SQUINTER really doesn’t care whether Martin McGuinness meets the queen or not. In fact, he’s cast adrift in an ocean of indifference so vast and so utterly uncharted that it’s likely he’ll spend the rest of his days there with beard and chapped lips.
But if Marty does decide to go ahead and sell his soul for a crusty roll and a slab of hairy bacon, perhaps he’d do Squinter a small favour: ask Lizzie to order her Queen’s Regiment to hand back all the Wrangler gear they stole from the West Belfast clotheslines in 1978.
In an army packed to the gills with thieves and rogues, the Queen’s Regiment, which arrived in Belfast at around the same time as Squinter was developing an interest in fashion and girls, set a new benchmark for bare-faced larceny. Call the seventies soldiers what you will – Brits (Republican News), young squaddies (Belfast Telegraph) or our lads (Irish Independent) – but they did feel as though everything was theirs for the taking, which, when you think about it, it was. Most of them were just after trophies – Long Kesh harps or handkerchiefs, mostly, but also any expression of Irish culture or Catholic religion to be found on walls or shelves, which they would help themselves to during house raids when families were being held at gunpoint in another room. Perhaps if Martin meets Her Maj he will also launch a kind of mini-Elgin Marbles campaign and ask that these items are repatriated from the sideboards of Manchester and Birmingham back to the living rooms of Belfast and Derry.
Now the Queen’s Regiment – they were rapacious to a degree that made the Sack of Rome look like a shoplifting in Poundland. The traditional practice of leaving money for the coalman or insurance man on the mantelpiece went out the window almost as soon as the British soldiers arrived in 1969 – no sense in asking for trouble. But the Queen’s Regiment would take literally anything they thought they could sell or use themselves: money, of course, cutlery, crockery, tools, clothes, shoes, balls, bats, ornaments. The bunkhouse at Woodbourne Barracks must have looked like Del Boy’s living room. And they breakfasted on cold milk and fresh bread from the doorsteps – once the signature crime of Lenadoon urchins like Squinter.
And then there were the clotheslines. Accustomed as they were to sneaking around people’s back gardens, the Queen’s Regiment prayed like housewives for good drying days to obviate the need for a home invasion. Then they could lay down their rifles, unpeg any piece of glam kit that took their fancy and hold it up against them as though they were in front of a Burtons mirror.
Such was the fate of Squinter’s aforementioned Wrangler jeans; such was the fate of any item of haberdashery entrusted by local washerwomen to the blustery wind sweeping off the Black Mountain.
What today have Eames and Bradley to say about the stolen Wrangler jackets? What module of any South African-style truth and reconciliation process will the missing Ben Shermans occupy? Who, in the end, will speak for the Gilbert jumpers?