I was 14 & in a bar in a west of Ireland town downing pints with two girl peers of mine, who were 13. It was the 1/8th final of Italia 1990 & we were on the way to beating Romania & getting farther in an international competition than would have been dreamed of a few years earlier. The bar was, like every other bar in Ireland, heaving with jolly, expectant inebriates. Everyone from 11 to 110 was getting happy pished in there, half of them spending money they didnt have just to be part of the collective ecstasy that winning high level international soccer matches was for us all back then.
Somewhere in the course of the evening we were joined at our table by couple of lads from the occupied six counties who had travelled down in a van for the craic – vans were our mobile hotels back then, many’s an Irish holiday was spent in them. They were about 20, they bought us pints, they chatted up the girls & worked on edging me out. The day went on, Ireland won, carnival erupted again & again everything was possible &, it seemed, nothing disallowed. The the two drunk men went off with the two drunk girls , & i went back to where i was staying, locked.
Next morning one of the now-missing girls’ younger brothers knocked on my door & said their mom wanted to talk to me & would i come down & see her for a chat. My girl friend had not come home last night at all, apparently. Fuck! Down I went to her house, not wanting to be blamed, shitting a brick & facing an ethical dilemna. Should I lie to protect my friend….no-one wants to be rat – well not in my day anyway!
But I adored the girl’s mother. A hard-working woman bringing up kids on her own after being abandoned by a useless drunk of a husband. A woman who had suffered greatly & often but who remained genorous, calm, hospitable, capable, dignified & above all undefeated – in a time where the defeated, broken personality was the default type for many working class people. The least I owed such a hero of the people was the truth about last night’s events, right?
So I put on a show of resistance in my friend’s living room & didnt cough up what I knew to her mom until the third or fourth time the question of whereabouts was put.
Just as i had finished mumblingly & sorrypussedly confessing about nordies & a van, & the shock & rage was exploding in my friend’s mom’s brain, in walks my friend. Bad timing. Mom went for young wan like cheetah for gazelle, pouncing on her without warning & at light speed. With her bare hands, Mother bate daughter round the living room in front of me, smacking her, pucking her, roaring & shouting the whole time, a whirlwind attack. The beating went on for a while & ended when mom swung her against the wall & down she slumped, a heap of snot & tears & shivering sorrows.
Off I fucked as quick as I could.
Was the beating right or wrong? We are all of course against beating children in general. I have spent my entire life speaking up about and campaigning against violence of various kinds. But I don’t feel qualified to judge either way in this case & I know the woman, now passed & deeply missed, was not in the least violent to her children on an everyday basis – in fact much less so than most other parents of the time & place.
Perhaps there are some who feel they could have dealt more pacifically with such a difficult circumstance. I would find such people hard to credit to be honest and I agree very much with George Orwell when he says ‘all saints should be considered guilty until proven innocent’.
As far as I know, my friend didnt spend a night away unannounced for the rest of her childhood.