Our first morning of married life in our new flat was disturbed by a phone ringing in the communal hallway. After ignoring it for a while (we weren’t in from our travels until 2.a.m.), I went to answer it. It was my mum checking that we had got home safely. I was naïve enough to think that as a married woman (girl) my mum would stop worrying about me. Now, as a mother and grandmother, I realise that the worry never stops. Anyhow on wakening (we were too tired to wonder how the bed got made up) we realised that various bits of furniture had materialised, the wedding gifts had been unpacked and put away and the place looked quite homely. An envelope sitting beside the bed contained a cheque for £100, a gift from G’s mum and dad.
The telegrams ( olden day texts ) were also there. Ironically there was one from the Parish Priest who had caused me such unhappiness, wishing me all the best for the future. I wonder how he would have reacted to the fact that we are still together 48 years later.
We headed for the city centre to buy furniture. Do you remember Donaldson and Lyttle furniture shop? Well we headed there and for our £100 we were able to buy a wardrobe, dressing table, four Ercol dining room chairs and a small ‘ cottage’ suite. We couldn’t wait for it all to be delivered. In a week we had become an old married couple. We settled down to married life, the two of us and the mice. We weren’t aware of them until one night while watching the telly ( a black and white set from Radio Rentals) I noticed something moving in the corner of the living room. The scream I let out could only be heard by any dogs in the immediate vicinity. Suffice to say there was a large family of them and for the next few months I was reluctant to return to the flat on my own.
Meanwhile on the political front, the SDLP had come into existence. The British Army which had been welcomed by the Catholic community was now seen as the enemy and soldiers were being killed. Charlie Haughey was found guilty of importing weapons destined for Northern nationalists .
Rioting on the streets was common practice in 1970. I wouldn’t like to guess how many busses and cars were burned. Parts of Belfast began to resemble a war zone. Night life practically came to a halt. It was noticeable that the number of large groups from across the water were avoiding Belfast. So TV became the main source of entertainment. We had Morecambe and Wise, Cilla Black and Val Doonican keeping us entertained. Over the coming months there were nights of continuing riots and we fell asleep to the sound of petrol bombs and occasional gunfire.
As it was becoming difficult to be sure of crossing the city in the morning to get to our workplace, (the hubby was on the Stoney Road and I was in Dundonald House), we decided we needed a car. We headed to see the bank manager and were able to borrow the princely sum of £325 to get our new wheels. Not having a clue about cars, I left it up to the hubby. He came home with a Mini Cooper of indeterminate age and condition from Mervyn Stewart’s who were I believe in Gt.Victoria Street at the time. Like many businesses in the 70’s a bomb later destroyed the showroom.
We were over the moon with our new car. We were so excited that we offered to bring my mum and my mum-in-law to see a play in Portadown. One of my work colleagues was appearing in it. We duly arrived to pick them up and started off to Portadown. Now they say that pride comes before a fall and we were extremely proud of our new purchase. With about 10 miles to go to our destination there was a thud followed by a scraping noise. Gordon stopped the car, got out and was gutted to find the exhaust pipe lying in the middle of the road. Oh the embarrassment! We arrived somewhat late for the production after a patch up job on the exhaust.
We settled into a routine and Saturday was shopping day. A local grocery store was the venue and the bill for my weekly shop rarely exceeded £6. No luxuries and no carry outs. Basic food and very few occasions to eat out. We had no washing machine so a couple of nights a week were spent in the launderette in Botanic Avenue. No central heating, no microwave, how did we manage? To save money, we traveled home to the parents at the weekend, got well fed and waited on.
We had the car for a couple of months and after the necessary repairs it was going great. In fact it was quite a mover. We were able to park right outside our bedroom window. The bedroom being at the front of the flat and the flat being on the ground floor. Ok, I know you all realised that. Anyhow one morning we headed off to work. I went out first. Gordon, I shouted, where did you park the car? There was a space where are car should have been!
Cars were parked on either side of the space. Our car was gone. We phoned the police and were stunned when Gordon was asked where he had been at 2 o’clock the previous night. Apparently our car had been used as a getaway car for an armed robbery on the Antrim Road. When it was eventually returned we discovered a jemmy stuffed down behind the passenger seat. Obviously a thorough search by the RUC!
When I look back on it now we were both very young to get married. But it wasn’t unusual, back in those days when women were still treated as second class citizens, for young women to see their future as married with a family. I even had to resign from the Civil Service on getting married and had to reapply for my job. I think we were quite lucky in that we had both lived independently from our families for a number of years and were used to budgeting and looking after ourselves. It must have been difficult getting married, leaving home and straight into managing a household. As we headed into 1971 we had hope that things would improve and peace would return to Northern Ireland. How wrong we were.