Writings, photos, politics and rants... *Original content - may not be reproduced without my consent.*

Friday, 16 January 2015

Food for Thought - 1981.

My friendships outside of school had started to change. Once, my friends after school were completely different from who I messed around with in school. We started to tribal-ize.  Mickey and the rest had started to do stuff with their school mates and I had began to stretch my horizons to other parts of the town - and beyond. And the Roller-hole, as we called it- or Banbridge Roller Drome to give it it's real name- took up a lot of my time. Not so much "the place to be," but the place we shouldn't be. Its reputation amongst parents in Banbridge, as the late seventies met the early eighties, was as a place for the wild. The drinkers. The smokers. The hustlers.  Bikers.  Punks.  The "gamers," though that term was not yet invented.   I was too young to drink – and didn’t for most of the Roller Drome’s short existence.  I feel the reputation was not one it deserved.  But parents watching their teenagers stretch their wings worry about their haunts.

Me, 1981, doing one of my favourite things...

Banbridge Roller Drome  was on the site of The Castle Ballroom which had had its heyday in the sixties and seventies.  This paradise for young, bored people could be seen in the context of a move towards the way young people interact today.  We were brought in from the cold.  This space allowed us in a “religious society,” a secular place of congregation, comradeship, without having to sneak into pubs and clubs and away from the youth clubs attached to churches.  It was a place that offered craic with others.  It always had been an interface – a place of the camaraderie of communal music – and that very venue of cross-community harmonious music, at one time, had come under murderous attack when the Miami Showband played the Ballroom and were attacked by terrorists on their way home.  Attacked by people who didn't want us to live normal, fraternal lives.

Banbridge circa 1981.  The Roller Drome would be on the left of this picture.

Same view of Banbridge today (via google Images)

To enter, you walked up a grand, marble look staircase.  The place smelled of cigarettes, burgers and cleaning chemicals.  At the top of the stairs, there were a myriad of rooms – in front of you, a side room with a pool table, and the main old ballroom past that, had been converted into the roller skating rink.  If you turned right at the top of the stairs, you could go into a room with pinball machines and video games.  And through the door from that was a café with a room off that with three or four full sized snooker tables.  The stairwell was surrounded by video games.  And the noises depended on the time of day.  If you arrived straight after school, it hummed with chat and electronic games and pinball sound effects.  A little later, loud music permeated nearly every other room from the roller-disco.  And in the café and snooker room, the jukebox played the choices of the less energetic of us. 

Nowadays young people sit in their rooms talking to each other through microphones and play their online games. Back in 1981, we had to have a pocket full of 10p's to become heroes at Space Firebird, Crazy Climber and Donkey Kong. And we met, physically. The Roller hole was a melting pot of all three secondary schools in Banbridge, though few Banbridge  Academy pupils came to it. Well, there were a few from there- those working class people who had been good enough at "verbal reasoning tests" to pass the 11 plus. The majority of us were from my school, (which had went through three name changes since I had started it- from Banbridge Intermediate School, which got the name, "Intereejit school," Banbridge Secondary School, and now Banbridge High School) and St Patrick's High School, the local catholic secondary education school. And that melting pot- that interface where all of us young people who had been living side by side, then split into a dreadful sectarian/grammar school, class system of day time prison, brought us in contact with girls from another planet. At least that's what they seemed like out of their uniforms.  And uniforms and identity usually divided in Northern Ireland. 

 Outside of school I dressed in jeans, trainers and my army jacket. I, like everyone in the roller hole, hoped I looked different, though as teenagers are prone to do – we dressed in our tribal wear.  The good thing about teenaged tribal wear, especially in the dark days of the troubles, was that it brought the uniformed tribes together that those dividing us didn’t like to see.  The outsiders in the Rollerdrome were those who criticized it’s religious interface.  It was a place none of us noticed the sectarian division. And dressed like this, I  wasn't the nerd who was beaten black and blue in first, second and third year- and as some of the wildest, insanest people left to go to "The Tech," (Banbridge Technical College), I started to feel freer. I felt like I wanted to show my identity to the world, and my band badges covering the pockets of my South Korean army coat, started that transition. My love of Joy Division, Blondie, Toyah, Ultravox, The Human League, The Undertones, The Pretenders, The Ramones and communism where what would make me cool. And my want to leave this place would make me interesting. And my ability to skate and get high scores on Space Defender and Donkey Kong would surely be seen as cool.

She was amazing on roller skates. Singing "It feels like, it feels like I'm in love," skating backwards, with her eyes closed; spinning, and her legs crossing and zig-zagging to the music.   And I noticed she knew all of the words of "Eighth Day." She was confident.  Carefree and looked rebellious.  And I wanted to skate and sing to impress. But learning was hard and expressing yourself so openly was not what we guys did. We skated coolly, hands in pockets, if at all.  At least, I, wobbly, tried to.

I remember she went on and on about Ali Campbell. I liked UB40, well, what I had heard at the time, but I couldn't interrupt. I listened to her, sagely nodding, smiling until my face ached. She didn't like Adam and The Ants, which was ok by me. Secretly I liked them. Outwardly, I agreed that they were a kids band.

My cousin thought UB40 were great, but he was into heavy metal. Whitesnake, had we heard of them? Iron Maiden? The girls, exotic, cool, knowing nodded, but said they preferred music with a message or something you could skate to.

They were from St Patricks. It didn't matter to me, the sectarian aspect of that; well, it mattered in that they wouldn't know me. It mattered that they were from a tribe that was for some reason not my tribe. They had never seen me getting my head kicked in. I could be who I liked. I could be the me school didnt allow me to be.

"Do you know what UB40 means?"

My cousin did. I hadn't a clue.  I knew it was political.  Mike Read had said something that alluded to that on the Radio One Breakfast show.

"Aye. I'm signing on soon," he said.  “I fucking hate school.  I’m out of it as soon as.”

"Where abouts in England are you from?"

"Warrington. Near Manchester."

"I hear you get more dole money over there..."

I didn't know the wee guy. He was from St Patricks too. He was wee and he didn't know me. I could be anyone I wanted.

"Don't be fucking stupid. He's from England, not a different country." Maybe I was too hard on him. The bullied being the bully.  He looked hurt.  I smiled at him.  I hadn’t meaned to sound so hard.

She looked at me. Her face changed.

"England is a different country. This is Ireland."

Her eyes held mine. Daring me. Though I had no idea what she was daring me. She dared me to say something but I had no clue what. 

"Aye, I mean, like, their dole is the same as ours. Its the same all over the UK."

She looked at me warily.

"Has anyone got two 10p's for pool?" Her friend took the heat from me.

"20p for a game of pool? That's a rip off," I said, again too loudly.  I was relieved the conversation was moving away from something I was really uncomfortable with.  

My own views on my own country hadn’t been fully formed.  I knew what I was against… I didn’t like the political killing; I didn’t like the inequality; I didn’t like the Queen, but the counterargument from school mates that I, “must like the Pope then,” had to be looked into.  The Pope, surely, was a religious leader?  I didn’t like religion either.  How could I be “for the Pope,” if I thought religion was nonsense?  Was he political?  Was he Irish? I had quite liked the fact he had come to Ireland.  I had recently got into John Lennon.  Just before he had been shot.  I had bought his comeback single, “Starting Over,” played it to death, researched him and the Beatles; loved the words of Imagine and thought, “I believe that!” and then he had been shot, just months before.  I felt let down.  But I knew that that song distilled what I hoped the world would become.  And there was no mention of the Pope or Paisley or the Queen.

They laughed and flirted and we were cool and beat them in doubles in the first game.
"This time I'll be on your team," her friend pointed at my cousin. "You be on his."
She smiled at me. Was I forgiven?

My cousin smiled. "I need a cig first."

He took out a packet of Embassy Regal and passed them round. We all took one and he lit each of us before himself.

“I’ve got 50p. That’s four songs on the juke box.  Anyone want to help me choose?”  She jumped off the side of the pool table. 

“I will!”

I wanted to impress.  I punched in the number for “Eighth Day.”

“I love that song,” she smiled.

She punched in the numbers for “Food for Thought,” “Kids in America” and “The Tide is High.”  I approved.  Kids in America was a good tune, though even I realized the use of the word “America” was the record company’s way to try to break Kim Wilde into that huge market.  It was a New wave song, especially constructed to grab the same market of Blondie, though, the album Autoamerican showed Blondie were going in different directions.  I had bought it and had been a wee bit disappointed in it.  It had little of what Parallel Lines or their other albums had – pop-punk.  But nowadays, over 30 years later, it’s an album I still return to, with its mixture of huge sounds and jazz themes.  Tide is high was happy pop. 

We sat on the plastic chairs and dragged on the fags. I could feel the tobacco burn my throat. The taste was vile, but it was something I could do and passing fags around people I didn't like was usually a good way to stop some bastard from randomly smashing my nose on his knee.

I did. I taped the best of the top forty every Sunday night and listened to the best ones over and over again.

"They're weird. It's like a Christmas song. About Jesus and all," I said disdainfully.

"Aye, but don't you think they are amazing? They make you think!"

I laughed. "Aye, about Christmas dinner!"

She rolled her eyes. My cousin laughed.

I smiled, "Why? What's wrong?"

They all laughed. I went crimson.  I was outside.  They knew something I didn’t.  They had a shared target – me.

"Never mind, commie. C'mon and play another game a' pool!"  She threw the dog end of her fag on the floor and ground it into the wooden tiled, parquet floor.

I felt small. I felt I had missed something again, but I had no clue what.

She took the pool cue from me. "I'll break!"

"It is about Christmas," I said.
My cousin nodded. "It is, yes."
"What were youse laughing about?"
"Listen to it when you get in."
He stopped and took out another cigarette. "Want one?"
"No thanks."
"She fancied you though."
"What? No way! She thought I was an idiot."
"Aye, she thought you were an idiot, but she fancied you. Two different things."
"Her mate fancied you!"
"Aye, I know. But remember, I'm going out with someone at home."

They came back from the Café.

“We have to go, “ she said.

“OK,” I smiled. “We do too.”

We walked down the stairs and out onto Newry Street.

“We are going this way,” she pointed towards the Bridge. 

“Sure, we’ll go that way too, I can show my cuz around the town.” I winked at my cousin, because I knew he knew the town well.  He’d been coming here for years.

She shivered and I took my jacket off and gave it to her.  The two girls smiled. 

When we reached the bridge, she stopped and said, “We’ll see you again.  Thanks for your jacket.”  She handed it to me and they ran on, across the road and we watched them laugh and chat their way down Scarva Street.

She was in my head for a long time after that. I was fourteen.  I’d never felt that before.   I asked people in school about her, and found out who she was.  And I saw her from afar, in the Roller Drome and years later in The Coach,  that other melting pot for Northern Irish young people in their teens and twenties.  

And I found out the meaning of “Food for Thought,” and learned the words.  But I never spoke to her again.

The Roller Drome aka Castle Ballroom aka Circus Circus aka today's Lucky's Bingo Club, still bringing people together.
Since putting this piece together, I found out the man behind the Roller Drome was Harry Copeland.  Perhaps he didn't know that his business was the melting pot it was.  But he did a brilliant thing by opening this secular place for young people to come together.

1 comment:

  1. Remember it very well had some good times there and met some lovely people and not so lovely ones. miss them dearly�� the 80s was the best years of my life... The 80s went to quickly
    I met a lovely girl from banbridge high school in went to start Patricks...


Let me know what you think. Be kind!