Was it really like that when you were wee?

On Monday night I took my nine year-old son to see ‘Teenage Kicks’ at the Millennium Forum.

Set against the backdrop of the late 70s and early 80s - arguably the worst of the Troubles - the musical opens with film footage of riots, bombs and an atmosphere of fear and thuggery on our streets.

As the show progressed there was more reference to bombs, to war, to gangland activities - and an attempted kneecapping.

In the interval, as the story moved on and left behind the bleakness of a troubled Ireland, I asked Joseph had he enjoyed the first half? He nodded enthusiastically. Sure hadn’t they just sung ‘Teenage Kicks’ - perhaps his most favourite song of all time?

He then turned to me and asked, his face lined with worry: “Was it really like that when you were wee mum? Was there really a war?”

I was, momentarily, lost for words. “Things were pretty scary at times,” I replied.

“But how?” he asked. “Did you ever see someone get shot? Did you ever see a bomb?”

I took a deep breath and told of bombs we had heard - how the windows had shaken, how we had worried for our loved ones. Thankfully I had never seen anyone shot, I told him. But I told him how his grandfather, a postman, had been hijacked at gunpoint several times - told there was a bomb in his van.

I told him how I recalled walking to school on occasions, the guns of soldiers trained on us as we crossed the road.

“It must have been scary,” he said.

The truth is, that looking back now, I’m only starting to realise how scary those situations were. For the most part we were shielded from the worst that went on. My parents did their best to make sure we were kept safe, but also we were, at times, blissfully unaware of just how bad things were.

And in many other ways what we saw and we witnessed was normal. Those of us born in the 70s didn’t know any different. So we got on with it. We didn’t question it.

But looking at my children now - and hearing my son, his face creased with worry - ask me about those days I realise how awful it was.

And I realise how brave a generation of parents my own were - keeping their cool, making things normal and making our childhoods feel like childhoods and not existences coloured by bombs, bullets and the horrors that occurred on our streets.

We can hope those days are far from us now and that we will never see them again.