One of many memories, happy and sad, sparked off by a damp squib

editorial image

On Wednesday morning, after a night’s sleep that was more than occasionally interrupted by Halloween fireworks, I found a blackened, burnt-out skyrocket on my lawn.

The defunct firework, soaked in rain, triggered an unnervingly painful memory from my Enniskillen childhood, though it was an insignificant recollection that sinks under an endless sea of emotion as the 30th Anniversary of the Remembrance Day bomb approaches.

As a young journalist I reported from my hometown on Sunday 8 November 1987 when an I.R.A. bomb killed 11 people and left more than 60 people injured.

A twelfth man remained in a coma for 13 years before succumbing to his injuries.

As every Remembrance Sunday draws near I recall driving urgently from Belfast to Enniskillen to ‘cover’ the tragedy, unaware that I’d be reporting on more than a few of my local friends and acquaintances.

For a moment, Wednesday morning brought hugely different memories.

On Halloween night in 1960, dressed-up as Pluto, Walt Disney’s cartoon-dog, I tricked and treated with my little neighbourhood chums.

Due to unforgivable childhood stupidity I held a skyrocket in my hand, keen to observe close-up what was meant to happen in the sky!

And I held a painfully large burn in the palm of my hand for several weeks thereafter!

Wednesday’s damp squib brought sweeter reminiscences as well, of a rural neighbourhood on the edge of Enniskillen that was our all-year-round playground, but was also the profound facilitator of our collective future.

It was a small triangular portion of the town, inside the elbow of two main roads, which I described recently in a compilation of stories about the town.

The aerial photo from the book - Enniskillen In the Rare Ould Times - was taken in 1949.

Roamer’s family home is one of the row of white houses tucked into the bottom right-hand corner of the picture.

The roadway at the front of the houses divided us from a former American WWII army camp with its remaining line of curved-roof Nissan huts and several rows of unoccupied concrete foundations where other huts had been removed.

This was where General Eisenhower addressed his GIs in May 1944 prior to the Normandy Landings.

Wickham Drive, the tall terrace of three storey dwellings towards the top of the picture, was occupied solely by RUC officers and their families.

Two little boys from Wickham Drive were amongst my dressed-up chums on Halloween night in 1960.

They also played games with me amongst the Nissan huts in the old army camp though Raymond preferred to tinker with his beloved bicycles and Billy loved his stamp collection.

The two lads grew up and followed their fathers’ footsteps into the RUC.

Both were shot dead by the IRA.

Some of the ex-US Army Nissan huts were occupied by local families who’d moved in after the war.

Piles of old breeze blocks and warped sections of tin in the camp, along with discarded wooden rafters, military fittings and fixtures and remnants of furniture, offered endless fun as a full-scale, real-life ‘legoland’!

We built all kinds of huts and forts and more than occasionally unearthed tattered maps and disintegrated documents - plans for D-Day!?

The Model School - the large buildings and open space in the middle of the picture - provided an early and excellent education…and the smooth-surfaced tarmacadam playground was ideal for all-weather roller-skating.

It offered firm footing too for little girls’ skipping ropes, rhythmically thumping the ground under dizzyingly-fast footwork.

My first day in my first classroom was under the watchful eye of a teacher who barely had time to enrol me before I dashed back home at the first available opportunity!

With my mother’s firm persuasion and my teacher’s sensitive encouragement the little run-away returned and sat weeping unhappily at a tiny desk.

Another little pupil called Joe lent me his plastic toy-train to alleviate my wails of despair and soon I was joining in the lessons, relatively tearlessly!

There were wooden easels with jam jars of coloured paint which we liberally spread on large sheets of paper (and on each other) with thick-bristled paint brushes.

We were painting ‘portraits’ of each other - Mr Men lookalikes with legs and arms protruding from heads without bodies!

Then it dawned on me.

Suddenly and memorably I realised that a human head is on top of a neck, and the legs and arms are lower down, attached to a body!

It was truly a magic moment of discovery.

So was the night my father pointed to the clear, black sky above our house, populated by countless millions of stars and galaxies, and told me about infinity.

One day an old man died in a house nearby.

Though I didn’t know him, nor any of his family, I knocked on their front door asked to see the body - within an hour of his passing away!

I bore no words of comfort and offered no grieving handshake, just an innocent smile.

“Can I see him please?” was the height of my childhood empathy.

They brought me into the house and I stood looking at the body.

The family had to usher me out or I’d have stayed there all day!

I’d never seen a corpse before and am forever grateful that unknown neighbours so readily allowed a youngster to infringe on their grief.

One of many memories, happy and sad, sparked off - amazingly - by a damp squib!