In September 1966 I headed back to school to study English and French at A level. Gordon and I were still an item. It wasn’t a big deal at home as I hadn’t really got round to mentioning to the family that I was ‘going out’ with a Prod. It was decided that as my academic excellence hadn’t as yet shone through I should also take a night class in typing at Warrenpoint Technical/ Primary school. I could hardly suppress my enthusiasm. Plans were already being made for a secret rendezvous. So on Tech.night I would meet Gordon and we had two precious hours to kill. Many of those nights were spent sitting on the shore, looking over Carlingford Lough. On one occasion we saw a shooting star and I had a wish. It did come true. My mother didn’t get a chance to find out that I never did learn to type until I got a computer.
Warrenpoint being a small place it didn’t take long for the romance to reach the ears of my parents in Rostrevor. They weren’t amused and I was told that I was to stop seeing Gordon. I was heartbroken but not surprised at the reaction. There were few relationships between different religions in those days and my family was determined that I wasn’t going to be one of them. There had never been any animosity towards our protestant neighbours but dating one was a no-no. Gordon’s parents were oblivious to the romance at this stage. It was, of course, early days and it could easily have come to a natural end, but I was a teenager, quite rebellious and nobody was going to tell me what to do. So the objections made me much more determined and I vowed that they would not break us up.
Those of you that have read my blogs on Chatter will have noticed that teeth have played a big part in my life and even at this early stage they came into play in directing my future. In September I needed two crowns. Gordon ‘mitched off ‘school and waited while I was at the dentist. I came out frozen to the gills and he suggested we pop into a nearby pub where I could get a cup of tea. If I remember rightly he had a beer. Ok, I know the sight of two students, in full school uniform, from different schools , and on a school day, in a pub sent out the wrong signal
I guess the Manager of the pub did too because when I returned to school, I was summoned to the headmistress ‘s office and reprimanded. The parents were informed and I was warned that the romance was to end immediately. I realised then that I was going to be under constant scrutiny and made the decision that I was leaving school. I applied to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and was successful in obtaining a post as a Clerical Officer. I think my parents were secretly quite pleased. The love birds would be split up and the distance would ensure that it couldn’t survive. How wrong they were.
In October 1966 I packed my things and headed for Belfast.
I arrived in Belfast naive and apprehensive. Apart from my trip to France earlier in the summer I had never been away from home on my own. But the pressure of living in Rostrevor had become too great and the local Parish Priest had been tipped off that one of his parishioners was walking out with a young Scottish Protestant. My mother had managed to get me into a hostel in Bryson street, supervised by nuns, and it was there that I would spend the next nine months or so. I think she thought I’d be safe in the care of the nuns but it didn’t work out like that. We were given a key and could go and come as we pleased!
Anyway, I arrived in Bryson Street at St. Paul’s hostel. It was run by the Cross and Passion sisters and Sister Adriana was in charge. We were all afraid of her especially when she took a walk around the hostel. The charge was £2 per week. This was to include breakfast, evening meal and supper. Ten shillings extra if you stayed the weekend. Hot water was provided on a Monday night for two hours, otherwise the water was freezing. By the time we all tried to wash our hair, there was no hot water left. Anything left on the floor of the dorm was confiscated and two old pence per item would be charged for its return. There were about 30 girls in the hostel and we slept in individual cubicles surrounded by a flimsy curtain, our only bit of privacy.
I soon settled in and got to know my way round the area. Some areas are no longer there, having been demolished to make way for a new housing development which became known as Short Strand. Seaforde Street, Chemical Street and the Newtownards Road were part of the local area. A local chip shop on the Newtownards Road helped to sustain us growing girls. They were served in newspaper in those days. A small corner shop at Chemical St or Susan St ( I can’t remember which ) sold cheese from a large block. We were able to buy it by the slice. No Health and Safety in those days. Inglis had a bakery beside the Ropeworks and the pastries were delicious. As we passed the houses on our way to the hostel each evening the residents came out to say hello and everyone was friendly. On many occasions we went over to the Protestant church on the Newtownards Road and had a chat with the Minister. In those days a trolley bus ticket into town was four old pence and it was possible to walk home in the early hours of the morning from The Orpheus, The Astor and the students union at Queens, crossing the Queens bridge without any hassle. Those were carefree years and we enjoyed them to the full. All the big groups came to Belfast and there was always a show to see. I saw the Beach Boys, Gene Pitney, Neil Sedaka, Them, to mention a few. I saw the premiere of The Sound of Music in the Odeon while the Free Presbyterians demonstrated outside, because of the Catholic theme of the film.
Over the next eight months until Gordon joined me in Belfast we became experts at subterfuge and deceit.