16 January 2006

Out of the West: Changed times, or are they?

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I had an interesting conversation with my old pal Liam the other night, who was home from New York for Christmas and the New Year.

We go back a long way, Liam and me, from endless games of football on the sloping green at Buncrana Flats to bruising night-time encounters with British army foot patrols to our first pint in the Hunting Lodge.

Liam said an interesting thing. He said he couldn’t believe how quiet Lenadoon is these days.

And when a few evenings later I drove up to his mother’s house to drop off a few photos I had to agree.

It was early evening but Glenveagh, Carrigart and Rosapenna were silent and still.

It took a guy who’s been away from the estate since he was a young man to remind me of how Lenadoon used to be.

It was a heaving, noisy place, full of wandering gangs of children, one of them with Liam and me among its number.

The streets of Glenveagh, Carrigart and Rosapenna were never silent and still when we were boys.

365 days and nights a year they echoed to the shouts and squeals of countless urchins, the high-pitched voices occasionally counterpointed by the bass protests of men seeking a little peace with their dinner.

Too often the playing of football near homes ended in a kitchen knife being stuck in the precious ball by a fed-up householder.

The only time the street outside my house was quiet was during school hours, otherwise it was a non-stop bouncy castle.

Of course, there are parts of Lenadoon where nightfall and weekend bring not silence and stillness, but chaos and crime – the river facing Woodbourne Barracks, for one; the shops near the black taxi rank for another.

And there are many who won’t walk the streets at night, even if they are silent and still, for fear of what might lie round the corner.

All of which is to say that, the relatively small number of underage drinkers, glue-sniffers and death-drivers notwithstanding, the young people of Lenadoon are spending more time in the house these days than we ever used to. Is that because parents are keeping them in out of fear for their safety, or is it because they prefer to stay in their bedrooms playing computer games and communicating with friends via MSN?

A bit of both, perhaps. I don’t let my children out after a certain time, and when they’re in the house the computer plays a central part in their home entertainment.

It’s precisely the same when I visit the homes of friends and relatives. Not for one second am I suggesting that things are better today, far from it. I do suggest, however, that there has never been a time when young people were not a major source of worry and stress for adults.

And those parents of today who lament the loss of respect and who fondly remember the times when they were growing up should remember that, yes, the children might have picked the ball up and stopped playing when a woman walked past, but the place was full of guns, burnt-out vehicles and families with fathers in jail or in the graveyard.

And yes, my mother and father were not hostile and aggressive when someone called to the door to complain about my behaviour, but polite and solicitous.

But the fact is, my pals and I did plenty to ensure that complaints would be made.

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