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.