Trying to get lost in Belfast by foot

"Suburbia" by David Shankbone, Wikimedia commons.

“Suburbia” by David Shankbone, Wikimedia commons.

Charlotte’s clothes (8) are mismatched the way they might be for the homeless, for function only, stained, holes, slanted — and I’m collecting plastic bags in my pockets for function too, to tie around my shoes as makeshift rubbers or to confine the odour of clothes caked with puke from the carsick, from twisty routes and missed barf bags driving through Scotland.

Monday morning in Belfast, my birthday, determined to make it a special day despite the grey, the cold reality we’re in Belfast at the end of November, on the road five or six weeks now, add three months to that in Germany, another month between houses in the Seattle suburbs, four or five more to go — the kids unraveling and we just got nicked five grand from one of our bank accounts because our debit card got hacked when we weren’t looking, and the navigator said there was an Indian restaurant with take-out highly rated by TripAdvisor three minutes away but there wasn’t, and daddy wound up having to cook again. And it ate into my time to write and have an afternoon beer, to sit on the edge of the sofa instead talking to the fraud department at our bank, to have our call dropped and try to get back in the phone tree and wait for our case number, our claim.

In the morning at the store it’s backed up with people queueing at a window where they’re doling out cash and lottery tickets and though it doesn’t feel unsafe here I realise it’s a poor neighbourhood, everything comes in bundled deals and they’ve only got like two choices of toothpaste — and the houses are all brick and run together, slightly staggered, look sad, neglected — and later, when the sun comes out I walk for inspiration to try to get lost, and it’s For Sale signs and kids’ toys left out in the rain with leaves along the fenced-in corners, the overgrown yards — I look for murals about the history of this place and what happened here but only find images in gas masks, figures from World War I, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and all its bad memories, a whole record’s worth, a double record in fact, and when I get home to find my family’s returned Dawn’s still wearing her coat, on her laptop, and says the bank card’s been breached.

But the houses remind me of northeast Pennsylvania where my family grew up, places Billy Joel romanticised in his song “Allentown,” and it feels like someone’s grandmother’s house with the plaintive murals and pictures, the wallpaper and pillows, paint tones caught just before grandma’s tastes went sour, to pink — and yet for a time, still feels like home.

I’m on the sidewalk outside someone’s house taking down notes and realise there’s a large dog, probably a Chow, watching me from the doorstep, sunning itself, panting, and as I walk away a hand wrenches the curtain back and a figure looks out to regard me, and I move in a direction that seems north looking for a Tesco but find a store called Iceland instead with signs reading “The Power of Frozen” I write off as marketing slang, meaning nothing, and realise it’s actually a store that specialises in just frozen stuff and still thinks it’s OK to proudly display Maxwell House, appears to have no beer — and head south to a Co-Op like the ones they had in Scotland in search of good coffee, and something to write about.

The sameness in the houses is like the developments in the States, pictures taken from space: bad turning radiuses in the doorways, card tables in the kitchen for meals, little boxes made out of ticky-tacky that all look the same.

It reminds me of the apartments where I grew up in Pennsylvania, where I took my kids so they could see where I came from and realise how lucky they are to have all we have now — and even though they don’t really get it, I wish they would.

And when I think about all we have, when I’d pause in the driveway of our house backing out each morning on the way to work and look upon it proudly, it felt like I didn’t really live there and wasn’t sure why, we had to give it up to realise what it’s worth, had to empty myself out to see what’s inside.

 

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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28 Responses to Trying to get lost in Belfast by foot

  1. A friend of ours just got tagged for 50 grand through a bank hack, but at least it was recovered. I’m sure yours will be too, but Christ, what a drag. Couple that with winter in Belfast, and you’re in some deep water.

    What do they call “ticky-tacky” in Northern Ireland?

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        I love it. Hadn’t heard the original; actually I first heard the song from a Boogie Woogie band in Besigheim called Cadillac Kolstad, from Minneapolis. And so it’s surreal and very cool to hear the original one as I think of that crazy singer on the piano singing the song to all of us drinking, and rolling his eyes in this way you just had to be there to witness, at the wine festival (four nights in a row). Thank you for sharing this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yahooey says:

        There’s a whole series of covers that were done for the show Weeds. Elvis Costello among others – I think it was one new cover per episode.

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Hadn’t heard of it but must now! Thanks again! – Bill

        Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thanks Kevin – well, 50 grand is a lot different than 5, but it’s that icky feeling of being violated that’s always so gross when someone steals from you. We’ll be OK — that song is quite good. I’ll be curious to learn more about these homes if I can. The romantic appeal is wearing off though, and we have three more nights. Really need our space and ain’t gettin’ it here (space from one another I think)…it’s like you have to coordinate getting past one another in the kitchen to get to the trash can. Us ‘mericans you know, used to our SPACE. Wouldn’t fare well in most other parts of the world. I like the lyrics to that song, for sure.

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      • “Little Boxes” you mean? Yes. It never ages, though in the U.S., at least, the little boxes are now ginormous McMansions…

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        Yes, “Little Boxes.” Funny times, ours. My wife Dawn pointed out that at the end of the film Back to the Future (set in 1985) Christopher Lloyd goes 30 years into the future, which would be now…and hence, 2015 is as different from 1985 as 85 was from 55, which is fun to noodle on.

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      • Oh yeah, we think about such things all the time. Oddly, though, I think ’15 is more like ’85 than ’85 was like ’55. I wonder if time is starting to warp or slow down or something. Or I’m just getting old. Aaiiieeeeee!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. may hem says:

    Sounds like too big a dose of reality and perspective all at once. I feel for you all.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      That’s a good way of putting it, thank you. Who needs all this perspective after all? We need a rock to crawl under….ha, but thanks we’re doing fine. “Get into grips with the ups and downs because there’s nothing in between.”

      Like

      • may hem says:

        What, no spas in Northern Ireland in which to seek refuge (or at least warmth) for an afternoon? Head to Iceland. The weather’s just as miserable but you can’t throw a rock without it landing in a thermal bath.

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Yeah, that’s good advice and I probably would, really — but Iceland is part of the Schengen states, roughly 25 countries in Western Europe, and we can’t step foot back into any of them until the end of January. We need to winter here in the UK, but it’s good, truly — does it sound like I’m practising positive self-talk, because I am? Repeat anything enough times and you’ll start to believe it, ha!

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      • may hem says:

        Haha. Fake it ’til you make it. If our right wing nut cases had managed to get enough “direct democracy” votes to pull Switzerland out of Schengen I’d be wrestling my mother-in-law for the keys to her chalet to offer you all a place to chill. Downside to everything good too, it seems. But if it don’t kill ya’ …

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        That’s cool — thank you for that offer Ms. Hem. We climbed a mountain pass out of the Austrian Alps in August, during a Catholic holiday there, and my 10-year-old peed on the Swiss side. There was a rock with an “S” on one side and an “O” for Osterreich on the other. Funny, those borders.

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  3. angusmac85 says:

    I love this read! I am an expat in the states but form Europe!

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Hi my friend! So glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting! I thought with a name like Angus Mac I was going to get a right smack in the eye for getting something wrong (as often I do), but maybe not this time! I hope you are enjoying your time in the States. The more I travel, the more I love the world and realise how similar we are, and how much I love my homeland…we saw a lot of Scotland last month, enough to know we want to go back, and we’ll be traveling throughout Ireland this month, then England through January. It’s a beautiful place here. Cheers and best to you and yours, – Bill Pearse

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  4. angusmac85 says:

    I love this article! Your journey was so well written mate! I’m from the UK and back in the US. You made me homesick!! LOL.

    Like

  5. rossmurray1 says:

    Did someone say “birthday”? Happy broke birthday, young feller!

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  6. ksbeth says:

    lots of reflection going on. while you are realizing what you left behind, don’t forget to embrace what’s in front of you )

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Happy Birthday! I’m sure you won’t forget this one.
    I like that you were trying to get lost but were unsuccessful; I have the opposite problem but have come to terms with being constantly lost and comfortable with it. Good luck getting lost next time. I can give you some pointers if you need help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thanks Jon! That’s right, we won’t forget it for sure. We’ve said the same about our holidays here: good or bad, they won’t be forgotten! Managed to get good and lost today, a bit out of my mind with it, by car, which is easier to get lost because you can go farther and with greater confidence. And be mislead by a navi. But worked my way back, stumbled on some amazing murals here as I’d hoped to, really intriguing to see the hard times, the Troubles portrayed in these murals, moving. A lot more to learn, which feels good. Appreciate your note. – Bill

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  8. walt walker says:

    Happy Belated Birthday. Just had one of those m’self a few weeks ago. They come around a lot faster these days than they used to.

    When we were selling our house in Ohio, the only thing my wife was adamant about was that we not close/move out until the girls finished school. That was her one non-negotiable, and the only thing that got screwed up. We had to close and move five days early, meaning most of our stuff got put on the truck to Texas and we stayed behind, homeless. Had to live in a neighbors house while the girls finished at school. And luckily the neighbors weren’t there (they’d gone to Germany, coincidentally). When that was done, we headed to Baton Rouge for a few days to stay with my mother, but when I had to start my new job I moved into a hotel in Dallas while we waited to close on the new house. That was a bit of a nightmare, all of that. And just a long winded way of saying, man…I feel for ya. As lucky as you are in being able to do this, and all the adventures and bonding and learning going on, I’m sure they are times when it feels like a long, had slog, too. Life. Wherever you go, it follows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thank you sir, you nailed it. It’s life, and to be expected — seems harder on the road, of course. Had a flat today, which shouldn’t be a big deal but was on account of bad navigation, frustrating, you know the rest, not worth writing about. No I haven’t read that Chekhov story yet. But I read another one that hit me square-on: you know when there’s a scene or a resolution in a story, or a chapter’s end that just hooks you? I got it, with one of those stories. I’m working through a very long “short” story I don’t like as much but think that one with the dog is coming up. Will let you know. We’re off to Dublin Friday and hope for better times there. Best, – Bill

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      • walt walker says:

        What was the name of that other one?

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        A Visit to Friends.
        I realised, in a collection of Raymond Carver poems his wife/editor Tess assembled after his death, she included some excerpts from Chekhov stories in between some of the poems, and there was a passage one of the other stories in this collection I read, that I recognised. But A Visit to Friends can be read in like 15 minutes (if you’re my wife, at least). Maybe one day if it’s the right time, do it and we’ll have a chat about it. I get it has to meet you where you are.

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