Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Aint Lite FM: The Cold Cold Ground - Page 1

The riot had taken on a beauty of its own now. Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas. Phosphorescence from the barrels of plastic bullet guns. A distant yelling like that of men below decks in a torpedoed prison ship. The scarlet whoosh of Molotovs intersecting with exacting surfaces. Helicopters everywhere: their spotlights finding one another like lovers in the Afterlife.
        I watched with the others by the Land Rover on Knockagh Mountain. No one spoke. Words were inadequate. You needed a Picasso for this scene, not a poet.
        The police and the rioters were arranged in two ragged fronts that ran across a dozen streets, the opposing sides illuminated by the flash of newsmen’s cameras and the burning, petrol-filled milk bottles sent tumbling across the no man’s land like votive offerings to the god of curves.
        Sometimes one side charged and the two lines touched for a time before decoupling and returning to their original positions.
        The smell was the stench of civilization: gunpowder, cordite, slow match, kerosene.
        It was perfect.
        It was Giselle.
        It was Swan Lake.
        And yet. . .
        And yet we had the feeling that we had seen better.
        In fact we had seen better only last week when, in the hospital wing of The Maze Prison, IRA commander Bobby Sands had finally popped his clogs.
        Bobby was a local lad from Newtownabbey and a poster boy for the movement having never killed anyone and coming from a mixed Protestant-Catholic background. And bearded, he was a good Jesus, which didn’t hurt either.
        Bobby Sands was the maitreya, the world teacher, the martyr who would redeem mankind through his suffering.
        When Bobby finally died on the sixty sixth day of his hunger strike the Catholic portions of the city had erupted with spontaneous anger and frustration.
        But that was a week ago and Frankie Hughes, the second hunger striker to die, had none of Bobby’s advantages. No one thought Frankie was Jesus. Frankie enjoyed killing and was very good at it. Frankie shed no tears over dead children. Not even for the cameras.
        And the riots for his death felt somewhat. . .orchestrated.
        Perhaps on the ground it seemed like the same chaos and maybe that’s what they would print tomorrow in newspapers from Boston to Beijing. . .But up here on the Knockagh it was obvious that the peelers had the upper hand. The rioters had been cornered into a small western portion of the city between the hills and the Protestant estates. They faced a thousand full time peelers, plus two or three hundred police reserve, another two hundred UDR and a battalion strength unit of British Army regulars in close support. There were hundreds of rioters - not the thousands that had been predicted: this hardly represented a general uprising of even the Catholic population and as for the promised “revolution” . . . well, not tonight.