I’ll preface this on a positive note. There was this one Del Boy character. Our main man. Rode a moped… That setup went something like… you rang a number on weekdays between 6-7pm, under the pretence of booking a taxi to your address, and he’d show up sometime between 6.30-8pm. On the odd occasion, he’d have the greatest locally grown Jack Herer. 5 for 4 offers he used to do. He was a harmless wannabe wheeler-dealer who lived way out of town and mostly just sat at home with his wife and retrievers.
But for the other times…
We moved from the country to a vast, leafy avenue just off the Lisburn Road. Around summer 2002. We were green around the gills, but we thought we’d shine our boots and show the wa-wa’s of Belfast how to live it up.
My flatmate and I both had bottom-rung civil service jobs and, tired of the schlep in traffic from our respective home towns, decided there was nothing else for it but to up sticks.
Our main focus in the first few evenings of our new tenure was feverishly attempting to score a local contact. In those times, at least 90% of what was available was hard brown hash that you’d have to soften with a flame before crumbling over tobacco in a poorly thrown-together sleeping bag mess. Then pass that around the room of delinquents harbouring all manner of cold sores, and ‘enjoy’.
There was the local hippy dude who seemed to get off Scott free from the cops and the paramilitaries. He had fine slivers, almost like a miniature Veda slice, for a tenner and could be got at any hour. Just knock the window. His place only ever stank of skunk, hoarding it for himself and his amigos. And rightly so.
Soon we got wind of what was touted as an oasis for the likes of us. Between two streets in the centre of town was a cul de sac, and at the very back, with great views all around for any impending raid, there was what looked like a semi detached house. In reality it was 2 apartments, split level, with a side entrance to the upstairs. I found this out by wrapping on the ‘front’ door. I probably hadn’t been the first; that day even, and the wee old man just pointed upward out the window with a glum resignation that’ll haunt and shame me forever. I nodded and ducked aside to the solid steel door with a tiny hatch not even big enough for a hand to fit through.
I wrapped it and an overweight, smoking gentleman sporting a tracksuit and pencil moustache, with ‘wet look’ gel on his buzz cut leaned out a window on the top floor.
‘Eh… um… Can i get a… a 25?’
‘Put the money in…’
He had the half closed eyelids and dilated, black shark-eyes of someone who didn’t want to think. Still, not to be messed with, and definitely zero sense of what I would consider humour.
I fumble the heavy hatch with my nervous digits and poke through the cash.
He gestures for confirmation in a nod toward the invisible cohort behind the steel door… then tosses the request out the window at me, tightly wrapped in tin foil. As smooth as as if they’d been forewarned of my visit, and all to an unnecessarily loud soundtrack of happy hardcore.
Attempting a swift retreat in the direction I arrived, the only definite exit I knew of, I passed a gleaming red, old Mini Cooper. And there, glaring at me from the rear windscreen like a knobbly pointed finger of disgust sat a sun bleached sticker declaring: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, Carpenter… Seeks Joiners.’ It emptied me how the stranglehold of mafioso befalls some (probably) kindly old christian people, through no real fault of their own. Of course, we still went back twice and thrice a week till one day nobody answered the big steel door. And then the next day. Once I even had to leap over a 6 foot gate to get a bit that rolled under the fence. ‘Mate ye may get over at er fence ta f**k an get at er nai.’ I hastily took his advice.
Nowadays, I’m told, you can have it delivered like pizza from Instagram. Young cubs don’t know they’re living.
And the world keeps turning.