The Black Man and The Mosaic Fish.

19 09 2016

queens-university-three-belfast-graham-lambert

The place buzzes with activity on this late autumn afternoon – a golden sphere of sunset igniting the red stone city that stands before me.

There are many ways to get around it but I choose the bus – a larger than life guide exuding ample amounts of Belfast humour as we make our way down roads once the subject of so much bad news – black humour, hers,  softening up the stiffness of a now excited visitor. Me.

Our double-decker turns into a street teeming with people – curves around the Waterfront – steers towards an area reflecting back black water – a chequered mix of old and modern buildings spooling past my window until, once stopped, I disembark beside a mosaic fish. Its big and its shiny. But there are no chips.

The Black Man - Belfast

The Black Man – Belfast City – Northern Ireland.

I immerse myself in the energy ignited by this burgeoning city – taste olives in Saint Georges Market, meander towards a ‘Black Man’ not yet visible, my plans to visit him, as was the case the last time, delayed by the draw of the curiosity shops lining a side street just over my shoulder and to the left.

I purchase replica models of Ian Paisley and James Nesbitt from one of them and watch them being wrapped in brown paper before I leave.

Now don’t forget. You are heading up to the see the “Black Man” a voice in my head shouts.

Five steps forward , I stop again.  This time, in order to peer into a shop with a crammed to the rafter’s window display of “nik naks”.

I’ve made it. No more shops I vow as I look up and study a teal coloured building.  It has the dubious reputation of being the most bombed building in Europe but none of that is obvious to me, it’s once shattered windows long since replaced with the shiny smoked glass ones I’m now looking at.

A confident ‘Europa Hotel’ sign protrudes above the sea of busy commuters beneath it and a not so busy me – and the lazy limousines, and the cautious bearers of coffee cups – and the promoters of “good will” near its entrance who hand out God to those who might be needing him. They insist I take a leaflet.

Next door stands the Opera House, a mini version of The Royal Albert Hall, and further along a castle, well a Castle Court, the name of a busy shopping centre on the busiest street in Belfast.

It’s brimming with shoppers heading in and heading out, all the while managing to avoid bumping into each other en route.

So what do I do? Bump into a family of four huddled over a bag of doughnuts. Trust me. ‘Sorry’.

Belfast Waterfront - The Big Fish.

Belfast Waterfront – The Big Fish.

Whilst still aiming for the “Black Man”, I’m lured yet again by another eclectic mix of shopping possibilities – and by the planetarium-style structure  that rises up before me now.

It  houses an array of international retail outlets, star struck shopping professionals praying at their temples, a scene stretching as far back as my eyes will take me.

Not much sign of a recession here if the fashion carriers borne by passers-by are anything to go by I mumble –  not a single one of them advertising a Charity Shop. With time ticking, I make myself move on.

The Albert Clock, a once tilted structure that now stands upright due to all the conservation work, appears ahead of both me and a line of pulsating street fountains.

A Labrador, provoked by their intermittent squirts, runs towards, then rushes away from the holes gushing up cold water.

He shakes himself dry at my feet, any excess water soaked up like a towel by the jeans I’m wearing.

Deciding to dry off I stop at McHugh’s – a watering hole of choice when I’m visiting.

Sat back and comfortable in a small wooden snug I sip a glass of the black stuff  and observe my surroundings above the rim of it – time and another pint softly tuning my ears into all the different accents.

But before I can truly decipher any of them its time for me to move on yet again.

I’m now back at the well-lit river bank where I’d started, cool blue light morphing the River Lagan black, the concert hall to my right like a big fat lighthouse luring people in from the chill and straight into the heart of Joni Mitchell. She’s appearing on stage tonight.

But my bus is here and it’s time to leave.

I never did get to see “The Black Man”. Too many distractions and so little time to see it all. Sorry.

But I vow to come back soon.

And it’s a vow I’ll have no problem honouring.

 

*Footnote: Who is the black man? The statue of Dr. Henry Cooke. (1788-1868), leader of Belfast’s Evangelical Presbyterian’s. Over time he has turned green.

opera-house-and-europa

 

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Mother. (Episode 36)

9 09 2016

light-bulbSure enough just as the evenings become darker all the light bulbs begin to go. Turn on, “Ping”, light bulb blown. Then we have to rummage in the garage with a torch for replacements. Inevitably the light bulbs we find are the wrong ones. Screw turn instead of bayonet or vice versa. And if we do find one it has been tried before and doesn’t work.

I’ve advised mother to throw things away if they aren’t of use anymore, but I suspect this is easier said than done. Mother is from the “Make do and mend”, generation. But how do you mend a light bulb?

Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity of searching I finally find another bayonet bulb. ‘Hurray. Found one’.

However, trying to change the blown light bulb was easier said than done. It appears to be welded to the lamp and after an impatient struggle, shatters.

With dust pan and broom in hand I clear up the glass fragments and head back to the garage for a pair of pliers. ‘Hurray, found some’.

On my knees I try applying the pliers to the remaining bit of light bulb stem. I’m perspiring profusely at this stage and mother asks if I shouldn’t take my jumper off.
I don’t answer, but through greeted teeth finally wrench the remaining piece of light bulb stem away from the lamp stand. ‘Phew’.

With the replacement light bulb in hand I ever so carefully push it down, turn it like a criminal trying to crack a bank safes code, then stand back to admire my handy work. ‘You can switch on the electricity now’.

And mother does, only to reveal a new light bulb shining a rather draining red glow across her living room.

‘You’d better draw the curtains before unwanted male callers start knocking at your door’.

Mother looks puzzled, squints at the red light and announces that she will buy some more light bulbs tomorrow. ‘But thank you for your help. It always looks so much easier when you do it’.

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Mother. (Episode 34).

7 09 2016

autumn-tree

On occasion when I visit mother random photographs appear. They’re not presented to me directly but put in places where I’m likely to be. The side table, by the kettle, the mantelpiece and so on. They always come as a bit of surprise because they cast me back to a time or place without prior warning. Some evoking a smile, like the one of my son as a toddler, face alive, childlike wonderment, trying to say ‘cheese’, eyes dazzled by the flash. Some a reminder of how time flies, two children  eating ice creams, building sand castles.  My sister and I. The innocence.

Inevitably mother will ask me whether I’ve seen such and such a photograph. I’ll nod, and a conversation will ensue about times past. Its happened quite a lot in the past few weeks, and when I think about, it tends to happen every autumn. Must be something to do with the shorter days, the colder air – our lush green surroundings turning gold, yellow, red then brown.

In truth mother has boxes and boxes of photographs and we keep promising that one day we will organise them into albums. But for now, it will just have to be a case of random photographs produced as and when mother finds them. I in turn will come across them whenever mother puts one out, and be transported back in time quite unexpectedly, but for the most part quite happily, to which ever year or decade they take me to.

 








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