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Belfast Child- Chapter 8, Part 1- Uncle Sam

Finally the day for Uncle Sam to be released from jail arrived and the whole family along with friends and acquaintances gathered to give him a welcome home party he would remember. All day long preparations were made for the night’s celebration and the house was awash with food and alcohol of every description. When Sam finally walked through the door a huge cheer rang out and after the greeting and hugs the party got into full swing. Although dad had only been dead a few months and the pain was still tearing me apart inside, I really enjoyed myself that night and for a while forgot about the state of my life.

Uncle Sam was dad’s younger brother and was well respected throughout the estate and surrounding areas. He was lovable rogue and with his swarthy good looks and mischievous manner all that knew him loved him and all the local women fancied him. Also, more importantly he was a Loyalist soldier and had served time for a cause he believed in.

All male members of the family looked up to Uncle Sam and we all wanted to be just like him when we grew up. That night we were permitted to stay up into the wee hours and when the adults were full of drink the talk soon turned to dad and I was proud to hear them all talk about what a great man dad was and how they all missed him terribly and wished things could be different. Although we were a very close family, we were typical of the area and emotions were something men never showed and that night I felt proud when I went to bed, knowing that dad’s memory would live long in this house and others were sharing my grief at losing him.

After Uncle Sam had settled back into life outside jail, his thoughts naturally turned to how he could earning a living and bring some money in for the family. Whilst in jail he had done a course in painting and decorating and on his release he let it become known around the estate that he was available for hire at a very reasonable rate. Before long the work started to come in and if he had a job at the weekend Wee Sam and I went with him and helped in any way he seen fit, which included cleaning up the mess behind him and making endless cups of tea. If we were really lucky and the owner of the house was out, Uncle Sam would sit chain smoking and watch us paint the bottom section of the wall to the best of our ability. At first he was making good money and Wee Sam and I were more than pleased with the few quid he give us after completely the job. After a while the work started to dry up and Uncle Sam pondered long and hard to come up with a new means of earning some money.

Suddenly one day he proclaimed that he was going to set up a door to door business selling firewood and half an half later the three of us were on our way to the forest behind the house , with a wheel barrel and a chain saw he had borrowed from a reluctant neighbour. When we had walk some way into the forest Uncle Sam stops, gazed around for a moment and before we knew what was happening shouted “ timber” as the tree first let out an agonising groan and thundered to the ground below. After Uncle Sam had chopped the tree into manageable sizes, wee Sam and I loaded the wheel barrel with as much as possible and taking a handle each swayed our way back to the house were we dumped the wood in the back garden and went back for more. Later that night we all gathered in the back garden and bagged the wood into bags , before setting off and selling it door to door around the estate. After a short time money was pouring in and we had established a large client basis throughout the estate.

Although what we were doing was highly illegal, we carried on oblivious to the laws we were breaking and chopped down trees on an industrial scale. In Glencairn and the surrounding areas we followed our own rules and pretty much ignored the laws of the land. Business was that good I was able to save enough money to buy myself a second hand chopper from the bike shop down the Shankill. All good things come to an end and one day as we were making our way to our favourite felling spot, a team from the forestry department apprehended us and Uncle Sam was read the riot act.

The game was up and we watched with shock as Uncle Sam shamelessly agreed to everything they were saying and promised never to do it again. Wee Sam and I were bitterly disappointed and begged Uncle Sam to chance his mind. As we made our way home empty handed he explained that because he was out on licence, the last thing he need was the police paying him too much attention or he might end up inside again. What he said made perfect sense and Wee Sam and I reluctantly agree with him. “Besides, as Uncle Sam pointed out winter would soon be over and sales would dry up with the changing weather.

Another scheme Uncle Sam got me involved in was selling his UDA sweepstake cards. As a member of the UDA he was not only expected to pay a weekly donation or dues to the cause, he was also expected to help raise money for loyalist prisoners and their families. The UDA was run along very strict guidelines and had its own welfare department that raised and distributed money were most needed. This was done in a variety of ways, mostly illegal and generated huge sums of money for the organisation. At the weekly meeting sweep cards were handed out to all present to sell and most members would take £25.00 quid’s worth and sell then to their friends and family. As with anything he couldn’t be arsed to do it himself, he recruited Wee Sam and me.One Saturday he handed us a bundle of sweep stakes and told us if we sold them all he would give us two quid each, which sounded like a fair deal to me. After giving us instructions on what we were selling and how best to sell them and how much they coasted, he sent us of and told us not to return until they were all sold.

He would wait for us in community centre, he informed us solemnly as though he was getting the short end of the stick, when in fact we knew that he would be having a few pints and playing cards with his mates.

Equipped with the necessary information wee Sam headed to the top of the estate and I headed to the bottom and knocked on the first door I came to. After a moment or two a woman’s head appeared round the door and I immediately went into my pitch, which I had been working on for a few days and perfected on the walk down the Road.

“Excuse me misses, would you like to buy one of these?

You write your name, pick two numbers between 1 and 50 and if you win you win £25.00.

Price 20p a go,…

most people buy a sheet of five and its  only £1.00 in total…….Oh and the profits go to the prisoners and their families “

“Ah…god love you love, thinking of the prisoners. Go on”, I’ll have two sheets she replied”

and I was in business.

I took this like a duck to water and before long I was outselling Wee Sam on an embarrassing g scale. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a natural sales man and years later would have a successful career in London selling everything from life insurance to industrial chemicals, but much more of that later.

Eventually Wee Sam threw the towel in and I took over the whole operation. That’s not to say it was always easy. Lots of people turned me away, some were nice about it and others told me fuck off and never darken their door again. but even back then I was a natural sales man and the insults just rolled over my head and I apologised for interrupting them and made my way next door to a potential sale. It wasn’t long before I had built up a substantial client basis and when on the job I knew exactly which houses to call at and which were best avoided. For my efforts I got £2.00, which was duly spend on sweets and other treats I had promised myself.

About John Chambers

Profile photo of John Chambers
John Chambers is from Belfast , but now lives in the North West of England. He is the author of Belfast Child, which is about his life growing up within the heartlands of Loyalist West Belfast and his life long search for my missing Catholic mother. He also blogs and posts articles mainly on Current Affairs, War & History and posts daily on key events in the Troubles and Deaths due to the conflict in N.I. You can follow him at https://belfastchildis.wordpress.com/

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