Saturday myself and my baby daughter Fírinne
do the buses. We go out, she in a pram
or in harness, and walk down to the Falls Road to
catch a bus into town. From there we head off to wherever
our fancy takes us. She loves being on buses, and
while public transport in Belfast compares poorly
against a metropolis like Amsterdam, the city is small
enough to make the journeys involved relatively short.
That is until some group, as on Friday, decide otherwise
and ensure through bomb scares that we should sit
on buses for hours as part of their liberation struggle
against the imperialist commuters of Belfast.
we had even managed to set foot on our first bus of
the day, we caught a glimpse of an island of tricolours
at the junction of the Falls and Whiterock Roads.
The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association
were flagging up the situation of republican prisoners.
I worked to quell the cynic within me which was saying
still holding up traffic. While supporting
the demands of such prisoners for segregation I wish
they would desist from whatever it is that causes
them to go to prison to begin with.
on our public transport and having reached the town
centre it wasnt long before we ran into a picket
staged by the Socialist Workers Party. Our bus had
taken us from flag waving republicans to paper selling
socialists in a matter of minutes. The omnipresent
Davy Carlin was there, as was his colleague Mark.
Their objective was to generate opposition to the
probable war on Iraq. As much a part of Saturdays
Belfast city centre landscape as buskers, they are
loud and assertive, never aggressive, while they howl
or sell papers. Their gruff attitude invariably mellows
and their tone softens however when they see Fírinne.
War or not they always make the effort to chat for
a few minutes. Agree with them or dissent from them,
like them or loathe them, it cannot be disputed that
they put the work in on the issues they feel passionate
about. You certainly wont find them in the boozer
on a Saturday afternoon downing more pints for socialism.
I suppose if I were to give up my stance of using
my vote wisely by refusing to cast it I would throw
it their way.
them we walked across the street to the Post Office.
The Socialist Party were outside but I had enough
for one day and decided on something different. I
pushed the pram a few yards to a second hand bookshop
in North Street, probably the best in the city, where
I picked up a book on Soviet Russia by EH Carr. Which
probably makes me a pseudo intellectual agent of the
Ideological State Apparatuses in the eyes of the dafter
on the Left.
leaving, only £3 poorer - not bad for a book
in mint condition - we came across the Goths - certainly
the most eye-catching manifestation of Belfast youth
culture. I was immediately struck by the line from
the film Sixth Sense when young Cole Sear told his
psychologist Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis)
I see dead people. Thats what these
young people looked like to me. Hoards of them gather
in the town every Saturday with their dark clothing,
blanched faces and darkened hair. Whatever they pursue
elsewhere, in their Gothic world music and clothes
seem to dominate their interest. Although an expression
of non-conformist youth culture the Goths nevertheless
seem to surrender their own sense of individuality
through the sameness of their dress - a black modern
day shroud; a uniform type culture so disapproved
of by that notorious arch non-conformist Johnny Rotten.
In any event they always manage to outnumber whatever
bodies the Left are able to put on the street at the
same time. Hopefully not a sign that more people seem
interested in looking dead than in taking steps to
prevent a war that will produce real dead.
there we caught our second bus of the day and travelled
to the Ravenhill Road where I intended dropping in
unannounced on a relative I hadnt seen in a
few months. We seemed to wait for ages at the bus
stop making me long for Amsterdam and its trams every
four minutes. I grew so impatient I phoned Translink
and gave off to Anne about no bus having
arrived at 15:44 as stated on the timetable, underlining
my point with it states quite clearly that this
service runs at this time every Saturday from the
1st of September. To which Anne replied but
sir, this is still August. I laughed, thanked
her and waited on my bus half suspecting that my would-be
fellow passengers standing in the queue were snickering
at their self appointed champion.
the 78 bus and passing the Short Strand it struck
me on seeing the large number of RUC jeeps driving
out of the small nationalist area and up to the Ravenhill
Road that opposites are never that far apart in this
city. From the good natured hustle bustle of the town
to the tension and violence of East Belfast - worlds
apart, separated by a mere few hundred yards. The
RUC jeeps had pulled into a car park on the Ravenhill
Road and it was clear that the occupants were geared
up for battle. In their dark fatigues they looked
a bit like the Goths only with a lot more menace.
relative we had hoped to see was not at home so we
walked very leisurely through the Ormeau Park. Fírinne
walked the full length from the Ravenhill Road to
the front gates at the Ormeau Road. Long before she
was born, Bill shoot to kill Craig was
gathering his legions of fascists in the same park
under the Vanguard rubric to listen to the leader
rant and rave and incite animosity if not hatred towards
Catholics. I was pleased my daughter was oblivious
to all that. I hope her only experience of such things
will come from history books. Hoping for it and believing
it do not, however, amount to the same thing.
down the Ormeau Road I met one of the locals outside
the Sinn Fein office. Passing the partys premises
I invariably half anticipate to see a poster proclaiming
No Thinking Here on the window. We felt
like two black men standing outside a Ku Klux Klan
building, daring to defy the grand imperial wizards
of the thought police by attempting something as audacious as having
our own thoughts. If we were to get on the Sinn Fein
bus would we be told to leave the section reserved
for non thinkers? Where would those who want to think
sit? Hop on the back perhaps? Unlike Rosa Parks in
the American deep south, we couldnt really protest
the segregation and demand to be put in the non-thinking
for the guy I met, many of his friends feel he has
done well to survive this far, having anticipated
the worst for him as a consequence of an alcohol induced
illness. He looked gaunt and again the words I
see dead people flashed across my mind. He soon
came to life when inquiring if I had read the Irish
News. Upon telling him that I wouldnt get
the chance until I reached home he told me that it
had carried a report of a Sinn Fein councillor condemning
the Real IRA for extortion. Bursting into laughter
he said Can you believe it - they have been
extorting us all our lives and now they are getting
all high and mighty about it because somebody else
has muscled in on the act. And off he went laughing
as he moved his head from side to side to accentuate
his sense of disbelief. It was nice to see that Sinn
Fein had made someone laugh even if that was not the
that we trudged our way to Botanic Avenue as I had
decided to buy some wine for later in the evening.
I was not simply being contrary, running against the
grain of Sir Liealot who has been informing the world
recently of his conversion to red wine, by buying
white. I just prefer 'the vino blanc'. Then, with
Fírinne secure in her pram and making sense
of the world in the way that an eighteen month old
does, we set off for Queen Street to catch our bus
home. We had barely covered thirty yards before coming
across a child on the road with two RUC members leaning
over him holding him down. The Sinn Fein residue in
me was immediately tempted to craft an article in
my mind which would run something like young
boy pinned to ground by two RUC thugs. The reality
was somewhat different - the child had been knocked
down and the two cops were preventing him from jumping
up and running before the ambulance arrived while
they carefully went over his body inch by inch checking
for injuries. Fortunately the damage seemed not to
be too serious but it did make me realise just how
close I came to saying for real, I see dead
last, pram blazing full steam ahead, we were on our
way, thinking we had seen all that would stop us in
our tracks that day. But the Orange band turning up
onto Sandy Row from Great Victoria Street - which
we could hear better than we could see from where
we walked on Dublin Road - captured the attention
of Fírinne. The loyal sons and daughters were
banging out a particular message on their drums to
which Fírinne was indifferent, attracted only
to the noise and blissfully unaware of the meaning.
They were still telling us they were a superior people
to whom we must tip the forelock. The strange things
that people believe.
that, and by now pushed for time, we broke with our
Saturday convention and took a taxi back home to dreary
Springhill where equally strange beliefs hold sway.
Here they still believe that Ireland will be united
in 2016 and that decommissioning never happened. Not
all that surprising in a country where some believe
that statues move. The weirdness of the
Goths seems to be much less mythical than such sentiment.
Still, fantasies are hardly something to be outlawed.
geographical mosaic of Belfast is as bland as the
intellectual mosaic is boring, the latter differing
only in pigment from square to square as new ways
are found to hate one another through the application
of vocabulary denying any such thing.
for an eighteen month old girl none of that is visible
in a city seemingly open to endless exploration. She
doesnt know about the parts of it where she
cannot go because of the risk to her parents. Subjected
to a mob of howling republicans while still in her
mothers womb, she has about 30 months left before
loyalists call her a fenian bastard for
trying to walk to school.
to Belfast - City of Hate.
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