Author Topic: OUR NEIGHBOURS  (Read 370 times)


  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 135
« on: October 08, 2019, 08:49:15 PM »

Our Neighbours
When I was growing up in the Short Strand, east Belfast during the 1970s we had the nicest neighbours you could ever meet.  All of the families got on so well that an outsider would have staked their life on us all being related.  But that was the same in every street in our area because everybody looked out for one another.  If there was a kid who needed minding, or picking up from school, feeding or even if a baby needed looking after for a few hours and its nappy changing, there was no shortage of free help.  It was true friendship and community spirit, but much more than that, it was an unbreakable bond which tied the families in our street together.  Our families did not interact and socialise the way families do today because we simply did not have the money to do so.  Such was the strength of community in our street that no matter which house you lived in, or whether the man of a particular house was signing on or lucky enough to be in employment, no family ever spent a day searching for their next meal. [/font]
We were an inseparable bond, treating each other equally.  If one family had more than another, then they shared what they had with their neighbours because every family was living on the knife edge of survival.  There were no tiers of society in the Short Strand because if you lived in the district, regardless of whether you were born there or not, then you were one of us.  We had your back covered because we knew all too well that one day we would be calling on you to stand beside us, whether that call was for financial support or for the safeguard of our families.  You know what?  I really miss those days of my childhood but what they taught me has helped make me the person I believe I am today. [/font]
In No.40 beside us lived John and Bernie Close.  I admired John Close so much because to me, just like Danny Young across the street, he was someone I looked up to, someone that I one day hoped I could aspire to be.  They were my early, real life boyhood heroes.  Mr and Mrs Smith (Matt and Maisie) lived next door to us in No.36 for as long as I can remember and were still there when I left the Short Strand in 1989.  Matt Smith was a lovely man, a real gentleman.  In fact Matt and my Dad were practically like brothers as both would do anything for anyone if asked.  Matt was retired and was one of the few in our street to own a car but he did not own an old banger; he always had the latest Vauxhall.  Come to think of it I think he worked for the Vauxhall factory in Belfast and so enjoyed a generous staff discount. [/font]
The first car of his I remember was a brand new Vauxhall Chevette which he got when it came out in 1975.  Vauxhall started selling the car on 1 May 1975 with an asking price of £1,593.  This may not sound like a lot of money nowadays but in 1975 it was an absolute fortune: the average price of a house in the UK in 1975 was £10,876.  Matt bought himself an orange 2-door hatchback saloon.  I know what you are thinking. An orange car in the nationalist Short Strand and why didn’t he pick a green one given where he lived!  But aren’t green cars supposed to be unlucky?  I don’t believe this, as I used to own a British Racing Green Hyundai Sonata 2.0L GSi.  Now that was some car.  The Chevette was a classy wee car even for an old man like Matt!  In fact it was the best-selling hatchback in the UK from 1975 to 1978 (the Ford Fiesta was not launched until 1976). [/font]
And of course 1975 was the year the pop video was born, with a 7 minute rock opera complete with visuals which gave Queen their first number one single, "Bohemian Rhapsody."  That video mesmerised me every Thursday night on Top of the Pops and it occupied top spot in the charts for 9 weeks from 29 November 1975 to 30 January 1976 when Abba’s “Mamma Mia” took over the No.1.  And how beautiful was Agnetha Fältskog?  She was a cracker and I fancied her like hell. [/font]
The first ever car I can recall my Dad owned was a 2-door Vauxhall Viva, which was powder blue and had a 1.2 petrol engine.  After the Viva I remember a red Austin Morris.  In 1976, my Dad bought himself an orange Ford Cortina Mark 3 GXL.  When Dad arrived home with this beast, complete with a hard vinyl black roof I can remember thinking: “[censored] me, we’ve won the pools.”  This car was the top of the range 2.0 GXL petrol version which, unlike most of the Mark 3s, had a combination of cloth and vinyl seats - very fancy!  And it had four round lights at the front, chrome door handles and circular chrome mirrors.[/font]
The Cortina was the car all the Ford salesmen drove, but you had to work your way through the ranks of the L model and the XL model.  Only the executives had the 1.6 and 2.0 GXL models.  They were the crème de la crème of the marque.  And it had a sports steering wheel with chrome bumpers.  If I had to describe this car to someone who was born after the 1970s, then I would say take a look at the red Gran Torino with the white stripe in the 2004 movie “Starsky and Hutch” and it might come close to my Dad’s Ford Cortina 2.0 GXL Mark 3.  Mind you, if you asked my Dad what colour it was he would say it was Sebring Red! [/font]
Dad used to collect me and David from Saint Augustine’s in his pride and joy and I can tell you now it had heads turning.  In 1977, Matt Smith exchanged his Chevette for the newer model - only this time in a glossy black.  [censored] me, that car was gorgeous, no wonder he cleaned it every day.  And if I was playing football in the street, I made sure my mates knew that Mr Smith’s car was out of bounds.  On Sunny days that car sparkled like an expensive diamond.  [/font]
Just one of the memories I have written about in “Kicking Through The Troubles- How Manchester United Helped To Heal A Divided Community.”[/font]