Over the next eight months there were many clandestine meetings. At the weekends I would return home to Rostrevor. A trip to Newry on a Saturday afternoon was spent in Foster’s coffee lounge. Fosters was a family department store with a lovely restaurant. Russian tea was very much in fashion. It was basically black tea served with lemon but we thought at seventeen we were very sophisticated and so Russian tea became the drink to be seen with. They also served the most delicious lemon meringue pie. Many happy hours were spent there, planning for the future. Saturday evenings were spent at the local cinema, the Aurora. The owner, George Tinnelly, was an old romantic and knowing our story allowed me to hide in the shop in the foyer until Gordon arrived, just in case my dad was on the prowl. He became a facilitator for our Saturday nights over the next few years.
Life was difficult at the weekends. There was constant scrutiny as to where I was going and who I was going with and I had to plan my meetings with Gordon with military precision. Back in Belfast in 1966 there were few means of corresponding. The hostel had a phone but it was always in use. Phone boxes were not always available or had large queues of people waiting to make a call. Writing was the other means of correspondence. So we started writing to each other. I still have those letters. Reading back on them now I see how immature we were during that first year. However I still read them from time to time and they bring back such happy memories.
Over the next eight months before Gordon moved to Belfast we managed to see each other at least once during the week. During the week Gordon would borrow his dad’s car to go and play badminton. Now I know this is not legal but he learned how to put the mileage clock on the car back and he then headed for Belfast. His dad thought he was playing badminton locally. I couldn’t wait until the next morning to check the news and be reassured that there were no accidents the previous night. On one occasion he met a car coming towards him on the wrong side of the motorway. Scary times. I was earning the princely sum of £29 per month so I supplied the ten shillings for the petrol. Many a night was spent at Shaw’s Bridge sitting in his dad’s Wolsey Hornet. Other nights we went to concerts or the ‘hops’ at the students union. On one occasion he took a mutual friend from Newry with him. We went to see Cream at the students union. The concert ran late and her mother became concerned. She rang my mother and explained that her daughter had gone to a concert with Gordon and Ann in Belfast. Merry hell broke out.
Apparently there were phone calls to the hostel but as it was after midnight no one answered. But come the morning I got a right earful and more pressure to break up with Gordon.There were many incidences like that but we were a real couple now and no one was going to break us up.
I was working in Dundonald House at that time. I had arrived straight from school and was totally bewildered with the officialdom present in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It was quite stifling. Many employees were ex army officials and ran their sections like a regiment. My Head of Section came in to work in uniform one day a week ( she belonged to some section of the Territorial army ) but it was off-putting in a work environment. I was also told that she had prided herself in having an all Protestant section until I arrived and upset the apple cart. Such was the ethos in NI in the late sixties. Sexual harassment was also a big problem but there were no laws in those days and most of us had to put up with it. On many occasions I had to fight off older men in positions of power who thought it ok to chase you round the office and in some cases pin you down on your desk. Inappropriate comments were common place. I remember one particular gentlemen ( I use the term gentleman loosely) who I dreaded. He took a shine to me and would send for me to come to his office. He was badly injured in the war and was disfigured. He would leer over the desk and ask me for a kiss. Thankfully he couldn’t move very quickly and so it was possible to move out of his way when he lunged at me. But it was not a pleasant situation and complaining to higher ups was greeted with ‘There’s life in the old boy yet’. Sexual harassment was not treated with any seriousness in the 60’s or 70’s.
I grew up quickly back in those days. I began to get restless living in a hostel. Myself and a few friends I had made started looking around for a flat. We reckoned that there would be a good social life in the University area and so we moved to Cromwell Road. Not long after our move we got to go to our first formal as a couple. One of my flat mates attended the Art College and Gordon and I accompanied her to the annual formal. My dress was a beautiful green sateen with the price tag of £6 and I loved it. I think I got a few more formals out of it. Oh to be that weight again! Looking at the photo now we look like twelve year olds!
When Gordon moved up to Belfast in July of 67 and he found a flat nearby we had no choice but to become adults living in the real world. Budgeting, cooking and cleaning. But we were still only 18 and despite all the opposition to our romance we had some good times before the troubles started.
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