It's not that I'm ignorant, far from it. I have family in Stroke City* who have tattered union flags on their streets, murals to King Billy on end gables and Red, White and Blue kerb stones outside their front door. However, growing up in rather leafy Northern Irish suburbia I have never been affected so much by the protestant marching season as I have since I moved to Scotland.
My first July in Scotland I was in bed in Stoneyburn enjoying a quiet lie in with my partner when the sound of marching bands struck up outside. I'd never lived on a parade route in my life, but Stoneyburn being more or less a one street village I lived on that street and the route went past. That was quite a shock.
A couple of years ago I was heading by bus from Bathgate to Falkirk trying to get to some friends' wedding reception. However, at Shieldhill we got held up for what seemed like an age waiting for a parade to go past. Maybe it's because back home we knew when they were happening as they would have been on the news either because of protests or as a traffic warning, but to suddenly find myself delayed because of a march actually made me a little peeved.
It takes me to three Saturdays ago the 5th July was the big parade in Glasgow (see above) it was also the first weekend of the Glasgow East by election. Me being me I was heading to Glasgow for the politics, not the marching kind, that day. All was well after all the Orange March wasn't going to go through the East End of Glasgow until it came time for me to head home. I'd missed the last direct bus to Bathgate to was going to have to take a Citylink 900 into Edinburgh and out again from there. Of course at the time I was heading back a large number of drunken Orange supporters also wasn't to head back through to Harthill. Now I've drunk in loyalist and republican pubs in various places in Northern Ireland and with the friends I've been with been pointed out which people "not to mess with" shall we say, but getting on that bus with them I was actually a little scared.
You may ask why someone with my background and upbringing would be scared. My accent has had to mellow to be comprehended for starters, but more importantly this hoard were somewhat the worse for drink. If trouble were to start, though it didn't, I don't think they would have taken time to check my family credentials, how many signed the Ulster Covenant, which lodges family members belonged to, or just which protestant estates my kin lived in. The fact was despite all that I wasn't one of them, they didn't know me and therefore knowing that I had no support and helpful friends myself I was more scared than I had even been drinking in the "wrong" parts of Belfast.
*Stroke City is the shorthand North West Radio Ulster DJ Gerry Anderson started to avoid the whole Derry/Londonderry debate once this became a political issue so as not to offend any of his listeners from either side or none of the sectarian divide.