|Norn Iron - Sept 03|
A ramble from James
There is one thing I enjoy in life, and that is being proved wrong in the
positive sense. I had my precognitions about Belfast, based on grainy 1970s
news footage, and 30 years of listening to bickering from small-minded
What a beautiful place. I only saw a tiny fraction of what there is, but what I saw blew me away. I tried not to get all American tourist on them, but there was an immense feeling of coming home for me. Perhaps it is because the country is very reminiscent of the west of Scotland, but I'd like to believe it was the faint stirrings of racial memory. I can certainly understand why people fight over it, and also (like the Scots) why they spend years in exile talking and singing about it.
Belfast itself is stunningly beautiful. Being a city-boy myself, I felt completely at home lost in its streets. Parts of it reminded me a lot of Glasgow, but the area around City Hall is unique in atmosphere, though the bus drivers are just as prone to homicide as in any big town. The nightlife was excellent, we were spoiled for choice really, I'm sure I could have found somewhere good even without Noel's knowledgeable guidance! Drinks were very reasonably priced most places we went, the bar/club we ended up at were selling cocktails for �3, and folk were very friendly.
The most moving bit of the trip for me was when Paul and Shereen took me mural spotting. I was in two minds about doing this - unlike Billy Connolly, I don't reckon they make very good tourist routes - but I wanted to see them with my own eyes, to see how they made me feel. And although I was happy that I saw them, I wasn't happy about the way they made me feel. I thought I might be scared - the Loyalist ones especially are quite scary, since they seem to prefer the whole regimented approach. But it wasn't fear, as such. It was more a feeling of immense waste. The Falls Road is a pretty road, dammit. I'm sure there's social deprivation and all that behind the scenes I saw, but the thing I found most disheartening was how ordinary it all looked.
If it looked like the 70s 8mm news footage, like a war zone, then it wouldn't look so bad. But folk were waiting at bus stops, buying carrots, reading newspapers - right underneath huge murals threatening death for collaboration. People had become used to it. Ordinary people like you or I. I know that all wars, revolutions, civil war, ethnic cleansing, etc are done by people 'just like you or I' but sitting in middle England, you forget how thin the veneer is. It wasn't scary, it made me feel queasy. I could feel it, the hurt. For the first time in my life perhaps, I felt I could understand why these people do what they do, and that made me feel sick. There but for the grace of God. There are no quick answers to this, anyone who thinks there are is
deluded. There are only slow answers. I hope to god, anyway.
Paul and Shereen didn't get much reaction from me on the day, I tend to be like that. I need to go away and think about it a bit. One thing has changed. I used to feel slightly sorry for you NI lot, living over there. Now I feel jealous. If it wasn't for the even more dire state of IT over there, I wouldn't hesitate in looking for work over there. My dad had the chance to move to BTNI during the 80s, but my mum talked him out of it, we might get bombed. Since he died, she's been over herself with friends and loves the place.
Karen is sick to death of me talking about it already :) I definitely want to bring the family over before the end of the year, and see it when it's not gloriously sunny :)
Thanks folks for a wonderful trip!
� James McGowan, so it is.
This page was last updated on 28-Sep-2003.