Old Ted and I were shifting a few pints in a downward direction in the ‘Slug and Philosopher’ last night. The Salvation Army were in, rattling their collection tins under the noses of drunken punters, getting under people’s feet and blocking the route to the bar.
It reminded me of a regular incident some twenty years back in the ‘Shamrock and Harp’, an Irish club as the quick witted may have already guessed, which sits snugly in the middle of our sleepy, middle class town in the Shires. At the end of a Saturday night a group of four men in combat fatigues and wearing balaclava’s would appear shaking collection tins on behalf of the IRA. The first time I witnessed this I was bemused and, to be honest, frightened but the regulars happily dropped a few coins into the tin and went back to their rich black pints with no comment and so I did the same, resisting the urge to adopt an Irish accent as camouflage.
Once the lads had collected from each table they gathered by the door, turned to the room and holding clenched fists in the air they shouted their battle cry; “Never again!”. Which wasn’t strictly true because they came in every weekend.
Then they went out into the kitchen, changed out of their paramilitary gear and counted up the collection. I assume one of them paid it on to the IRA somehow. I don’t believe the rumour that they sent the funds to Ireland by buying Guinness at the bar, that would be cynical, besides two of them drank lager.
“So you contributed to the funds of a terrorist organisation, did ya?” laughed Old Ted when I told him.
“They wouldn’t catch me out these days, now I’m older and wiser.”
One of the Sally Army men had worked his way around to us. As we dropped a couple of quid into his tin I looked into his face which was partly hidden by the shadow of his cap.
”Haven’t we met before?” I ventured.
”No sir,” he replied and he was out the door and gone before I realised how soft his Irish lilt had become in twenty years.