“EARLY every Saturday morning, I delivered freshly baked bread to the consumers of the Upper Shankill,” writes Tony Macaulay in his new book, a memoir of his time as a teenage bread boy.
“On a good day Belfast was as familiar and comforting as a warm buttered soda farl. But on a bad day, Belfast was hard and sour, like a dry stale wheaten bannock.”
This sequel to first book Paperboy (2010) follows the young Tony as he is promoted from papers to bread delivery, and besides being full of imaginative bread analogies, tells stories of the people and places that filled his days in 1977-79 - early years of the Troubles and a time when punk, Saturday Night Fever and questionable hair cuts were cool. This was a time when the Bee Gees filled the airwaves, everyone was in love with Princess Leia, and there was often danger on Belfast’s streets. As the narrative discovers, Breadboy’s love of peace and pets is soon rivalled by his interest in parallel universes and girls, especially Judy Carlton who sits opposite him in chemistry.
50-year-old Tony, who works in community relations and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster, being now on his second memoir, chuckles when asked if it’s his ambition to follow the example of Samuel Pepys, who used the events of his life to fill volumes and volumes of narrative.
“Breadboy picks up where I left off in my last book, when I start to feel I am all grown up at age 14 and almost shaving. It’s a progression on from the innocence of Paperboy. You see, my customer service skills were so good that I was head-hunted to do the bread round.
“It’s also about being a teenager in the era of Saturday Night Fever and punk and a story about falling in love with a girl in my chemistry class.
“My parents were involved in setting up a youth club in the early Seventies at the top of the Shankill Road. It was like an old Nissen hut at the top of the West Circular. It was all about keeping the kids safe and off the streets during the Troubles. Many of the characters in the book were people I met at the club.
“I had a very happy childhood but the Troubles are in here too - it was something I was very aware of when I was growing up, but there isn’t any kind of political analysis.”
Breadboy is an affectionately-drawn memoir, in many ways a cultural survey of the era, part personal narrative, part historical record. The narrative style is easy and sharp, with a colourful, humorous edge that keeps things lively and engaging.
“My career trajectory was on a steeper incline than a petrol bomb hurtling over the peace wall,” he reflects, after being promoted from the paper round; elsewhere he describes how he was “up and down the streets of the Upper Shankill like a flute band in July.” Macaulay observes how this divided society “was united in love of the soda farl”.
The author was born in Lisburn in 1963 and grew up at the top of the Shankill Road in the early years of the Troubles. He attended Belfast Royal Academy and started the bread deliveries at age 14, serving an Ormo Mini-Shop while endeavouring to wear Denim aftershave to impress girls.
The cinematic potential in Tony’s work was recognised after publication of his debut Paperboy generated interest from a film company, which is still in the process of turning a script based on the book into a motion picture.
“It’s something that’s still in the pipeline,” he confides.
“They’re going to promote this as a sort of Northern Irish Billy Elliot. It won’t be a Troubles movie but a coming-of-age story. A while back I took film producers all round the Ballygomartin Road, showing them my paper round - it was all very surreal.”
But for the moment the focus is on Tony’s old bread runs, the people he met, the music he listened to, the girls he tried to woo and the avid pursuit of teenage kicks amid the often violence-haunted city.
Breadboy: Teenage Kicks and Tatey Bread – What Paperboy Did Next By Tony Macaulay is published by Blackstaff Press, priced £8.99 and is available now. Visit wwwww.blackstaffpress.com.