‘No hard shoulder’

Scenic route between Edinburgh and southwest Scotland

Scenic route between Edinburgh and southwest Scotland

Little things, like the fact they didn’t leave trash liners here at our flat in Belfast, or I need a different key for the back door to dump the coffee grounds in the ash bucket, or the fact my man boobs came out right on cue on my 45th birthday the way the seasons sometimes do (like they know the date) — little things get in your shoe. Driving around Belfast, me and Joy Division, murals of happy faces who died in Hunger Strikes, the importance of colours, phrases in Gaelic, raised fists, guns, dates, rhymes, children, “history hangs heavy.” Sitting in the reception area waiting for my tire to get fixed, they spell tire tyre here. Listening to thick accents answering the phone: “hold on two wee seconds.” When I pay and ask what the problem was, he says a wee screw. A wee screw can fuck your day if you let it, best not.

Lily asks why everyone looks sunken here, she says. It’s just the waitress, but I think she’s married to the owner, and all of us have dark circles around our eyes, ours from not enough vegetables or sleep, or exercise — theirs, who knows, probably worse off than us, less civil war and massacres outside Seattle than here, in Belfast. Our murals look different.

I top up the Lycamobile dual SIM card that works in the UK, but not south of Northern Ireland in the rest of Ireland, everywhere else — more divisions. I realise the curbs are painted red, white and blue for a reason, and the flag outside our flat is the Northern Ireland flag, the Ulster Flag, a red hand inside a star upturned to a crown, and there are British flags here but no traditional Irish flags of green, orange and white I’ve seen — we hardly scrape the surface in understanding all the pain and conflict here, watch old newsreels and documentaries, but it’s not something you can summarise easily, it goes back to 1690, probably earlier. And it makes sense to me now, why I got a hard time wearing orange the last time I was in Ireland, in the other part: orange really means something here.

But out getting lost, I stumble on a neighbourhood that looks good at last, and later return for lunch, and they’ve got American craft beers inside gift baskets and a bar that looks just like a place in Portland — and though it’s English beers mainly, I get one called “West Coast IPA,” and ask what coast they’re talking about, and sure enough, it’s ours in the States.

Bent like a flattened bug on our bed while Lily reads Jane Eyre to me on the iPad, an edition from 1898, set in the 1840s, I’m seeing the last place we stayed in Scotland, a chauffeur’s flat adjoined to a castle, where they invited us to visit but we didn’t because it felt better just staying inside, we only caught clips of scenes inside their large windows, tapestries on the walls, the cook in a uniform bent over a sink — a place so remote we could identify with it in a way and feel at home there, as it wasn’t putting on airs as a home, it sort of needed us more than we needed it. Decorated a fake tree and left it in the corner for the next guests, wrote in the guestbook, put a URL to my blog for kicks.

Watched the film Back to the Future here, where Christopher Lloyd time-travels forward 30 years at the end, into whatever 2015 would be to them then, in 1985. And we are the same distance now as 1955 was to 1985.

It sometimes feels like time can bend and move faster, depending on how you spend it, or feel like it was only yesterday. And for good or bad, we don’t really change much: we get better at some things, and the rest stays about the same. History is as much fiction as anything else, cropped, cut, retouched, with clues to what the future will hold if you know how to read it.


Belfast has some of the most notable political murals in all of Europe, according to Wikipedia — read more here.


Categories: musings, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. “Failte” is one of the only Gaelic words I know. I often wondered whether Irish Gaelic differed from Scottish Gaelic. I could look that up, I suppose, but I think I’d rather keep wondering.
    Man boobs…


    • I understand it’s different. And I’ve seen that word, written on the pavement of an illustrated road leading into a pinpoint on the horizon, with the phrase “No one should have to live under sectarian harassment,” paraphrased. Too lazy to look up what I wrote down. Need some down dog on these boobs.


  2. What, you mean your wife didn’t get you a mansierre for your birthday?! (Or a Bro…).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some call them moobs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. happy belated birthday bill. hope you are enjoying writing your own bit of history.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ireland’s cultural background seems so alien to me, and yet it’s just a hop across the water. It will take a long time for those scars to heal, but I think the young people there just want to live their lives, unfettered by sectarianism – at least that’s what it seems. It may still be a shaky peace but the longer it holds, the more likely it is to survive.


    • Weird last night to watch the coverage and commentary on the England decision to into Syria, and to hear the N. Ireland perspective on local news (and the gaudy headlines this morning, “IT’S WAR!” and “CAM’S WAR!”). Thanks for the inspiration on the idea that “history hangs heavy,” and to have a look at these murals here — we’re heading to Dublin tomorrow for a week. Cheers Lynn — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, horrible times. I keep thinking / trying not to think about the poor civilians in Syria who are suffering now. Perhaps a less turbulent historical perspective in Dublin? I know people who’ve had some terrifyingly good times there 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fantasized about some teaching post at Trinity College today.

        Liked by 1 person

      • With access to that library? I don’t blame you at all for that daydream. I’ve only ever seen it in pictures, but it looks amazing. Something from Hogwarts or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – though, of course in the Discworld, the librarian is an orangutan …


  6. Oh, I love the idea of different murals. It sums it up so beautifully.


    • Thanks Dina — it’s been fun to stumble upon the murals here. They’re really engaging; weird coming around a turn (often lost) and happening upon something so rich in history and meaning. I like it. Hope you’re well. – Bill


  7. So…when did you leave Germany behind for Ireland? I must have missed a few posts during Nanowrimo. Mea culpa.


    • Hi and good on you for buckling down in November. We left Germany toward the end of October and spent our November in Scotland, this December in Ireland and next month, England. Good times! In Dublin now, by way of Belfast. Better here, in general. Than Belfast, but maybe that’s just my attitude and the change of weather. Best to not blame Belfast, they’ve had enough troubles.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “A wee screw can fuck your day…”

    Submitted for your approval from our pal Bukowski:

    it’s not the large things that
    send a man to the
    madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
    murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
    no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
    that send a man to the



    • My lands, I hadn’t read that one. But I like, through association (or do I?) to think I could be channeling Bukowski with that flat tire/small things thing — or was he channeling me, more like it? Got approached by an old guy on the street today with my kids who had one of these growths on his nose that was like its own nose sprouting on the bigger one, that was a kind of Buke-nose, that goes round and limp like a balloon from too much booze, not enough sleep, whatever else makes noses go deformed (bar fights?). Thanks for renewing my interest; I’ve been eyeing some of his titles lately – one “On Cats” they have at our bookstore here in Dublin. My favourite I read was Ham on Rye, which an ex borrowed and never gave back, that doesn’t seem like something Bukowski would tolerate.


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