I’d forgotten about the bullet.You might understand why, considering that I was living in Belfast during the worst years of the Norneverland conflict and it was only one tiny little bullet among thousands ,after all. .1971 and 1972 was a mad,and crazy time to live in Belfast.There was so much happening day by day that was not normal at all, that eventually it all became what you’d call “a normal part of life”.I suppose that must have been the same for people living in London or Paris during World War 2 or for folks in Vietnam during the 1960s.People tend to accept things as they are and simply get on with life.
There were regular bombings ,shootings and tales of horrific hate-killings out there on the streets, the shops, pubs and back-alleys.Politics were so unstable and paramilitarism was avidly encouraged by politicians, some who saw them as their foot-soldiers, so it was a right old mess that gradually degenerated into a new corrrupting normalcy which would eventually spawn a sense of lawlessness that even forty five years later in the 21st century is still very apparent in local society.There has never been anything really”normal” about the place at all , ever since its origin. That manifested itself in a total disregard for normal civic rules to the point where those same politicians , the local authorities and even the police services are unable to instill the very idea of right and wrong into the citizens or their children.This now manifests itself in a general disregard for any sense of civic morality .Now it appears perfectly normal to allow your dog to shit anywhere you please .It is perfectly acceptable to speedily race about in motor cars with scant regard for the needs of fellow motorists. It is sometimes called “joy-riding ” or “death riding” ,depending on whether you might be doing the driving or not.There are very few sanctions in place for what elsewhere would be regarded as simply crazy behaviour..Simply compare the recent horrific tower -block fire in London with the handmade towering infernos built especially on the streets of Belfast and you’ll get the idea very quickly that we do not live in a normal society.The only place where law appears to be upheld is in the realm of the parking- ticket.For some odd reason parking laws are still enforced ,but damage to the environment, the destruction of property and the ozone layer and the rules of health and safety are very flexible. Should you want to build huge ,towering bonfire pyres of rubber tyres and wooden pallets in built-up urban areas every summer there is no problem at all. In some particular cases the local council will even store the bonfire materials for the event.The community might even readily pay for all expenses incurred too.Many in the unionist communities and their supporting politicians actually see this as a right and a cultural imperative.
There is a direct line from those times of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the present. These days the bullets no longer fly daily in as much profusion and bombings are no longer the daily backdrop to daily life, but the politicians whose malign influence started them flying in the first place ,by their ineptness , partiality and sheer driven crookedness ,still control our daily lives.Like I say , I had forgotten about the “lost and forgotten ” bullet until my sister mentioned it in a recent phone conversation from her home in California. While I was living and working in Belfast, the same mayhem was occuring all over the country .Back in the family home in Armagh ,shops, and pubs were bombed on a regular basis too and the people who previously lived above their businesses were gradually moving away from the town centre to leave the town deserted and quiet in the eveningtime.Most small northern towns never really recovered their nightlife after this. There was really low-level warfare being practised on the streets .While my parents and younger sister gathered around the hearth to watch something like “Morecambe and Wise” on evening television ,or in my sisters’ case, catch up on school homework, on the outskirts of town, one evening ,there was a crack as a bullet spun through the glass of the living-room window, leaving a neat little hole near the corner.In those days it was all single -pane glass windows rather than double glazing. The bullet did not shatter the pane but moved with such speed that its entry and exit could be covered afterwards with a tiny piece of sellotape in the corner of the window to stop that whistling wind momentarily. I had forgotten about this because I wasn’t in the room at the time.That bullet drilled so quickly through the glass, whizzed past my youngest sister’s ear, richoched from the wall behind her and returned across the room. I think now of that lethal projectile buzzing through the air of the room and caroming in slow motion to a stillness on the tiled hearth.How that could have easily changed the shape of our lives and family. My mother might have been browsing through a magazine like “Woman’s Own” ,while sitting in “her” chair by the fire; my father was possibly slumped on the sofa , as I remember him, his back almost horizontal on the cushions. That low elevation may have spared his life. That was how close to death any of us were in those demented times.It was the luck of the draw, growing up as victims of a dysfunctional state and a dysfunctioning society.
How could I forget something like this happening in the front room of the family home? My parents had no involvement in politics or anything associated with politics, so this was a purely random incident. They never had anything to do with militarism , the armed forces, militias, paramilitary groups or anything that involved holding a killing weapon in their hands.It was never reported to the authorities because that would have been deemed a pointless thing to do by my parents during those times. My father would have rolled his eyes in a droll manner, as if to imply that only an idiot would think that was a sane response when the thought was that it was probably the authorities’ policemen who had likely fired the shot in the first place ,anyway. They or their acolytes in the community were the only ones who had regular access to weapons. No one else would have bothered. Everyone who had access to such weapons , seemingly was gun-happy back then and policemen seemingly regularly discharged their weapons while in pursuit of “suspected felons”. Many young men in the unionist community apparently learned to shoot guns from an early age, it seemed. They were the ones who would eventually join groups like the Territorial Army or the the UDR.We lived in the very town , after all ,where police auxiliaries shot down the first civilian in town in the about -to – unfurl conflict. There is a plaque on the wall commemorating where the poor, innocent man died. He had done nothing to deserve such a death.
A friend who has spent the past forty years living in Japan recently reminded me that the incident was hardly unusual .Hadn’t he inadvertenly been involved in a mad shoot-out in Belfast around that same time .it was dangerous getting back from the pub back then . We laughed at that one but it was so true. I’d forgotten that another friend who’d spent a year or two working in a bank had found himself in the middle of an armed robbery when some local heroes liberated the money from behind the counters. Another friend had been playing his guitar in his student digs when the wall blew down around him, leaving him dazed but unharmed in the rubble;a car -bomb had been left outside the door.Life with the lions ….indeed!! The things we took for granted back then…..
Apparently “our”bullet sat on the fireplace mantle providing a talking point among the family ,for a short while , but was gradually forgotten. Who it had been fired at ;why it had been fired in a built-up area at all ,or which vehicle was involved in the pursuit, or which car contained” rogue “elements prepared to shoot randomly at someone’s home, is lost to history. That bullet was only one of a thousand forgotten bullets and stories from the days of Norneverland’s “Troubles”.There had been so many that this story had simply slipped through the cracks of memory. “Do you remember , Harry , mummy and daddy were worrying about you living in Belfast as the bombs were going off ?. ..There were times when the Belfast bus was held up for hours on Fridays before you came home?”I could just about remember it all. It was so long ago . I didn’t have a driving licence then. I was nineteen or twenty at the time and my mother and father are now long-since gone.At that age , like most young people ,I felt invulnerable and thought my parents were needlessly worrying. It was part of “normal” life after all.
Nobody else had jarred that memory before. I am now an old man ,myself and it would appear that nothing much has really changed since those days.The way things are gradually developing it might not be long before history and another generation repeats itself again and helicoptors again beat through the skies daily ,while bombs and bullets gradually begin to randomly fly through windows ,once more.
I wonder where that lone bullet ever ended up.It’s the kind of little lethal souvenir that at another time might have been kept as a memento ,but it seems to have been such a commonplace , casual brush with death that it was soon discarded shortly afterwards….lost in time .