Counter-surveillance for under tens

Counter-surveillance for under tens

by ThinkScotland
article from Thursday 23, March, 2017

WHAT DID a typical school run look like for you, when you were a child? Let me tell you about mine.

My father would go out and check the car, get it started, and then I would run out and climb aboard. We drove straight out onto the road, sometimes taking a scenic route, but we would always get there in the end. And on the way back, sometimes we would go straight home, sometimes not; and sometimes we might even remember a last minute errand before parking on the graveled drive. Then my father would get out and open the front door, pull the curtains and switch on the lights, before I would toddle in behind.

That all sounds entirely normal, doesn’t it? But all was not what it seemed in Northern Ireland during the 1980s.

I spent my childhood in a place where terrorism was never far away. My clearest memory of primary school is not a sports day, or a school play, although I have those memories as well. No, I remember our headmistress assembling a class of maybe two dozen nine and ten-year-olds, and telling us exactly how we were going to treat one of our friends when he came back to school.

He was absent, you see, because Martin McGuinness’s men had burst into his living room the night before and murdered his father right beside him, on the sofa, as they watched TV together. A child – our playmate – had been left alone in an empty house, covered in his dead father’s blood, bone, and tissue.

I didn’t cry, at the time. None of us did. What had happened was not unusual, but at least it had been somebody else’s daddy that night. Every child in that classroom knew that their own daddy was a bit safer now, for a day or two at least. Such was the tempo of terrorist murder at that time.

Dear God, I have cried since. The horror of what happened gets plainer and plainer with every year.

You see, my parents protected me. They couldn’t hide the fact that the IRA were trying to murder them, as they murdered any businessman, builder, or farmer that they could. It would have been obvious to any intelligent child that our family sat at the intersection of all three groups: people whose only crime was to risk their lives in keeping something approaching a normal civil society in place. But my parents could hide that their lives were dominated by terror. They did that very well indeed.

That school run, for example. My father checked the car each morning, not for the oil, but for a bomb that might have been placed overnight. We could drive straight out because he had always parked facing the road, in case we needed to leave in a hurry. We would vary our route, but sometimes there was a bad feeling and we would do a fly-by before risking the driveway, which was gravelled so no-one could move in silence. And then my father would go to the house alone, so that if someone tried to gun him down they wouldn’t shoot me too, before making sure that no-one in the house could be illuminated to those who might be waiting outside. That was the routine.

To this day, I keep putting together another little piece of what he did, and why he did it. I suspect everyone else’s daddy did the same. That effort kept the terrorists back, just a little bit, during the hours of daylight.

Nights were different, though. We lived somewhere pretty remote, and outside was very quiet, and very dark. Everyone, adult and child alike, thinks they can hear things in the silent darkness and I would lie awake, in late childhood, listening for cars on the road. I knew when to expect gear changes and, if they were delayed, I worried. The car might have stopped, and the terrorists might have got out. They might be coming for my daddy tonight, as they had come for my friends’ daddies the week before.

I know my father listened too, because I could hear the TV going quiet when something like that happened. Sometimes the lights changed too: insides off, outsides on. I don’t know if he had a flak-jacket, but in my dreams my daddy was bulletproof.

In my nightmares, he was not. I had seen people lying dead in the street by the time I was seven or eight years old. My child’s imagination needed no cues. I knew what the terrorists would do.  All was vivid.

To live life as we did was to be in a state of constant low-level anxiety, year, after year, after year. I don’t think it can be explained to anyone who wasn’t there, and yet that is what Martin McGuinness chose to do to my childhood, and to those of my schoolmates, and to literally thousands of ordinary, decent people who were just trying to get on with their lives.

This stuff stays with you. To this day my wife, who isn’t Northern Irish, doesn’t understand why I clutch the car, rather than shift to neutral, at the traffic lights. She doesn’t understand why I like to sit with my back to the wall in restaurants, or why I get uneasy about doing the same thing at the same time every week. These are silly things, now, but they are the echoes of growing up in that man’s shadow.

He was a monster, and his name does not deserve to be remembered any more. Leave him in the darkness he so exploited.

Think of the broken lives he left behind instead.

This article was submitted to ThinkScotland with the request that it be posted anonymously.


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