Casa Dunluce, Certainly No Palace.


When I returned to Queen’s at the start of second year, my mother brought me and my gear down to Belfast. Myself and four other lads had rented a house down near the bottom of Dunluce Avenue. It was an awful place. Damp and fairly cold. Last year I had a series of dreams in which I was back in the house, it was awful, I could still smell the damp and feel the coldness upstairs.

When my mother dropped me off she came into the house and had a look around. It was the last time she ever set foot in a rented house I lived in. I think she fully realised the sorts of shit holes we inhabited. Then the landlords were probably as unscrupulous towards students as they are nowadays. Certainly they provided the bare minimum of comfort, the sofas were typically decrepit affairs, saggy and stinking from years of students’ arses perched on them and god knows what else.

As for the beds and mattresses in particular. Well. When I think about that my stomach churns, in each rented room the surface tapestry on show revealing scenes of emissions, no doubt accompanied and unaccompanied, night-time drooling, alcohol fuelled incontinence. Disgusting it was. They should each have been incinerated at the end of a year’s action. There’s only so much one can absorb impact and otherwise.

Around that time Dolmio came on the market. It may already have been on the market but it became known to us. We would prepare huge hulges of spaghetti Bolognese accompanied by loaves of garlic bread. The whole affair would be washed down with cheap wine, usually Bulgarian if I remember correctly. Then, after sinking a load of tins of cheap beer off we would go seeking a bit of what passed for debauchery in the Students’ Union, the Elms and wherever else we might roam.

One of the boys made a girl physically sick one night in the Union when talking to her. The reek of garlic off him after our spaghetti fest was too much and she turned away to vomit nauseated by the stench. The same fella had a regular handy tackle up the top of the street with whom he pursued an interesting relationship. He couldn’t pass the front door without calling and eventually became quite attached to the same girl. For a while anyway.

We once had a visit from the Police on behalf of the neighbours to complain about noise. This was before wardens and vans with CCTV on board such as they have now. The message was simple.

The big RUC man stood in the living room and calmly told us that our neighbour had told him if we didn’t keep the noise down they knew people who would make us keep it down. When I politely asked were these ‘people’ the police or some other anonymous grouping he told me to shut up and stop being smart. The previous year a student house had been petrol bombed. Point taken.

The lad in our downstairs front room thereafter kept a bucket of water in his room just to be safe. Occasionally we would come in full drunk and trip over it. I think he may have changed to sand when we pointed out water wasn’t the right job for petrol. This was in 1987 when the lower side off the Lisburn road wasn’t the trendy suburban thoroughfare with fancy shops that it has become. It was dark, unfriendly, too close to the Village for comfort, yet we came and went oblivious to any danger. The most threatening encounter was this visit by the law.

But then in those days the RUC played a wearisome game of cat and mouse with students. Regularly shutting down parties. A few years later, a big peeler said to me one night after he raided a house in which we were playing guitar ‘Not you again.’ He despatched me home, guitar and all with a laugh about it all. Wasn’t always the case. Once they arrived at a friends house after a front door pane of glass was broken. The rookie in the squad confidently announced that the glass had been broken from the inside to which was heard the response from one of the wits from Lurgan “Aye right Sherlock!” accompanied by school boy sniggers. The crime remains unsolved.

The house in Dunluce deteriorated further over the course of the year. We had a house rule about dinner plates. To stop boys using other people’s plates the rule was you were responsible for your own plate and, if you should have food prepared and some other lad was using the plate, you were entitled to empty his dinner off on to another plate so as you could use your own. How we managed to live in that wonderful squalor remains a mystery.

Our premises were no better than any others and in fact I can think of several that were much worse. Our final year wasn’t much better but that’s a story for another day.

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