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Home September 27, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.


Darlings, you’ll agree I only go to the choicest spots for a bit of p&q. And to think that people told me Belfast used to be even worse.

Which is not to say I didn’t have a top time in the disputed province. And, thankfully, the wedding I attended wasn’t in Belfast itself, but an hour or so away from there, near an incredibly delicious bit of coastline. All the heterosexual men who’d marauded through Berlin but a couple of weeks earlier behaved in a far more restrained way in the company of the fairer sex, and that was only to be applauded. In fact, there’s something awfully intimate about seeing old friends. One of the brigade, whom I’ve probably only been seeing in group settings for the last gazillion years and last had a one-to-one conversation with in 1992, twice made disapproving sartorial comments, which I thought bespoke great intimacy. Our friendship has solidified as a result. And our goodbye hug was the real thing, rather than the limp version.

My route to the disputed province was a circuitous one. I thought it would be sacrilegious to go to the UK without going to London, but I did precisely this, apart from a mindblowingly quick dip into my mother’s almost provincial abode before heading ever deeper into the provinces to stay with my airport-convenient sister. My return route was equally provincial. As I sat in Gatwick, I took stock.

I had been genuinely and actively unimpressed by what Belfast had to offer. As I was whisked from its international airport to the city centre, I was convinced I was yet to discover the bits that didn’t look grimly similar to the centre of any dreary British city. Where the wedding was, on the other hand, was lovelily lovely. Both the man-made and nature-made bits. The wedding was bliss. My sister’s provincial bit of England is nice. My mum’s almost provincial bit of London is lovely. I fancied a good percentage of the gents I saw sauntering around the place (although they might all have been Polish). I had a minor quiver of worry when I heard German voices again at Gatwick, both because of the linguistic handicap and a moment of feeling culturally dissonant. “There are things I loathe about the UK,” I said to myself, “but haven’t I had a rather good time chatting to folk in the native tongue over the last few days?” Admittedly, my 4-year-old nephew did set the conversation stakes fairly high. Yesterday, from his village school, he had entered a church for the first time in his life in preparation for Harvest Festival. With great relish, he told me how he and his friend, Stanley, who had entered the church through a magic door that only they had seen, met God. I caught a glimpse of his mother’s scathing expression in the rear-view mirror. But, alas, a volcano erupted in God’s head and God died. I think this heralds the start of a life-long ambivalent relationship between my nephew and the deity.

And here I am. Back in Berlin. Without a clear feeling, as almost ever, of whether this is where I want to be or not. (Although at least Belfast has kindly removed itself from the list of places I might fantasise about living.) But then I like to think I’m one for a non-answers life. I can’t believe there’ll ever be a flash where I decide, once and for all, that I must be in Berlin, or must be in London, or must be in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Perhaps this is the fate of an exile. I have been convinced (by others, not myself) in the past that there must be a psychic spot I can call home. I might just have to disappoint them.


(With thanks to Nicholas Gibson for permission to use the photos.)

(Aber what’s with the Israeli flag?)



1. lukeski - September 28, 2006

None of the post-industrial gentrification a la Docklands/Birmingham/MAnchester/Stoke in Belfast as yet, then? Even parts of Glasgow are seemingly nice these days. The other (non-Belfast/Londonderry/other atrocity) parts of the North must be, I’m sure, as delightful and welcoming as those of the Republic – I constantly feel the urge to fly over again, especially as Aer Lingus kindly keep offering me flights for a pound! How can these airlines make money?

2. Geoff - September 28, 2006

Belfast is wonderful. Yes, admittedly it’s not the prettiest city in the world – it’s a pretty bog-standard british port / industrial city. But the people are incredibly friendly, warm and funny. It has great bars and restaurants – probably the nicest I’ve been to in the UK outside of London in fact. Although I suspect it’s a city best appreciated when there with a local, rather than as a tourist. I must admit I hated it myself the first time, but over the two years I was going there monthly I grew to love it.

3. Ed Ward - September 28, 2006

You know, BiB, Yoko Ono once had an astrologer who would take your chart, superimpose it on a chart of current karmic conditions in the world at large (or something) and from the results figure out where the stars shown brightest on your particular astrological configuration. Makes as much sense as any other astrological operation, methinks.

Plus, she made John Lennon undergo it, and immediately whisked him off to L.A., where he met a hot young Chinese-American gal named May Pang, who became his mistress and secretary. Them thar’s results!

Anyway, I believe astrodienst.com provides this service for free, in case you’re by the computer procrastinating some day. Although you never do that, do you?

4. Bowleserised - September 28, 2006

Ed, that is very tempting. I might try.

BiB, I think that once you acknowledge the itch in the feet, you either have to learn to ignore it or keep on itching. If that makes sense.

5. BiB - September 29, 2006

Lukeski, I’m sure that has happened, and that I was just there for too short a time to find the nice places. But the city centre is very disappointing, and there’s still quite a lot of wasteland very close to it, which will no doubt be snapped up and redevloped one day. I went for one mammoth walk from the centre to Belfast Castle, which took me through leafy suburbs. But closer to the centre, the walk was interesting as I first went through areas with Union Jacks all over the shop and then two minutes later the Irish flag and so on. Has Stoke been gentrified? Or do you mean Robbie Williams puts his head round the door once a decade? Newry is a nice-looking town, which was nicely buzzy and jolly on the Saturday night.

Geoff, bugger. I knew I must be missing something. I met an Irish friend there and we only had one night and she lives in Dublin and doesn’t know the city either so we wandered aimlessly round the centre. I spotted two nice-looking chaps at a cash-machine and asked them for hints. They asked us if we wanted ‘chilled’, and we said yes and they directed us to a ropey pub with snugs and the sound of breaking glass. And then we went to a place with bouncers on the door and huge groups of men and angry-looking, large, teenage girls. I shall do my research next time! Having said that, though, yes, the atmosphere was perfectly nice and super-friendly and, especially where the wedding was, people told me life has improved exponentially since the end of the troubles.

Ed, B., yes, I think I’ll tolerate the itch. Inevitably, when back on the island, I am asked if I’d ever consider moving back there. I always say no, for the time being, though, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, these things can happen suddenly. Will report back with my results from Astrodienst.

6. Spinsterella - September 30, 2006

Oh my fucking god, you went to Newry? And you LIKED it??


Anyhow – to explain the Israeli flags…

Hardcore IRA/Sinn Fein supporting nationalist types have long identified with the Palestinian cause. Which is fairly comprehensible – occupied territories and all that.

So the loyalists adopted the Israeli flag JUST BECASUE IT’S THE OPPOSITE.

NI is an unremittingly dreadful place.

7. BiB - September 30, 2006

Spin, I was hoping you’d bring some local expertise to this blog-post. Well, I think I had either been told or had invented that Newry was a hellhole so was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. I’m not sure I’d want to live there. No, correction, I’m sure I wouldn’t want to live there, and I know Northern Ireland is the sort of place, as realdoc was just saying, where you’re always this or that, or one thing or the other, and I felt like a cunt for having an English accent, and I found myself instantly getting my Irish roots into every conversation, and it all seemed a pain. (I asked, drunk, and with my shoes in my hand because they were ripping my feet to shreds and it was raining, at 2 in the morning, directions from a Newry chap. He actually giggled – though perhaps it was the outfit, but I thought it was because I was an Englander – before guiding me on my way.)

I thought that’s what the Israeli flag must be about.

Nice coastline, at least!

8. daggi - October 1, 2006

Nice to see the UFF compared with the Antideutschen, who also like to fly British and Israeli flags. (Can’t imagine them being that good with weapons and knee-capping, though. Hang on, maybe I could, as the rest of their politics is barmy enough, that a good bit of violence could convince more than any of the rest of their arguments)

9. BiB - October 1, 2006

The Israeli flag wasn’t flying when I stayed in the hostel across the road from the pictured public house. But there were lots of big, pink, hairless men standing outside it. Funnily enough, I didn’t drop in for a pint.

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