A1 Car Hire! (1995 – 1997)

Reminiscing on previous jobs and previous experiences recently brought up this memory of not working, but being in A1 Car Hire, watching my Mum work. What’s the story? Well my kid brother was born in 1994, so my Mum, Muriel Blair, hadn’t been working but looking after young Daniel! Then my Mum got back into a job where young Daniel could accompany her in work. I think it was 1995 – 1997. So this was in Bangor, Northern Ireland and a friend of our family, Boyce Anderson had always been in the car trade. His daughter Katrina had set up a car hire business in the town’s Dufferin Avenue. At the time I was 15 and was studying (or at least pretending to) at Bangor Grammar School, a 5 minute walk away at the top of High Street/Hamilton Road junction. Remember this was at a time where tension in Northern Ireland was still high. Everybody was happy just to be there. A cup of tea, cheese on toast and watching the UTV news were largely my life. I think my Mum worked about 3 or 4 shifts a week for Katrina in A1 Car Hire, which rented cars to anyone with a legitimiate driving licence basically. They had a lot of cars, maybe 25. My Mum would work there on her own, with young Daniel sleeping out the back, while my Mum would do reception. It was a period of my life that I totally forgot about up till now.

It was one of my first experiences of working life, even though I never did any work. Just hearing my Mum deal with all the customers, phone calls etc. was great. Soon after that the offices moved to Central Avenue (near Bangor’s Theatre) and I would always walk there on the way home from school, after calling into the Flagship Shopping Centre. I’d buy a few cassette tape singles on the way and then listen to them in my Mum’s work while minding my kid brother. CDs were just about to take over big time and confine cassettes to the “dustbin of history” [Trotsky]. My other brother Marko went to school closer to home so could walk, though my sister Cathy would often walk down to A1 Car Hire as well, as her school was in central Bangor. At one point all four of the siblings attended a different school, though all Protestant and in the same town, this strange divide of boys/girls/11+ exam etc. was a Northern Irish thing. Sometimes I think Cathy stayed with mates, as I remember mainly myself being in A1 Car Hire. I always wanted to be with my baby brother and spent a lot of time teaching him to talk and to kick a football. While Mum worked I was with Daniel, which he won’t remember as he was aged 1 – 3 during this time. Aged 14 now Daniel is the perfect kid brother and everything about him I love and cherish. He is a mini me. In the A1 Car Hire offices in Central Avenue, my Mum would sit in reception, often with a radio on. My Mum is very intelligent. She has worked hard continuously over the years and I tell her to slow down, but she doesn’t. She is great with kids and figures. In A1 she would deal with figures, handing over keys and reception. I used to sit out the back in the other room with Daniel, often doing some homeworks, listening to Oasis, making cups of tea and listening to my Mum at work.

In those days, the world of Car Hire in Northern Ireland WAS a dodgy business. There was no internet, no e-mail (certainly there was, but who ever had it or used it???) and therefore all the publicity for Katrina’s business had to be done through local newspapers, magazines, word of mouth, business cards etc. It was a different ball game. And who would want to be a Car Hire Firm owner in a country famed for cars being set alight to block roads, riot and often to plant bombs. As much as Bangor was away from the troubles in Belfast, we suffered this share of the troubles, with two IRA bomb attacks just 2minutes walk from A1 Car Hire (Main Street, 1992 and Upper Main Street, 1993). There was also instances of joyriding with cars being stolen by youths. One of our neighbours, Maurice and Gareth Robinson had their car nicked from the garage, later found burnt out in a Catholic Suburb of Belfast. We never had that, just car radio theft. It seems odd, but crime was so high in a 1995 Northern Ireland. Yet everybody seemed happy enough. If you don’t know another world, you enjoy the one you have. So there were always a few minor problems in work. I’m not sure if cars were stolen, crashed or whatever, I cannot remember the details, but it wasn’t in any way the dangerous place that some people would believe Northern Ireland to be.

It gave me an introduction into work and I did always want to take some calls for my Mum and work there, but I was simply too young. It was nice to sit out the back with Daniel, my music, a cup of tea and some books/magazines. It also intrigued me that Katrina had a WORLD MAP up in the office with pins stuck in it. Now looking back, as an avid fan of culture and variety, it is nice to remember that in Bangor, Northern Ireland, my Mum and Katrina hired cars to people from all parts of the UK, some of Europe, US citizens, Australian and New Zealand citizens, Canadian citizens. I used to put the pins in sometimes if we got a new customer. As far as I remember my Mum worked there from 1995 – 1997. Katrina then got married and the business closed down. They were just happy innocent times. Caught up in this wave of nostalgia, no photos or hard memories from those days remain. Nobody had mobile phones, nobody carried cameras everywhere and nobody knew how to send an e-mail. Those were proper times in work. Sometimes we prefer life that way, but it’s nice that modern techonological advances allows me to relive the memory of A1 Car Hire online! If you are reading and you ever hired a car from A1 Car Hire in Central Avenue/Dufferin Avenue, Bangor, Northern Ireland, do please get in touch!

OH…and in case you wonder, why the Delorian? Cast your mind back to a 1970s Northern Ireland and the decision to make the cars in Dunmurry at the height of sectarian tension. That should bring you back to the future.

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