Phone Call #1
It was in the mid 1970s. I had been at an evening class in the College of Business Studies in Brunswick Street. Following the other students leaving the building and walking along Queen Street to Castle Street was safe, even after 9pm. Safety in numbers.
And I got a black taxi up to my home in the Upper Springfield area.
It was maybe 9.45pm and my parents were very distressed.
They had received a phone call “we are the UDA in Springmartin. We have your son and we are torturing him now. Do you want to hear him scream?”
Well needless to say, it was not the UDA in Springmartin. And as our phone number was ex-directory, it is logical to assume that it was some folks who actually knew our number.
Just a very nasty prank.
Phone Call #2.
The summer of 1982. I was staying with Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie in the Beechmount area of West Belfast. It was almost midnight and my fiancée left me at the front door. Usually, we would sit in the car for a few minutes before I went in to the house.
On this night my uncle and aunt were waiting outside. They had a small bag containing their bank books and insurance stuff.
They were very distressed. They could hardly tell us what was going on. “Just drive …just drive”. And we drove up Falls Road and I am trying to find out what this was all about.
In between calling on help to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it emerged that they had received a phone call “This is the IRA. We are coming to take over your house tonight. Get out now”.
I was trying to say “hold on, lets think this out”. I was thinking this cant be how IRA does things. Yes, they need safe houses for a meeting, Or to set up an ambush. Which is the least worst option for an elderly (and in my uncles case…disabled) couple? Telling the RUC might bring retribution. Saying nothing could lead to someone losing his/her life. And possibly criminal charges for witholding information.
My future wife wanted to know where we would go. Driving past Whiterock Road, Milltown, Casement Park.
Most likely it was a hoax.
We drove to the RUC Station on Stewartstown Road. The policeman on the front desk was the type of cop we called a “Stephen” , the clean cut, presentable image.
After explaining the problem “Stephen” brought us into a large recreation room, snooker table, table tennis, fruit machines and he said he would pass the information on to the RUC at Springfield Road.
We were sitting there just waiting. And the kinda cop we called a “Trevor” came in and played on the snooker table, even though he was wearing body armour. “Trevor” kept staring at me, probably trying to remember if he had seen me before.
The thing about the “Trevor” type of RUC man is that they were always in their 40s and with or without bullet-proof protection always looked overweight. Their apologists might say that they were veterans of patrols on Falls Road, Ballymurphy, Andersonstown and had seen colleagues killed or maimed and getting daily abuse from the people that they would claim to protect.
But really the young Stephens might have believed that whole “serve and protect” rubbish. But the middle aged Trevors were more street savvy. They knew they were hated. And they did not care.
In fact they cared so little that Trevor at Woodburn RUC was enjoying the fact that they were needed.
After a while, Stephen came back to us and told us that a patrol had been sent out from Springfield Road and the “inspector” (sic) had climbed over the back yard wall and the house was secure. No problems.
And that was that.
Two phone calls. Hoaxes.
So what is the point of this story? Well…none. Well maybe the point is that the Troubles were not about the things that made headlines or made it into history books.