I rented a little cottage in Hampshire in the depths of the English countryside and lived there completely on my own for nine months. I felt safe at last but only on my own.
God bless me, I barricaded that place and set up a perimeter with trip-wires and bells all around it.
On Sunday mornings I was always up around six and jogged fifteen miles or more, and when I got home I would cook a roast lunch with all the trimmings just for myself.
Luckily for me there was a local pub nearby named the White Swan so I used to go there on Saturday nights and sit on my own in a corner to observe the locals. Much to my joy I discovered there was a famous health spa not far down the road and all the girls came to the pub at weekends.
They were all experts in massaging and nice smelling oils so we became great friends.
One of the girls became my lover. I was very fit then and we got on well.
A while later I applied for a job in a local newspaper that offered ‘Travel and Excitement’. Great stuff; suits me down to the ground so I’ll go for it. I thought, yippee, I’m off to Majorca or the Maldives or some other exotic place with a travel company.
They contacted me a week later. Interview at a place I had never heard of before and had to look it up on a map. So I drove down leafy lanes until I found an old cast-iron gate; along a gravel drive past huge oak trees and a lake to an impressive Tudor-style mansion which I assumed was an hotel.
Standing in the pouring rain and crouched half-under the arch of the front door I pressed the copper door-bell.
“Cup of tea Sir” asked the stern girl dressed in a brown tweed suit wearing horn-rimmed glasses. Not a question, more of an order.
Fifteen of us I thought in the room, boys and girls; a strange looking lot. I arrived late, but no-one turned around to notice that I had entered the room. Cold dead silence.
What is the Gaza strip, where is the West Bank, who is Ghaddafi the exam paper asked.
I knew all the answers; Gaza was an Egyptian transvestite strip-tease artist at a club in the East end of London. West Bank was an easy one near to the Art Gallery on the Thames. Ghaddafi was a bloody tricky question but I got it in the end. He was a big deal at the time in Tunisia who did porno shows.
On my way out the girl with the glasses half-smiled and said “You passed the exam, well done”.
I wasn’t worried about that at all at the time. She was the sexiest thing I had seen for months. I can never forget her little turned up lips and her sky blue eyes.
Beirut was nice, sunny and all that if you don’t mind whizzing things like blow-flies passing your ears at three thousand feet per second; crumping sounds just down the street, and sugary tea which rattled in its saucer every few minutes.
Africa was good in Nairobi but no-where else. Saudi and Yemen sucked. Others I can’t say.
I hate sand, it’s the same everywhere you go. I never go to the beach anymore and I don’t like steel bars, they make me nervous. No loud noises either unless they are very far away and even then I don’t trust them.
Flashback to before I left my cosy cottage:
The girls had worn me out, and the freezing cold winter days and nights got on my nerves. It snowed for days without stopping. I had plenty of fire-wood so I made a huge fire in the kitchen and sat there on my own at nights with a whiskey or two and thought about my future.
I had a job at the time in a nearby town. I sold soft-drinks to the pubs around the county. But I couldn’t even open the front door of the house to get to work because it was completely snowed in and there was no way out. I sat it out and Christmas was a week away. Played my harmonica and sang Irish songs all to myself.
Had enough. I’ve lost it all. My mates, my career, my future.
So I resigned from my job. Booked a one-way ticket to Sydney for early January and packed my bags. My father lived there and I had never met him. Christmas came and went. Spent it on my own poking the ashes of the fireplace and dreaming about the future. The girls had all gone home for the holidays so there was no-one left.
Much to my surprise the Adjutant from my battalion called me on New Year’s Eve from Northern Ireland. I never thought I would hear from him again. It was all over for me, but apparently not for him.
“Me boy, I’ve had a call from some people in London. They’ve got a job for you. How are you placed?” he asked.
I replied I was fed up; one half of me frozen, the other half scared to death, and that I had a one-way ticket for down-under. I didn’t hear from him again for a while after that conversation and forgot all about it for a happy month or so . . .
Sydney was great. Met my father at last after twenty-one years – he looks just like me. Got a job cleaning brothels in Kings Cross. It paid well but there were no extras, I didn’t care you see. I was in the land Downunder where the weather was warm and the Sheila’s were welcoming.
Duty called and I had to go back to green lands again . . . and sandy places that I prefer now to forget.
Faugh A Ballagh – Battle Cry of the Royal Irish Rangers – it means “Clear the Way”. Proud to have served guys. Quis Separabit.
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Memories just don’t go away. Rewind to 1980.
On leave (R&R); not allowed over the border. Feck that why did they want men who had a mind of their own. Or maybe that was just the point – they didn’t. I went south anyway for the Christmas break to see friends and family.
Took the A1 and decided to branch off on the old Dublin Road near to Killeavy from there. British patrol jumped out in front of my car. I hardly said ten words to the young subaltern who questioned me; I knew a zigzag patrol when I saw one and I didn’t want to have to explain why I was heading to the Republic. His cheeks were rosy but he had his finger right on the trigger of his SLR. No false moves there, I was on my effing holiday.
Boxing Day dinner party in County Wicklow. Old house isolated in the mountains. Was chatting up a very sexy girl who looked like Twiggy but had big tits when they came wearing black balaclavas to the front door.
One warning. Ten minutes to get out for the two of us. The other guy was an officer in the Irish Guards on leave like me. I never met him at the party but my host later told me he was there.
Phone number I had been asked to memorise. Dialled it from a phone box on my way back to Dublin. 00:40 in the morning.
“What’s the problem?” he asked. I explained.
His reply sounded so far away that I could hardly hear him. “Get the feck out of here now and never call this number again”. He hung up.
I’ve thought about that phone call for years. I mean I was the one in deep shite not him. Anyway, I don’t know why he was so spooked. The plan was rotating ‘One call, new number’. The line was dead after that. Maybe he had a bad day. We were all busy then. I was left alone that night.
So, I got a seat on the first flight out from Dublin the following morning. Spent the next few nights in a little hotel I knew in South Kensington in London.
For days after when I brushed my teeth my hand shook so much that I nearly cleaned my ears at the same time.
It was hard to forget and I admit that I have cried alone many times since then. We all have for over four hundred years.
Our green land; so beautiful with its fields and mountains. The people who are so kind. The land of Saints and fairies and old Kings. They had the most horrible history of suffering; which no man can really understand.
You see, we did not know which way to go. The same land which we loved, or honour our pledge to the Crown.
One day I will explain about this whole story in more detail. Because this all began for me in Ireland when I was just fifteen and I need to go back to the beginning.
And maybe I will even tell you about the girl with the horn-rimmed glasses. We met again.
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To be continued . . .