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Shopping In Belfast City Centre

by Mark McKnight
(Belfast, Northern Ireland)

I was quite young during the Troubles, so don’t remember too much about it. I lived on the outskirts of Belfast so wasn’t directly affected by the bombings.What I do remember was going into Belfast city centre shopping with my parents. The city centre was sealed off with a ‘ring of steel’ as it was known.You couldn’t drive your car into the city centre, you had to park in carparks outside and go in on foot. You had to go through turnstyles in the ‘ring of steel’ to get into the main shopping areas.Buses were allowed to drive through the city centre, but only after being stopped at a security checkpoint and searched by a member of the security forces. Double deckers were taken out of service for quite a few years because it was harder to police the upper deck for bombs and other devices.Once you got into the city centre, any bags that you were carrying were searched at every store you entered by the security staff. They also scanned your body with a metal detector. Because I was young and knew no different, this for me, was business as usual.A funny thing happened when I was visiting one of my friends who lived in London. We went into the city for the day to have a look around the shops. I bought myself a pair of new trainers and was now carrying them around in a bag.The next shop we went into was a music shop and there was a security man at the entrance. I went through the door and held my bag open in front of him. He stared at me with a puzzled look on his face. He wasn’t quite sure what I was doing.I was that used to being searched in Belfast that I forget ‘myself’ and showed him my bag. Presenting your bags on entry to a store, for me, was second nature.

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