Walking to a hardware shop from the flat, I noticed the church firmly locked. It seemed a place only open to those who gathered at particular times. Prayer outside of set hours was not something allowed. The population of the area might be growing rapidly, but it seemed that the Church of Ireland had disconnected from such a blue collar community. Perhaps being a teacher in such a community is closer to the aspirations of my youth than being a cleric could ever be.
‘I remember the Squeeze song Up the Junction being the background music to the summer of the A levels and the transition from a provincial sixth form college to life at university in London. The song seemed to grasp the gritty social reality of big city life. I remember being determined at eighteen that I was going to take on the world head on; that the world of Up the Junction would hold no fears.
Of course, it never turned out like that.
Far from facing Up the Junction, I became a member of a conservative church in Northern Ireland. Living in the most conservative part of the United Kingdom, meant a move far away from the reality painted by the boys from Squeeze. Of course, there was the occasional brush with grittiness, but churches by their nature were place where people were literate and who generally conformed to conservative social norms. “Good living” was the label of people who were especially religious (a label for which I never qualified). By implication, those who were not especially religious were bad living.
There was little real interest in engaging with the Up the Junction-type realities on our doorsteps. In one town, a meeting convened to discuss the problems of intimidation and violent behaviour by a group associated with a marching band and with paramilitaries brought the suggestion that if one of the band member became a “Christian” then the whole situation would be changed. There were nods of agreement from the others present.
On my part, there was a realization on my part that I was out of step with the world; that those to whom I talked felt there to be no value in asking questions about the conditions in which the young people were growing up, or about where they learned the sectarianism that provided a motivation for terrifying neighbours and burning out those who did not respond as they expected to the routine bullying and intimidation.
Moving south of the border, those who featured in the Irish equivalent of the world of Up the Junction were nearly all outside our predominantly middle class community. Returning to Dublin as a teacher in a disadvantaged community, there is finally a sense of meeting the people I had hoped to meet in 1979.