AM: The Danders pieces you write for Facebook seem to be pretty popular. Many like myself enjoy the acquaintances you meet, the memories you have of them from an earlier time, the observations you make while sharing the frustration and exasperation you sometimes vent. What started you out on it and has the thought ever occurred to you to turn it into a book?
PM: I can't remember the first time I used the word dander in my posts but it's a word I've used for as long as I remember in conversations. After a few posts I was getting a bit of stick about using that word so I just continued to use it. There was no plan, but I do meet people when out and about and would discuss many topics, mostly political. Of course, I do embellish them from time to time.
AM: Embellishment is an art. It adds colour to the story. Besides there is no attempt to mislead. And the suggestion to turn them into a book? I think it has something to offer to the cultural history of Belfast. You are capturing things through reflection that only happen once, much like a photographer does.
PM: Perhaps I should go through old posts I've written and set something up as you suggested a few times. Too much like hard work.
AM: Danders is an old Belfast expression for a walk. It has a meandering feel to it rather than a straightforward walk. Maybe that is something to do with the phonetic similarities between dander and meander. I don’t recall from the jail the term being used – then we would say we were going out to boul the yard or walk it. How did you settle on the Danders thing?
PM: I remember using the term going for a boul or a walk. I may have used dander too but can't say for sure. I honestly can't say when I first used it but it seems to be with me most of my life. I know I've used the meander-meander.
AM: When I walk I often use it to reflect on something I want to write. You seem to use it more a meet and greet venture and then casually write up your findings. The flow is natural and uncomplicated, making for a good read.
PM: Most of the times I go to Colin Glen I go on my own but I rarely think about writing anything unless something catches my eye or I bump into someone and talk about this, that or the other. When I was writing my book I'd think a lot more about writing when out but haven't written anything for months. I got bored with it even though there's at least 75,000 words on my pen-drive. I bump into someone and talk about this, that or the other.
AM: The 3Cs came up one day – is there a particular watering hole you like to stop by on the really warm days?
PM: Yes I do like the 3cs and only go there now and again and that's why I write about it. The places I would frequent I don't think I mentioned unless I wrote about a do or after a funeral. I'm deliberately evasive about family too.
AM: Do you leave the house knowing exactly the route you are going to take or do you just follow your nose as you go?
PM: I rarely have a plan but if something comes up on the news that either annoys me or I am interested in it I'd think of writing something about it. I'd write about bumping into a comrade or that but sometimes I'd be on my own and not speak to anyone in particular. Recently I was down in Andytown and did bump into a few people who are going to a funeral of a family member so I will write a short piece about it.
AM: I remember going on walks with my friend Tommy McReynolds while living in Springhill. He would come over from the Ormeau Road, park his car at my place and then we would head off. Often we would go through Loyalist areas out of curiosity – one we did a few times was down the Springfield, across the West Circular, onto the Ballygomartin, then to Twadell and on down the Crumlin Road past the jail – always nice to walk past rather than into - through the town and back up to Springhill. Others would take us up the Newtownards or Albert Bridge Roads, along Sandown Road, sandwiched between Orangefield and Tullycarnet/Gilnahirk and onto the Knock Dual Carriageway. I got stopped one day on the Whiterock by the RUC and one of them told me he had seen us walking up near the top of the Shore Road: letting us know Pig Brother was watching us. Do you ever try that sort of thing or do you stick with the more familiar routes? We never ventured down the side streets in the loyalist areas.
PM: I would Never dander near unionist areas because as you wrote above I'd be conscious of cops or the odd loyalist spotting me.
AM: In jail one thing I dreamed about regularly until I got out was swimming in a pool. Once I did on a parole the dream never revisited me. Is your passion for walking influenced in any way by the total absence of it during the blanket protest where you spent a few years? Or is it just something you would do anyway? I know that my penchant for reading was intensified immeasurably as a result of literary deprivation during the protest. At the same time, I think at times we look to the jail for a provenance that is not actually there.
PM: Yes we all dreamed of doing many things whilst in gaol and especially during the blanket. When I first got out in July 79 I was still young and just wanted to go to clubs etc. I was always into sport so that was something else I wanted to do - or more to the point go to hurling matches. I read a bit but not as much as I do now so don't know if that's an age thing. When I got out in 96 I'd 2 young kids and wanted to do 'daddy things' so we'd go for drives, go to the pictures etc. I remember one day we went for a drive up the coast and when we reached Ballycastle I just wanted to walk along the beach and paddle in the sea. When we were walking in the town later I bumped into Harry Fitzsimons from Lenadoon and he asked if it was me walking on the beach and when I said yes he told the people he was with that the fella walking there is probably just outa gaol. It was a dull day and very few on the beach.
AM: I think that’s it a longing for the solitude thing that we acquired a taste for in jail and often only found in the quietude of our cells. The Dark often spoke of a longing for the privacy of the cell. Jackie McMullan once said the same to me about missing the cell. I never have. Not for one second. I recall a female prison governor being interviewed for a British newspaper and she cited Jean Paul Sartre as saying Hell is other people. Clifford Peeples writing in Fortnight brought up the noise and din of the jail. I think Orwell made the point that people have an existential need for a mixture of company and solitude. For me having the ability to decide when and how much of each is crucial.
PM: I agree with you that being out gives me a bigger choice to do what I want to do. I don't dwell on my prison experience and rarely speak about it unless someone asks me about it. When I was first imprisoned I wanted company because it gave me a bit of security. When on the blanket I was very lucky with the few cell mates I had because we got on well. I also think it made life that bit easier. When I was back in the Crum in 1981 I always had cell mates and I liked that even though I wasn't into messing about as some lads were. Again I was very lucky with the lads I was in with and I think I was easy to get on with. Back in the Crum in 84 and 86 I was on the 'red book' which meant being in the cell on my own and I definitely preferred that because I was reading a lot more and listened to different types of music - Never country music which a lot of lads were into. Then in the blocks for the last lot of years it was a lot easier because if we wanted to double up we could pick our cellmates. So all in all I don't think gaol did me any harm but when out I never craved any of it. Of course I met some great people but also some I'd no time for.
AM: Would you ever listen to music or an audio book or podcast while you dander?
PM: I listen to a lot of music - pop, traditional, folk, classical and some blues - but never an audio book. Even when reading a book in the house - or flat as I say! I listen to music. As you know Archie is a prolific reader and he loves music but he reads in silence.
AM: The cell thing again, perhaps. Both he and his brother Pat were great readers in jail. You mention sport quite a bit, moreso the Gaelic sports, but I noticed you were at a Cliftonville game. The Cliftonville Road is a great dander as well. You could do the two, I guess and make a day of it.
PM: Yes I love going to GAA games and some soccer. Politics plays a big part of my life but gaol taught me the need to have hobbies and apart from sport I genuinely like danders and I'm not a bit shy in talking to people. Hobbies such as reading, bird watching and sports means most things can be discussed. I remember thinking lads who only done handicrafts or read very little must lead boring lives but without being condescending to them it was their way of doing their whack … They may have thought those of us who weren't into 'their' gaol hobbies as bores!
AM: Where did you dander today?
PM: My dander today was down the Falls and I called to see a friend who couldn't make Séanna Duffy's funeral in Lurgan yesterday. He asked me to call coz he's not in great health and we spoke about a lot of people I met yesterday - many of whom were inside with us. You'd know some very well too. Then back up the road and now writing this … Of course I get bored now and again but thankfully very rarely. Not sure if gaol taught me to appreciate life more or if it's an 'age' thing. Sin é.