My story today took place about 10 days before Elly started Nursery School. The new intake for the year started in small groups adding three or four children each week. The teachers worked according to the alphabet and since our surname belonged in the second half, it was October before her exciting first day.
Elly always found waiting difficult; she liked to be in the forefront of all the action. I am not sure that she has changed much over the years! I was running out of ideas to keep her distracted and knowing that my trips out shopping would have to fit in around her schedule for a couple of months, I decided to have one last morning in town. Since Jack, Elly’s dad was working in the Belfast area that day he offered to drop us off and then we could make our own way home when we had finished.
As we were getting out of the car Jack pushed something into my hand and told us to have a good lunch before going home. The note he gave me was well more than the bus fare, lunch and a few books at Cranes Bookshop!
Despite the regular frisking and checking of our bags as we entered each shop, we had fun looking at all the new autumn fashions and found a few items to add to our wardrobes. We picked and bought a tie for ‘Dad’ before heading to see Miss Crane. Being a normal Business/school day Miss Crane had plenty of time for Elly. An hour passed quickly as we browsed, checked out suggestions and finally selected three or four books to add to the growing library in Elly’s bedroom.
Adding this latest purchase to our ever increasing shopping bags we went in search of a good lunch. The garden Restaurant on the upper level of the Fountain Centre was our choice. Don’t go looking for it now, because it’s no longer there. We had a very enjoyable lunch and feeling satisfied with our morning we decided to catch the next bus home.
We reached the High Street bus stop in good time and sat on the wall at the ground level car park to await the arrival of our bus. It was a nice bright day and Elly enjoyed watching the world all around her. Busses came and went, cars passed and people sauntered or walked briskly to keep appointments. From the sky above we heard the drone of hovering helicopters, a sound we were very used to in this part of the world.
After a while I noticed the traffic was very light, no busses were arriving and then the cars disappeared completely. A few minutes later we heard the blare of sirens and Police and Army vehicles roared past. Things quietened and then after a pause with sirens blaring some of the vehicles returned from whence they came. It was a real indication of a bomb scare. This went on several times and we heard a few explosions. I had no idea if the explosions were controlled or from abandoned vehicles. None of this bothered Elly as she watched all that was happening around us. Never once did she ask why the bus did not come.
It was still early days for me in the North of Ireland, mobile phones were unheard of, and I only knew of two routes from Belfast to our home town. One of these was the motorway, not a possibility for walking home and the other was through some highly charged areas. There was also the fact that I had no idea of what to do if we were re directed at any point from this strife torn part of Belfast. My strong southern brogue was more a hindrance than a help so I decided that staying put was the safest option. The bus would come at some stage, so we sat on.
After a couple of hours I realised that Jack would be aware of what was going on and begin to worry about us. All drivers in those days stayed tuned to local radio for the latest traffic problems and delays. I saw a phone Kiosk on the corner of the street and checking I had sufficient coins I decided to call Jack’s office to see if he was there, alas he was not so I left a message for him saying we were safe and staying at the bus stop in High Street.
Ten or fifteen minutes later the traffic started to move and busses were allowed to leave the bus station once again. Our bus arrived and we boarded gladly. The traffic was very slow and the journey involved many changes to the normal route. We travelled on roads that day I had never seen before or since. The main part of the journey took us up the Crumlin Road, past Ballysillan to the Upper Hightown Road. Up on that high ground I had the most wonderful view of Belfast way below us glowing peacefully in the late afternoon sunshine. It was hard to credit the chaos that we had left behind us and it was almost worth the long delays just to get that view.
It was 5.30p.m as we arrived at our local bus station and alighted into the arms of a much relieved Jack. He had called his office and was given my message within five minutes of my call and he tried to reach us in High Street. A bus was drawing away from the stop when he turned into the street and he was unable because of the traffic to overtake us. He decided to make his own way home and wait at the bus station for us.
Safely home and preparing our meal I contented myself with no more visits to Belfast for the foreseeable future.