|Norn Iron - Sept 03|
The morning started with a series of increasingly angry texts from James at East Midlands airport because his flight was delayed. Things took a turn for the worse for him as lack of food choice forced him to buy a poncey ciabatta. I didn't like to mention that I was having a lovely, relaxing morning with 'the Nightwatch' by Terry Pratchett passing time nicely. I headed off for the train to Belfast once word came through that James had finally boarded the plane. On arrival there I settled myself into a comfy seat in a coffee shop to wait for the airbus. I have to say coffee shops are not the nicest place to wait for anyone, no matter how soft their arm chairs are. All that grindy, whooshy nonsense to produce a small, expensive cup of burnt-tasting liquid. I think a tea shop would be a much more civilised place to wait in.
James eventually sent a text to say he'd arrived and, in spite of his working-class roots, was taking a taxi instead of the bus. I met him at the hotel and waited for the two minutes it took him to check-in and offload his trunk. We headed out into the sunny city streets in search of food and touristy things. First stop was the Kitchen Bar, home of manky old sporting photographs, a lot of scruffy regulars (Glenn will remember some of them) and some very nice food. Of course we had the Paddy's Pizzas - the tourist had the more traditional ham version and I tried the daring new chicken version. Y'know I'd forgotten just how hot melted cheese could be. Ouch.
Then we set off in search of the Lagan Weir and the Big Fish - well we had to cross at least a couple of things off James' Belfast to do list. Having got those touristy things under our belts I dragged James over to McHugh's Bar to have a look at the local politicians chess set made by one of the shops on his to-do list. I don't know what impressed him more, the chess set or the cabinet it was in. He certainly gave the cabinet a good stroking. McHugh's had very kindly laid on some local colour in the shape of a couple of good-natured drunks who challenged James to name all the politicians on the board. I think they got bored before he did. Wonder if the bar staff ever got their slabber cleaned off the glass?
To fill the time before meeting up with the workers I took James on a brief wander round the city centre. Owing to the lack of City Hall totty (obviously scared off by PaulG's lunchtime stalk), we went to the Wicker Man craft shop where James failed to buy any presents. By this time I'd had a text conversation with PaulG to sort out the rendezvous, so our next stop was the Whiskey Cafe. When we got there it was alarmingly full of blokes in suits from the environmental officers conference at the Waterfront Hall - in fact it looked like the same blokes who had been making the place smoky and noisy when Paul and I had lunch there the day before. Some good timing resulted in the acquisition of a snug and I eventually managed to attract James' attention (note to self: James doesn't answer his phone in pubs).
Paul and Noel arrived together, thus robbing me of my planned "make James spot the new slim-line Paul" fun. We had another round of drinks in McGinnis's (two Maker's Marks (one with coke), a pint of Guinness and a diet coke - guess which drink belonged to which Miscer :) Noel speculated that the environmental officers mustn't have checked out the loos in the bar, otherwise they wouldn't be drinking in it. There may have been a connection between this comment and our decision to move on elsewhere for food. Elsewhere being the Basement Bar and Grill. The food there was good bar food, but the most outstanding thing I recall about it was the bucket of chips that accompanied Paul's steak and the very low ceilings.
And then it was on to a more touristy destination in the shape of the Crown Bar and Liquor Salon. We weren't expecting to get a snug at that time of night, but you had to go for at least the one drink in the Crown when you'd a tourist with you. Word must have got around the bar there were Miscers about, as the snug from the first meet was vacated before we finished our first drinks. That put paid to any immediate plans we had for wandering on and we settled in for some craic. We instigated another kitty (Gal would have been proud of us :) and left it in charge of sober bloke. At some point the decision was taken to move onto another pub - one in a slightly different style to the ones we had visited so far. Bar Bacca was but a short dander away and we were eager to test their cocktail menu again. Again we managed to get seats, although I think the music was a bit too loud to allow comfortable chatting. In honour of Glenn I had the extra gay strawberry daiquiri, James had a Cosmopolitan (which was only slightly pink, and therefore only slightly gay) and Noel, trendster that he is, had something no-one could pronounce: a caipirinha. Which wasn't at all gay. My drink was so impressive a girl from a neighbouring table came over to ask what it was - an unexpected side effect that hadn't happened when Glenn dabbled with daiquiri. There were some more cocktails - this time involving lots of fruit and then it was time for home.
I eventually figured out how to use my mobile phone (oh as in zero, not oh as in oh!) to call a taxi, but ended up persuading the taxi from the same firm that was hanging around in the street to take me home. Turned out the driver was a big fan of Ken Haddock too, so that made the homeward chat easy.