"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Nostalgic Irish prose
Irish culture & folklore
Ulster-Scots short stories
"...stories birling through my mind..."
I sit up and look out my bedroom window. Coloured bikes coast along the kerbs as children play. I catch a smile and a large shadow in the reflection. I’m nearly fourteen, it’s summer, and my perm is awake before nine.
I rap at the door of the bathroom, a hollow wood door marked by the fist prints of four children thumping.
‘Hurry on! I need in!’
‘Make me!’ comes a boy’s voice.
Another thump and a twist of the handle.
‘Get away you big pig!’ says the boy.
‘Hurry up you wee dope,’ I say. ‘I’m gonna be late for summer scheme.’
My plastic rake moves through the bramble bush facing the mirror on the landing. It tugs and toils and emerges all peach and unscathed from the undergrowth as my hair fluffs into round drupelets. A large foamy dollop of white, foamy mousse. A scrunch with sticky hands. A mass of beautifully ripe curls. Gorgeous, I think as I pat my perm, settle down the cow’s lick on the right side and hurl my voice through the hollow wood door one more time.
I lay out my neon pink Bermuda shorts and neon pink t-shirt and search in the drawer for my neon pink laces to match my neon pink socks. I kick the bathroom door and push it just as the door flings opens. I fall towards my eight year old brother who pulls up his nose with one finger, sticks out his tongue and runs on by.
Scubbed clean from a sink of water opaque with melted Fairy soap, I spray some Impulse and brush my teeth, pulling the shaving mirror close to zoom in on the one humongous red spot at the tip of my nose.
A bowl of Rice Krispies, a swipe of Flash over my white adidas trainers, a slap over the head for my wee brother, two 50ps in the pocket of my bermuda shorts and I’m off.
Twenty to ten and I’m racing down Greenland Crescent, through the Factory, down Newington Avenue, onto the Glenarm Road. Lesley’s at the corner of Victoria road in her neon green and black bermuda shorts, neon green socks, neon green laces and black and white adidas trainers.
Two perms umbrella in the wind along the Bankheads Lane. A foot in a crevice and we heave ourselves up ten feet and swing our legs over the old stone wall to the sign that trespassers will be prosecuted. We trespass with one eye on Drumalis and emerge, unprosecuted, on the grassy banks of Blue Bell forest and speed down to the McNeill hall.
It’s five to ten and Big Leggy is ligging around and making a hundred teenagers laugh, Gillian with the amazing tan is collecting the 50ps and Stephanie’s at the front of the McNeill hall with a loudspeaker and a great big smile. ‘Volleyball on the grass at ten past ten,’ booms her voice.
We’re all lined up to pick teams, a kaleidoscopic neon row with twelve perms vertical in the wind. There are girls from St. Gomgall’s and girls from Larne High and we giggle and gype about on the grass between the McNeill Hall and the Tower pool and Stephanie blows a whistle, flicks her shaggy perm and keeps us all in line.
‘Swimming in the Tower pool at eleven.’ We’re in the queue already. Barbara behind the counter counts us as we hold up our stamped hands one by one. Lesley swims like a dolphin and is up and down and out of the water, diving off the board, butterflying, front crawling and breast stroking, while I cling to the side and do the odd dead man’s float.
A whistle, white limbs in the air, a hard crack and a silent commotion. A boy has fallen from the top diving board ten metres up. The blood is splattered across the tiles and it’s glittering as the sun slices through the giant windows of the Tower pool. ‘He’s cracked his skull open,’ says knowing girl with a wet perm from Larne High. We vacate the pool and walk to the changing room. ‘He’s likely concussed,’ she continues.
It’s half past eleven and there’s a white mist of talcum powder and Impulse body spray in the changing room as ten girls piece together the moments preceding the fall. ‘He was carrying on and slipped.’ ‘He was ready to jump and got scared. ‘It was too late by the time he grabbed the railing.’ One girl is spraying Poison perfume and we ponder its profound, penetrating essence in wonder and in awe.
Skinny tins of VO5 mousse and fat tins of Bristows hairspray are lined up by the hair dryers. Five upside-down heads are talking with strained faces filled with blood as arms blindly manoeuvre five black hair driers. Five right-way-up heads hover above as hair is tugged and toiled with peach rakes and dabbed and sprayed with the skinny mousse and fat spray. Ten fringes emerge from the Tower pool, pruned and tweaked and combed up and over to the side.
‘Canoeing at twelve,’ says Stephanie with a loudspeaker and a great big smile. I look at Lesley, ‘Sure we’d only wreck our hair.’
Time for a game of table tennis, a lig about with Leggy and chat with Gillian with the amazing tan.
The canoes are being tipped over and girls are being ducked under the water by the boys and are running up the slipway covered in seaweed, and I’m on dry land, giggling and gyping about, my perm still gorgeous and in tact.
It’s one o’clock and the chippy van’s engine is puffing an aroma of petrol and fried chips, but we’re bored doing nothing and we go for a walk.
Neon girls and boys emerge from the shadows of the Tower Road. One boy knows the boy who fell and he says that he’ll probably need twenty stitches on his head. He stops by the red telephone booth outside the Latharna Hotel and asks for the code to Ballymena, just for a laugh. The Latharna hotel is dead with dereliction, but but there is life in the scent of salt and boiled lard that streams from the doors of the Silver Lounge cafe like a vaporous embrace. ‘A poka chips,’ we each order at the high counter with our 50ps, and we are immersed in the taste of golden potatoes doused in toasted lard as the Orange Hall, the Gospel Hall and the Congregational hall pass us by.
‘Football at two at Sandy Bay,’ heralds Stephanie with a loudspeaker and a great big smile.
We’re at Sandy Bay with the boys and a tomboy with straight hair. She has missed the boy falling from the 10m diving board and so I tell her he’ll probably need twenty stitches. She asks if we’re going to the disco ‘the night’ and we say, ‘Ay.’
It’s three and there’s a water fight on the promenade and the leaders are all being thrown into the water. I giggle and gype about from further up the grassy banks of Blue Bell forest, my perm still gorgeous and in tact.
It’s four and it’s over and we walk home through the winding snake and across the town park.
‘Meet you here at quarter to seven,’ I say.
‘What way are ye doing your hair?’
‘Banana clip. What about you?’
‘Half-up-half-down,’ I reply.
It’s twenty to seven, and I’m running through the Factory and along Newington Avenue, my legs restricted by my white puckered mini skirt, my half-up-half-down ponytail and backcombed fringe both flapping in the wind. I turn onto the Glenarm Road and Lesley is nowhere to be seen. I continue running, the whitening from my gutties splattering my calves. I see her through the porch in Kent Avenue with her banana clip clasping a mass of glorious curls and she’s still back-combing her fringe. The scent of Bristow’s hairspray wafts from the porch and we race to the shore and down the snake because our white puckered mini skirts won’t make it over the ten foot wall.
It’s five to seven and Big Leggy is ligging around and making a hundred teenagers laugh, Gillian with the amazing tan is collecting the 50ps and Stephanie’s at the front of the McNeill hall with a loudspeaker and a great big smile. ‘The disco will start in five minutes.’
The disco floor is empty because everyone is crowded around the boy with the cracked skull. He’s got twelve stitches and he’s showing everyone his head. Kylie’s voice emerges and I feel lucky as and I dance and I giggle and gype about, but I’m sad that it’s the last day of summer scheme. I’ll miss the girls with the perms from St.Comgall’s and Larne High. I’ll miss ligging with Leggy and chatting to Gillian, and I’ll miss Stephanie and her great big smile. I’ll miss running through Blue Bell forest with Lesley and arriving, unprosecuted, at the McNeill Hall at five to ten every day.
In memory of Stephanie Houston, who made a generation of Larne teenagers happy with her great big smile.
Angeline King is the author of:
Irish Dancing: The festival story
A history of dancing in Ulster with a focus on the festival tradition of Irish Dancing.
"An enjoyable coming-of-age tale with a Belfast twist" (The Irish Times)
Click here to start reading.
A Belfast Tale:
“Uniquely, authentically and enjoyably Belfast" (Tony Macaulay, author of Paperboy.)
Click here to start reading
Children of Latharna:
Lyrical and nostalgic; wistful and humorous, Ian Andrew, author.
Click here to read for free
Scene from Snugville Street
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
Uniquely Girls' Brigade
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
God Created Butlins
History & folklore
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School
Thirteen Reasons for Peace
So Young then (Andrea Corr & me)
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl