Today, friends started posting photos of Delorean cars on social media. What gives? Well, it appears that it is the 35th Anniversary of the making of the iconic car and many owners have traveled across the world to celebrate in the city where it was built; Belfast.
When I was a first year at Queen’s University I took the train past the Delorean factory every Friday night and Monday morning. The train track went right past the Dunmurry factory and we always stopped reading the NME to gaze out the windows at these futuristic cars.
As an nineteen year old from up the country I think I was unaware at the incongruity of this familiar scene. This was the Belfast of bombs and guns and I started University just a month after the last Republican Hunger Striker starved to death. It is really only in my fifties that I have finally come to terms with the abnormal world that I grew up in. The inhumanity that humans showed humans in our Troubles is almost inexpressible.
That an American maverick entrepreneur would decide to build a factory on the outskirts of Belfast at such a time was more ridiculous than I thought in my wee mind. We did still enjoy the view as we passed for those short number of months before it all went pear shaped - the flighty fickle car salesman that was Dolerean, the iron lady Prime Minister and a world recession all coming down on it at once!
It was the recent novel by Glenn Patterson that opened me up to the story of Delorean, West Belfast, hunger strikes and Margaret Thatcher. I love Patterson’s work which always opens me up to the social, and I would say spiritual world, of my home city. In Gull, named after the shape of the Delorean, he gives us these events through two ordinary people caught up from different sides of the story.
Edmund Randall is Delorean’s puppet, fixer on the ground and Liz is one of the work force. She is an ordinary if tough woman from west Belfast who finds a lifeline of hope in this new factory on her doorstep.
The novel, as Patterson always does, gives this fascinating part of our history and automobile history that was also tied up in movie history, when a car built in Dunmurry became Michael J Fox’s way Back to the Future. Imagine that. Our wee city!
I was particularly drawn to the fact that the Hunger Strikes were happening at the same time. I was interested that people from Republican Twinbrook and Loyalist Seymour Hill worked together but used different gates. I was also amused that Patterson exposed Margaret Thatcher iron will not against the Republican Hunger Strikers but against Delorean, in not funding the factory when the finances went down the plug.
Patterson says that the book is fiction “apart from the bits you couldn’t make up”. I have to say it left me looking for a real history of the Delorean years. If the workers that Liz represents in Gull could write a Memoir that would be one fascinating read and helpful contribution to our recent history.
In the meantime, Patterson has given us another wonderful novel… but I’d love to know what the bits were that he couldn’t make up!
Gull by Glenn Patterson is available in No Alibis Bookshop on Botanic Avenue - NOW!