to me, BEFORE I walked past it?'  The next street I crossed was being filled up with foam which they used to dissipate the blast, and I heard the controlled explosion go off before my train arrived to take me home!  

That was probably the closest I've been to a bomb, but there were many times when one went off a few hundred yards away.  Most people got a bit blase - as long as it wasn't too close.  But it's very much in the Ulster nature to make light of anything serious, or dramatic.  If a child falls and hurts himself slightly, the father would be as likely to say, 'Dry yer eyes, son, sure it'll harden ye!'   And quite often the child will stop cryin'.  It's not that we are hard, or unfeeling, we just tend to play down our emotional reactions.  Of course, all this bottlin' up of our emotions may come out in other ways - the amount of tranquilisers prescribed and consumed during The Troubles was apparently something quite amazin'.

When I was still single I was workin' on me own one Saturday - using the circular saw to cut a slot in a piece of mahogany as a new surround for a special blade .  I accidentally caught the back edge of the slot on the blade and the saw pulled my finger through the blade - leaving a gaping wound with the remains of my fingernail hanging into it.  Yeah, nasty, I know!  There was no-one else around and I couldn't even find a band-aid to put on it so, like Jack an' Jill, I wrapped a piece of brown paper around the finger and got in my car to drive 2 miles to where my Dad, who's an electrician, was working on wiring a friend's bungalow.

When I got out of the car I first asked him how he was gettin' on - and he showed me what work he'd been doing.  Then he asked me what brought me there and I told him I'd cut my finger, so he asked me to show him.  'Ye'll have to go to hospital wi' that', was his response.  'Aye, a know,' I replied, 'Mebbe you'd run me in?'  He drove me the other 2 miles to the hospital and by the time we got there and I'd given a few details I was beginning to pass out with the shock.

Another time I called up to visit a young friend whom I'd just learned was dying from Hodgkins Disease and had to have oxygen regularly.  Apparently, everyone who came to visit him got upset and embarrassed by just how ill he looked.  They knew he didn't have long left to live and were at a complete loss as to what to say to him.  

Now his dad worked a bit at cars, so when I was shown up to his room, and spotted the oxygen cylinders by the bed, he immediately caught my meaning when I asked him, 'Are ye doin' a bit a weldin', then?'  He responded with a laugh and we got into a very animated, serious, but cheerful enough conversation for nearly half an hour - until his mum came up to see what on earth could be keepin' me so long with him.  She was surprised to see him happily chatting away with me.  He died only a week, or so, later - but I was glad I'd had that conversation with him, instead of puttin' on a long face like everybody else and wonderin' what on earth to say to someone who was dyin'.


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