“MARTIN! MARTIN!” His mother was calling
him. “You must get up!” Yes, he must. She wouldn’t come upstairs and help him
put on his clothes: not this morning. He
would have to get himself ready. She had told him that last night when she was
packing things away. Nearly everything in the house was packed away now.
He hated the thought of leaving Bangor:
his bed, the house, the long curving, grey street off the main road. They were
going to Belfast: and he didn’t want to go there. He was sure to get lost.
“Are you puttin’ on your clothes?”
“Yes,” he cried, throwing off the blankets. He got up hastily, took off his
nightshirt, and dressed. “Hurry up, son.” He could hear his mother walking
about downstairs: she always moved very quickly, no matter
what she was doing. Sometimes she broke things just because she was so quick: a
cup, a glass, a bowl.
His father must be away now, getting the
house in Chatfield Street ready. He wasn’t yet accustomed to his father being home from France. Yet nearly three years
had passed since the end of the war. His father sometimes laughed in a funny
way when anyone mentioned the war and very often said: “The war to end war! I
His father had his medals in the
dressing table in the front room. Martin loved looking at them, and was proud
his father had been a soldier. But many things his father said were hard to
“I wouldn’t do it again! That’s one
thing sure! They told us anything to get us into khaki!”
He was glad his father was already out:
he would now have his mother to himself. Then he heard his mother coming
upstairs. She came into the room. She was smiling. He loved to see her happy:
this morning he thought she might be sad.
“You were far too late last night. You
were indeed ... I shouldn’t let you stay up so long ... ”
She kissed him. He loved her warm bare
arms around him, holding him against her softness.
“Are you sorry, Martin, to be leavin’
Bangor—and the sea?” He shook his head. How could he be sorry? He wanted to be
where she was. And he knew she wanted to be in the home in Belfast. She was
tired of living in Bangor. He knew that: she was always saying it.
“You’ll like Chatfield Street.” He
nodded. He was dressed and ready. She walked down the stairs and he followed her, wondering how he could
possibly like the Belfast street. But his mother was sure he would.
The house they were leaving looked
strange this morning: no fire in the kitchen grate, no mats in the hall, no
linoleum in the parlour. Everything in the wrong place.
“Is the van coming soon, Mother?”
“Sometime this mornin’, the sooner the
better, I want to get away.”
“Why?” “To catch an early train.” He had
breakfast in the scullery: his mother told him it was handier there, with everything packed
ready for the road. The remover’s van had two horses, so his father had said.
How tired the horses would be, walking all the way to Belfast. He imagined them pulling all the furniture
the twelve long miles: past Helen’s Bay, Craigavad, Holywood, Sydenham, to
Ballymacarrett, on the east side of the city.
That was the part of Belfast where he
was born, his mother told him: they had lived in three different houses in
Ballymacarrett before going to live in Bangor.
But they had never settled down
anywhere, his father said. His father hated flitting: and now they were
“Where are you flittin’ to, Mrs.
Connolly?” Mrs. Anderson who lived next door had asked his mother.
“To Ballymacarrett,” his mother had
replied. “You won’t be sorry, I’m sure.” “Indeed I won’t. But you’ve been a
good neighbour to me,
Mrs. Anderson, I couldn’t ask for better
... ” Mrs. Anderson was pleased when his mother had said that.
You knew she was pleased because she had
began to hum. He liked Mrs. Anderson because she was fat and good-humoured and
had lovely white teeth.
“They’re a dear set,” his father had
said about Mrs. Anderson’s teeth. He had discovered what his father meant one
day when Mrs. Anderson suddenly took her teeth out and put them on the kitchen
table. She was laughing, her whole body shaking, and she had looked different
laughing with her teeth out. And she had looked just as different when she had
stopped laughing. Her face was like somebody else’s.
“Have you had enough to eat, Martin?” He
nodded. He heard somebody knocking at their front door. His mother hurried into
the hallway. “If it’s the van men I’m not ready for them yet ... ” But it was
Mrs. Anderson. “Can I help you, Mrs. Connolly?” she said. “It’s very good of
you,” his mother replied. “I’ll be going soon ... I’m waiting on the van.”
dear, flittin’ is always an upset, isn’t it?” His mother nodded. “Won’t you
come in, Mrs. Anderson?” “Well, only for a minute or two ... ” Mrs. Anderson
came in and sat on the sofa: the springs creaked as she sat down. Martin listened
to their talk: looking from one to the other, his mother so
small and neat, Mrs. Anderson so large and fat. They talked for a time about
Belfast people they knew. At last the van came for the furniture.
“I hope you’ll be very happy,” Mrs.
Anderson said as she was leaving. “You should be a happy woman. Isn’t that so?
You’ve a good steady husband. That’s all a woman wants.”
Martin’s mother said nothing: and Mrs.
Anderson shook her head.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Connolly. Goodbye,
She gave him a shilling and left the
kitchen, her hands tucked inside her apron.
“Poor woman,” Martin’s mother said.
“It’s a pity of her.” Martin knew why his mother always looked so sad when
talking to Mrs. Anderson: it was because Mr. Anderson was rough and unkind and
“She hasn’t her sorrows to seek.”
“Why, Mother?” Martin inquired; he knew
Mr. Anderson drank.
“You’re too young to know.” “Why?” “Oh,
never mind, son. Say goodbye to our empty house.” He looked at their home. It
was so different, empty.
Suddenly he thought of the train journey
to Belfast and took his mother’s hand.
HE FELT STRANGE IN THE NEW house. He
missed the field, which lay at the back of the house in Bangor; he missed the
sea which he had been able to reach after a short walk; and he missed the pier,
the boats, and the lighthouse. The house in Chatfield Street was surrounded by
other houses and streets.
All of them looked exactly the same, except at the
back, where a few backyards had wooden pigeon lofts. The house next to their
own had a loft and when Martin looked out of the backroom window he was able to
see the pigeons flying from loft to roof.
He liked to watch them. “But you miss
Bangor, don’t you?” his father said. Martin nodded: and his father said to his
mother, “I think he’s frettin’ a bit.” “He won’t fret
very long,” his mother said. “The city’s not good for a youngster. It upsets
him, you can see that.” Then, smiling at Martin, he
added, “But I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“What is it?” “Wait and see.” On the
Sunday morning, after breakfast, the surprise was delivered: his father had bought a
“It’s only a second-hand one. But it’ll
be good for the runs I want to take. I’ll take you for a ride as soon as I can
handle it myself.”
“Where’ll you take me? To Bangor?” “Yes.
And further. To the Mourne Mountains, maybe.” His father loved machinery and
spent days tinkering with the engine. “I’ve to get it tuned
properly. It’ll go like a bird when it’s ready for the road.” Martin was
impatient for his father to keep his promise. At last, early on a Saturday morning, his
father called from the backyard: “Come on, I’m ready for you.”
“I don’t think you should risk it, Bob.”
“We’ll be all right. I won’t go fast, Jean. Honestly.” “Please don’t.” “And I
won’t go very far either. Just a short run over the Castlereagh hills.” His father fixed a
pillow on the petrol tank and put Martin astride it. “Comfortable?” “Yes.”
we go ... ” They soon left the city and were up in the hills. The speed made Martin hold his breath with fear,
but when his father shouted, “All right, Martin?” he nodded back.
They halted at the top of the hills. His
father propped up the machine at the side of the road.
“We’ll walk over a couple of fields,” he
They left the motorbike beside a gate so
that they could see it from the field. Below them the city lay wreathed in
“We live in that dirt,” his father said.
They lay in the field for a long time;
but Martin was eager to be on the pillion again; he hated to be still for long.
“Let’s go, Father,” he pleaded. “All
right, but let me get a good whiff of this.” His father stood up and breathed
in the fresh country air.
Then they walked down the field to the
road. “Maybe when you grow up you’ll own a motorcar.” “Could I have one?” “Why
not? If you’ve money you can easily buy a motorcar.
An’ why shouldn’t you have money if
you’ve health an’ brains?”
His father was breathless when they
reached the gate.
“That’s what you need in this world,
health and brains. Money’s useful too,” he added as an afterthought.
Martin held on tightly as the motorbike
raced down towards the city. He loved the feeling of speed, and his father
never seemed so happy as when on a machine. He preferred machinery to wood,
though he was a carpenter by trade, and had worked all his life in the
shipyards. He was also interested in something mysterious called trade unionism
and went to weekly meetings and afterwards talked about what happened. And Mrs.
Connolly had to pretend to listen, but Martin knew that his mother wasn’t in
the least interested.
“Have you to be fightin’ about wages all
the time?” she often asked.
“Yes,” her husband said, “all the time.
If we don’t fight for ourselves, who’ll fight for us?”
“There should be no call to fight at
“No; but there is. An’ our class has to
do all the fighting. We’re fightin’ for our future.”
Martin’s parents settled down to life in
Belfast. They had been living in Bangor only because Bob Connolly was under the
doctor’s orders after his return from France. The doctor had ordered him plenty
of air; and the two years by the seaside had improved his health. He had put on
weight and now seldom missed a day’s work.
But he itched to return to his
native city where all his mates lived and where all his interests lay. Life in
Bangor, though pleasant at the weekends, was dull. He felt isolated, as if
already retired. And during these two years he had been forced to take things
easy—he even had to drop his trade union activities. By way of compensation he
had read more.
“I’d never make a scholar,” he said.
“I’d never have the patience. Anyway there’s too many things to do.”
The doctor had agreed that he should
return to the city, but he would have to take care of himself.
“You must get fresh air at the
weekends,” the doctor insisted. So Bob Connolly had bought his second-hand
motorbike to celebrate his return to Belfast.
never know how to pass Sundays, anyhow,” he told his wife.
“You could to go church,” Jean said. He
only shook his head and smiled. “Why should I—when you go for me?” “We should
both attend—both morning and evening.” Martin’s mother was a staunch
Presbyterian; she enjoyed the services—it was what she lived for, most
of all. She had been brought up to respect her religion and she hated
She sang in the choir; and she loved the minister, Mr. Grayson,
to visit her house.
But her husband had no time for
clergymen. He often reminded her bitterly that they had supported the war; they
all turned jingoist. And fools like himself had been caught up in the
The so-called leaders had misled them. In future he swore he
would be wary of them all, the religious and the political leaders.
couldn’t be trusted.