Friday, August 12, 2011

Sound Bank: 8) An Air Raid Siren

"The troubles". I'm intrigued by that phrase. "The troubles". It sounds so mundane, doesn't it? Ireland was torn apart by 30 years of violent, bloody murder and we christened it "the troubles", like a girl trying to get out of PE.

"I'm sorry miss [*whispers*] it's the troubles".

I was born right at the beginning of the sectarian violence but, sequestered in the middle class suburbs, I never witnessed or suffered any of the paramilitaries' worst atrocities. I suspect this is true for people in places like Syria now. If you don't go to the wrong part of town, you can largely pretend its not happening...

So, for me, the troubles were largely personified by the air raid siren.

The klaxons were a left over, I presume, from the Blitz. When the IRA (or whoever was taking their turn at being chief murderer for the day) phoned in a bomb threat late at night, they would screech out like baying wolves from the top of Cave Hill. The haunting, dual-tone horns called the emergency services from their beds, and woke the rest of us from ours. There we would lie, waiting in anticipation of an explosive sonic boom, hoping tomorrow's headlines wouldn't tell of another tragedy.

If I'm honest, it all seemed unreal. A strange story that didn't fit in with my experience of life as a parade of cartoons, Tayto crisps and ice skating every Saturday morning. The terror only struck home once, when a car bomb was planted yards away from my friend's house.

There was no warning siren that night - Peter woke up with a jagged lightning-bolt of car bonnet planted in the floor, two feet from the side of his bed. It was intended for the judge who lived on the other side of the street. A couple of inches to the side, and it would have taken off his arm.

Looking back, it's still overwhelming that common sense prevailed in Belfast. The people - the majority of people - who abhorred the violence found their voice and stuck, ironically, to their guns. Belfast is a vibrant, cultured city again. I truly hope this sound never rings out across the night sky again.

British Air Raid Sirens

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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