14st 12lb, 8.3 units. Until they handed on the baton to the militant Islamic community (or “your lot” as I always call them for the benefit of my beloved wife), one of my chief fears in life was of being blown up by the IRA. It seems particularly ironic that the focus of our worries should have moved on, by the addition of just one letter, to Iran.
My concerns about Irish terrorism were not quite as groundless as they might seem. Although the chances of being targeted while living on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere in Northumberland are indeed low, for 17 years up to 2004 I spent the greater part of my life in London. And, for most of that time, I lived in a flat in Dolphin Square, the bizarrely upmarket council-owned block in Westminster that was and is such a favourite choice of second home for MPs, peers and senior military officers. At times of heightened alert, I used to look with grave suspicion at any strange cars parked beneath the windows of my flat. Sometimes I even used to move my porn collection to a vaguely blast-proof cupboard on the far side of the room, so that my dismembered body would not be recovered from the ruins covered in charred and tattered pages of hardcore filth. Though bearing in mind the sort of neighbours I had, this was surely an unnecessary worry even by my standards.
Ah, you will think, but surely a location so full of high-profile personalities must have been exceptionally well protected? Well, let me put it this way. I was once dropped off by a taxi driver who said, without conscious irony, that he was always completely bowled over by the quality of the security at Dolphin Square. “I mean, you’ve got all these nobs here but it’s the only block of flats I know in London where you can just wander in off the street without an entryphone or anything, and go and knock on someone’s door. I mean, security so good that it’s invisible. How much do you pay for that?”
Nothing at all, I hesitated to reply. Which suggested an altogether simpler explanation of why our protection was so inconspicuous.
Anyway, all this came flooding back to me this morning when we received a mysterious package containing a “Disney baby record book”, as part of the apparently unstoppable flood of cards, flowers and gifts unleashed by the arrival of The Baby. Someone had gone to the trouble of removing the price ticket from the goods, but not of enclosing any clue as to the identity of the sender. So I examined the packet and found that it had been posted in BT38, which proved to be somewhere in County Antrim. Not a lot of help, it must be said, since neither Mrs H and I know anyone who lives in Northern Ireland, or seems likely to shop there. But could it have been an Internet purchase? Is there a major Disney store in County Antrim, or indeed an Irish Disneyland? (I once described a particularly lacklustre Caledonian seaside resort as “the Scottish Disneyland” because “it disnae have a beach, it disnae have a pier, it disnae have any decent hotels …” You doubtless get the picture, but I am not sure whether the joke works in an Ulster accent, or indeed at all.)
We ended the day none the wiser, but at least I felt a sense of profound relief that we had managed to open our mystery package from over the water without the deleterious consequence traditionally associated with opening padded envelopes marked “If undelivered, please return to IRA, PO Box 1916, Dublin.”
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