Monday, December 1, 2014

This Holy Tide of Christmas All Other Doth Deface


Over the past three weeks I have been wracking my brains for the origin of a particularly wonderful Belfast children's song which I originally heard on a youtube link though in turn never particularly recall hearing myself as a genuine "branded" Belfast child of the scary Seventies.

I looked carefully through the BBC Northern Ireland Dusty Bluebells compendium of children's street games as directed by the late David Hammond and could not locate it there. This programme was recorded in 1971 and filmed in the literal West Belfast locations where the recent British movie 71 was set.

I also looked through the CBS television movie A War of Children which was produced in 1972 and starred beautiful Jenny Agutter as a young Catholic girl who falls in love with a British soldier as played by Anthony Andrews. This is mostly interesting - beyond the Dublin accents of local Belfast residents - for some staggeringly racist portrayals of the nationalist community throughout as worthy of the London Evening Standard's infamous JAK cartoons against the twin evil others of the period - the English, Scottish and Welsh miners and "the Irish".

The song could not be located either in the BBC documentary Children of the Crossfire which was transmitted in 1974 and contrasted the lives of working class teenagers, minors and infants in Derry's Creggan and in East Belfast - the physical infrastructural collapse captured in this feature alone is truly astounding. There are several renditions of partisan songs in this programme from the local children as relating to Irish republicanism and Ulster loyalism alike and even a clip from a disco with kids dancing along to a version of Jeff Beck's Hi Ho Silver Lining with them interjecting lyrics in support of the violent teenage Tartan gangs of the period.

Either way, and pending corroboration of the source, the song takes the form of a call and respond format:

Everywhere we go
Everywhere we go
People always ask us
People always ask us
Who we are
Who we are
And where do we come from
And where do we come from
And we always tell them
And we always tell them
We're from Belfast
We're from Belfast
Mighty mighty mighty mighty mighty mighty Belfast
Mighty mighty mighty mighty mighty mighty Belfast
And if they can't hear us
And if they can't hear us
We shout a little louder
We should a little louder

The song is meant to be repeated again and again in louder voice and ends with the admonition "If they can't hear us they must be deaf".

During December many of us are drawn back to the past and to people, times and places long gone. I have so many fond memories of Seventies Christmases in Belfast despite the Troubles. In fact when one looks at the day-to-day details of the political unrest and terrorist violence between 1969 and 1976 alone - by way of David McKittrick's 1999 Lost Lives or the much earlier Northern Ireland: A Chronology of Events 1968-74 by Richard Deutsch and Vivien Magowan (published by Blackstaff Press between 1973 and 1976) it is almost inconceivable that such a scale of violence could warrant even qualified normality as a backdrop.

What happened during those years in Northern Ireland - beyond the dead and the physically and emotionally wounded - still defies belief in terms of grotesque societal and cultural damage. Thinking back to those specific childhood Christmases during the conflict - when I would have been between the ages of four and eleven - 21 people would have been killed by the end of 1969, 49 by 1970, 229 by 1971, 725 by 1972, 988 by 1973, 1,291 by 1974, 1,558 by 1975 and 1,866 by 1976. These figures incorporate fatalities on mainland Britain and in the Irish Republic.

Yet Belfast and Northern Ireland - for all the recent battles over flags and emblems and memory and guilt - still retains a fundamental warmth located in the people and the soil. In a recent post on a Belfast forum one first-time visitor recalled a particularly unexpected piece of social interaction:

Recently spent 2 days in Belfast and want to say what a great and friendly city. We were in a pub and asked if they had crisps and the bartender said no. Next thing I know the bartender left the bar and came back with 2 bags of crisps and would not take any money. I am still blown away. Hope to return real soon.

Earlier blog posts on the status quo in London - and indeed one on Mr Tayto the Ulster manufacturing hero who was a literal potato - have already articulated my feelings on the above field report to a point perhaps too obvious to elaborate upon.

However, nearing the end of another working year in a London fraught with daily street aggression, enshrouded in a fog of human misery, drunk on short-term spiv greed and now gradually physically dissippating - as epitomised by the gathering death of Old Soho - this yet again underscores that certain core positivities of the human condition and the human experience remain beyond purchase power. A sense of home and a connection with a shared past being the most fundamental one may arguably surmise.

Somehow I can hardly imagine many children from post-working class London today are likely to be proudly boasting in the years ahead of their city's mighty folk community status against the satanic troika of financial criminality, record-breaking overpopulation and negative social mobility.

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