Beano Niblock with a follow up piece to an earlier one by Lindsay on prison life for loyalists. Beano Niblock is a writer of poetry, plays and political commentary.
The dreaded bung outs were favoured by no one and were seen as an unnecessary evil. For those of us who had soldiered through 11 or 12, and moved through 18,19 and 20 before landing in 21 under the Gusty regime, however knew that they were inescapable and as much a part of compound life as muster parades, bedpacks and drill.
Post-Fire and after the rebuilding of the cages things became much easier and less work as we had only the stuff from the middle of the hut to take outside while the floor was scrubbed and dried.
In the early days when the huts were open, the routine was to remove anything that wasn’t screwed down and set it outside, or alternatively move everything to one side of the hut. It was quite a work out and we all had our own tasks. The handiest number - if you could get it - was where you sat on an upturned table which was covered in old blankets and used as a “bumper” to polish the floor. The table was pushed-sledge like-by 2 or 3 others. Wire wooling was a shit job but gave the legs a good work out.
Once the hut had been squeegied of all the excess soap and water the double doors were opened at both ends to allow it to dry more quickly — while we bouled the wire. Bung-outs were a ritual each Sunday and it was no coincidence that our big inspection was on a Monday morning. It wasn’t unusual for volunteers to be bumpering their own bed space on a Sunday night or to see a group of men sitting in a bed space with an old towel in their laps, sitting chatting away to each other while they bulled their boots.
One of the “tricks” played on the new recruits, apart from the swimmers/bookies/ clergy ones, was to send them to the quartermaster for a tin of small circles for bulling your boots. The Monday inspection dictated everything in those days — guys had double bed packs and full shaving kits/utensils that were for that purpose only. In 11 in the early days there were sticks that were cut to the regulation Army size for bedpacks — was it 22 inches? The cleaning of the hut and bed spaces pre-inspection on a Monday were fastidious. Nerves were frayed, there was scuffles over brushes, last minute preparations were the norm.
But everything would be in vain of course if “volunteers” were required for area cleaning, or painting, say. They were shanghaied in a variety of fashions — “Did you shave this morning Son”?
"Stand a bit closer to the razor next time—Half an hour”!!
"What did you iron those trousers with —a Nine iron — Half an hour”!!
"Look at the state of that cap—You’re meant to look like Beau Geste — not Beau Fucken Brummel—Half an hour”!!
I wont even mention the small bags of dust that some of the NCO’s carried around with them for planting on the top of lockers!! Are you glad you joined kid? Welcome to the Lazy K.
Of course what vexed people the most about this Sunday cleaning overkill was that by and large we performed the same function day in day out. In those very early days especially there was no perfunctory sweep of the bed space, no random flash of the mop. There were those in competition with each other for the title - unofficial of course - of the supertrooper: the best in show.
To be slovenly was to be somehow failing in your duty. Cleanliness was taken to a whole new level, one we certainly didn’t practice before we came in. For us teenagers new words entered our vocabulary — duck boards and ablutions-deck, rubbers, squeegies and of course fatigues. Not the distressed army uniforms but the punishment variety as in: ”Right Niblock ... no crease in your trousers—that’s a half hours fatigues for Sunday morning.”Which usually meant picking cigarette butts up around the yard at half seven on the Sabbath, the only day you usually got a lie in. I hadn’t mastered the art of lining the creases of my trousers with flakes of soap before I ironed them.
I think the worst fatigues I had - at least in those days - was on the 12th July morning 1973. A group of us spirited 18 year olds experiencing our first 12th away from home manufactured a makeshift bonfire, mostly cardboard and rubbish,and lit it. The PO of the cage had given a warning that if we set fire to it he would have to bring a water cannon in to put it out. Of course we lit it, and of course he brought the water cannon in along with a troop of soldiers who became heavy handed. There was scuffles in the end out-housing internees. A number of them were taken to the boards but were released early the next morning to take part in the first Long Kesh 12th parade, replete with banner and sashes. This was all after the hour and a half me and a number of other miscreants spent brushing and shovelling away the ashes of the fire and then dousing the yard with bins full of water from the back of a parcel truck.
Sadly me and fatigues were to become regular companions over the next few years.