Trending Tuesday- There wasn’t a chair- Sherries Always Right.

21 09 2016

Stories have connected us to others since they were told through oral narrations around a campfire. It is with great pleasure that I connect you with… Trending Tuesday There Wasn’t a Chair — Sherrie’s Alw

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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

 

city-hall-and-belfast-eye

 

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A magical mid-summer evening…..

8 09 2016

fireworks

I hadn’t expected to see cyclists being ordered to dismount their bikes.
Not in a country renowned for its cyclists anyway.
Somehow we had managed to slip through a police cordon, unauthorised access allowing us to mingle with fluorescent jacketed police officers and avant-garde TV crews.

All eyes were on Restaurant Nimb, white façade, fairy lights, a red and white flag rolling in the breeze directly across the road from the main train station. Two helicopters above it suggested that someone famous was about to arrive. Someone whispered ‘The Russian president’.

But the aroma of French hotdogs, mustard, ketchup and fresh chopped onion got the better us, two specimens chased down by the creamiest, coolest chocolate milk.
“Its nearly 7.30.”

We were running late, but still managed to make it to Tivoli’s main entrance on time.
“Is that … no surely not.”
“Dad?”
“Daughter.”

Turkish Pepper clouds drizzled over smudged Neapolitan sky, Pierrot on stage watched over by Tivoli Guardsman.

Hans Christian was alive and well in this leafy part of Copenhagen, as were my memories of it.

Café Groften looked as it did the first time I visited in 1983, a first acquaintance with snaps inducing an overwhelming desire to sleep, much to the amusement of my hosts – and a waiter who thumped a bottle down on the table right in front of me. “Drink this, it’ll sober you up.” I remember it being a bottle of almost frozen Tuborg.

We settled for a more sober dinner this time. Pickled herring on spongy brown rye bread iced with butter, mineral water, a catch up conversation only briefly interrupted by shrieks from nearby visitors enjoying the rides.

The sun faded, a rainbow appeared over the boating lake, a mid summer evening fire lit in the middle of it – a singer, lungs full, standing on the bridge spanning its width and singing three Danish songs. We sipped coffee from Joe and the Juice and lapped up the atmosphere.

Up a few stairs we were inside the night club – jazz, a reedy voice, oozing from its wood sash windows. Inside, a sauna, smoke filled air, a wet bar, a swarm of people and a distinct aroma of fermenting hops.

Fireworks cascading over the roof of the Tivoli concert hall ended our reunion, but not the memories of it. A truly magical mid- summer evening experience.

 

tivoli

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Aussie American who quit job to cycle around Ireland..

8 09 2016

queens-arcade-belfastHi All

I see no weddings on the horizon for either me or any member of my family but if anyone else is planning an Irish wedding why not contact this adventurous Aussie American. I love her spirit and I know she will have an unforgettable time. Just remember the rain wear and the puncture repair kit. Have a great trip and watch out for the potholes. :0)

http://indo.ie/aEvS3040oQI





Falling backwards…..

5 09 2016

Desert Pyriamid

Walls of Turquoise cast illusions of coolness onto two tired travellers’ faces – our tired faces now drinking a third mint tea and debating whether or not to have a fourth when the waiter launched a question at us. ‘Where are you from?’
Ignoring Sherry’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt I tried to guess the right answer. ‘Err Switzerland?’
‘Switzerland?’
‘Err Europe?’
‘Is he your husband?’
‘No, boyfriend’, her answer morphing his brown eyes red. He was now looking at her through flared nostrils.
‘Why did you come here?’.
‘We are exploring the Middle East. Do you travel much?’
Silence before the waiter turned a slapped cheek expression towards the doorway. ‘A man was shot dead … there… yesterday’.

I waited in vain for Sherry to respond, huge myopic eyes now scouring the floor for evidence.
‘Did you know him?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘So sorry for you loss but we have to leave now. Bus.’

We bowed our way backwards towards the exit, ‘al salamu alaykum’, legs two feet in front of torso’s as we scooted up the road and around the corner – an out door stock exchange thwarting an attempt to move further – desperation mobilising an idea – my camera, focussed on no one in particular, parting the crowds like a  scene from a biblical movie.

But dogs still assessed us for meaty tenderness as we went, young boys begging us for cigarettes along the way, the young girl offering us flower petals handed  a coin or two before we’d emerge from the mayhem.

We reached the junction, a bus shelter just ahead, a water pump to our left, and to the right a rumbling noise… a screech… a tank – the officer sitting on the very rim of it aiming a gun at my forehead. ‘You cannot stay… you must leave. It’s too dangerous’, his outstretched hand yanking Sherry up before she’d uttered a single sound – me close behind, complaining, settling beside her, right next to the gun turret.

We couldn’t have looked more conspicuous if we’d tried, and I was already regretting the yellow shirt. Were there snipers on the roof tops? If someone threw a grenade at me should I throw it back or just say a hurried prayer? Was “Swiss” the correct answer?

Taking a wide turn right, the tank trundled through compound gates, hundreds of soldiers within it busy training for … they looked resolute.

Now in the officers mess room, and forced, against my instincts, to move away from Sherry in order to accommodate the number of soldiers surrounding her, I recalled the times Sherry’s’ flirting had dug us out of a hole. I didn’t intervene. But a Chief Officer did. ‘We are driving you to Jaffa. You can go anywhere from there but do not come back.’

Exhausted from the efforts of trying to pull our shoes off we fell backwards onto the bed. It was more of an imperial relic than a hotel but at least it had a jug of water, a bowl and a foreign smelling towel – and a hole in the ceiling disclosing an eerily black sky.

I squeezed Sherry’s hand. If flirting with danger, and surviving it, could heighten my senses this much, make me feel this much alive, then I’d begun to understand why people bungee jumped and skydived.

Recollections of yesterday still electrified us this morning, but enough was enough.  We’d take a flight back to London within the hour, and as advised by our military escort, wouldn’t be coming back.

 

Jet Plan

 

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Dublin’s Fair City x 30

4 09 2016

dublin 2

Things to do in Dublin before you add any thing else to your bucket list.:0)

And you will definitely live longer if you see them.

http://indo.ie/WGCG303SoIv

dublin

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Dublins Fair City

4 09 2016

dublin 2

Things to do in Dublin before you add any thing else to your bucket list.:0)

And you will definitely live longer if you see them.

http://indo.ie/WGCG303SoIv

dublin

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Falling Backwards.

4 09 2016

Desert Pyriamid

Walls of Turquoise cast illusions of coolness onto two tired travellers’ faces.
We were now drinking our third mint tea and debating whether or not to have a fourth when the waiter launched a question in our direction. ‘Where are you from?’
Ignoring Sherry’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt I tried to think of the right answer. ‘Err Switzerland?’
‘Switzerland?’
‘Yes Europe’.
‘Is he your husband?’
‘No, boyfriend’, Sherry’s answer icing up the waiters eyes balls, but it didn’t matter anyway as he was now looking at her through his nostrils.
‘And why did you come here?’.
‘We are exploring the Middle East. Do you travel much?’
Silence before the waiter turned a slapped face expression towards the doorway. ‘A man was shot dead … there… yesterday’.

I waited in vain for Sherry to respond, her large myopic eyes now scouring the floor for evidence.
‘Did you know him?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘So sorry for you loss but we have to leave now’.

We bowed our way backwards to the exit, ‘al-salāmu alaykum’, legs two feet in front of our torso’s as we scooted up the road and around the corner, an open air stock exchange thwarting any attempts to move much further. But desperation nurtured an idea. I found my camera, focussed it on no one in particular, and like a scene from a biblical movie crowds parted. Dogs assessed us for meaty tenderness as we made slow progress, young boys begging us for cigarettes all the way, a young girl offering flower petals handed a few coins before we finally emerged from the mayhem.

We’d reached the junction, a bus shelter just ahead, a water pump to our left and to the right a … what… a tank. An officer sat on the very rim of it, a gun aimed at my forehead. ‘You cannot stay… you must leave. It’s too dangerous’, his outstretched hand yanking Sherry up the side of the tank before she’d uttered a sound. I soon followed, sat beside her at the front, and right next to the gun turret.

We couldn’t have been more conspicuous if we’d tried and I was already regretting the yellow shirt. Were there snipers on the roofs? If someone threw a grenade at me should I throw it back or just say a hurried prayer?

The tank took a wide turn right, through compound gates, the hundreds of soldiers within it busy training for … what?
Now in the mess and forced, against my instincts, to move away from Sherry in order to accommodate the number of soldiers surrounding her, I recalled the numerous times Sherry’s’ flirting had dug us out of a hole. I didn’t intervene. But a Chief Officer did. ‘We are driving you to Jaffa. You can go anywhere from there but do not come back.’

Exhausted from the efforts of trying to pull our shoes off we fell backwards onto the bed. It was more of an imperial relic than a hotel but it did at least have a jug of water and a bowl – and a hole in the ceiling. It revealed an unusually black sky.

I squeezed Sherry’s hand. If flirting with danger, and surviving it, can make me feel this much alive I mused, then I would do it all again tomorrow.

But I didn’t. We didn’t.

The very next day we took a long haul flight home to London, and as advised by our military escort didn’t come back.

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Mother (Episode 30)

3 09 2016

Things I didn't know about mother. (Part 25)

I sensed even before we took off that this was going to be an eventful flight. The omens were there from the minute mother tried to fasten half a seat belt from a vacant seat into half of her seat belt – veins bulging, eyes popping, as mother nearly succeeded in bending metal. A late arriving passenger pointed out her mistake. ‘Ooooh I am sorry’. I focussed on the wing outside and tried to remain oblivious to what was going on right next to me.

However any effort on my part to keep a low profile became seriously impaired when mother showered at least three passengers with peanuts fired off from a snack size bag burst completely down the middle. It’s very difficult to clean up peanuts in economy class unless of course you are a contortionist, so we didn’t try. Unfortunately mothers accident caused one of the cabin crew to skate from first class down to the rear end of the aircraft in record time, causing one of the passengers to ask if there was an emergency.

With apologies made and earphones purchased I shrank back into my undersized seat and tried to immerse myself into ‘Mr Poppers Penguins’, shown on a screen tilted towards me by the passenger in front of me. But it wasn’t long before mother was tapping me on the shoulder mouthing that she couldn’t hear anything. I leaned across and followed mothers head phone lead down to her arm rest and discovered that she had pushed the connector into a random crevice.

Anyway once mother had been properly connected I managed to enjoy almost twenty minutes of movie watching in relative peace. Bliss .That is until mother starting laughing. The first time I remember mother laughing in public was in a cinema showing ‘What’s Up Doc?’ Mother would laugh, and less than half a second later the whole audience would laugh, and so it continued throughout the entire film. I could never quite figure out if it was because mother saw the joke coming before every body else did, or whether every one else was laughing at mother laughing. She does after all have a very infectious laugh. Anyway this time the only person laughing was mother, not sure about what, who became so hot and bothered that she decided to switch the air vents on, pressing the ‘Service’ button instead. Seconds later the cabin crew arrived with a moist towel in a pair of tongs, one waving it in front of mothers nose as if in an attempt to calm her down by hypnotising her,  the other one trying to flatten it across mothers face. By this time the passenger to the right of mother had left his seat, we assumed to go to the toilet, but he never did return.

I nervously eyed up all the emergency escape exits to see if any had been left ajar, whilst mother took advantage of the situation and pocketed the missing passengers unopened bag of Penn State pretzels. “They’ll help to keep my energy levels up while we wait to go through customs”.

“A good idea” I said, “But this time I’m opening the bag”.

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Forever Young – Still Crazy.

2 09 2016

One day I stopped, looked around me, and with 19 year old eyes, could only see people sitting behind desks waiting for their pensions. I panicked. Surely there had to be more to life than this. Luckily for me there was.
My boss was understanding, and knowledgeable – and from behind a large oak desk in an executive suite in central London informed a rather shy young man about a volunteer movement, an ideal, and a different way of life. To me it sounded perfect – an opportunity to escape the humdrum of every day life, to experience new things, new ways, new horizons.
With his assurance that I could have my job back in a years time I headed off, case packed, stomach full of excitement – a head full of warnings from those who knew me vaguely gnawing at my brain.
And suddenly I was here, sunburnt face, sun bleached hair, (long), nervous tummy – jet lagged legs climbing concrete stairs in anticipation of what might just lie ahead.
The building looked new. Two story, white, rooms to the left of the corridor, a shower at one end, a class room on the ground floor, and a place to collect work clothes, cigarettes, chocolate and pocket money. Over night I had become a kibbutznik, a volunteer farmer- the great outdoors beckoning. How exciting!

When you are still a growing young man food is very important, and the dining room didn’t disappoint. So much to choose from, so little time. But I did my best in the 15 or so minutes I had to eat Porridge, bread, fruit and yoghurt- drink coffee, tea, and ice water – all consumed with an insatiable appetite. ‘Come, we are waiting’. And so I was forced to stop, still chewing as I followed a swarthy man, muscles bulging from a dark blue work shirt, down dining room steps to the awaiting canvass topped flat bed truck.

‘My Sweet Lord’ cackled from a speaker hanging loosely from inside the drivers cab as we glanced at each other with dazed, nervous eyes – bodies dressed in inappropriate clothing, bobbing up and down on a dirt track journey to an unknown place of work- the already hot day heating up to boiling point as we arrived in the fields beneath The Gilboa Mountains – their fat mounds bulging into impossibly blue sky as we sank further and further into the shade of the tree dense Jezreel valley.

Grapefruits, big fat fruit eventually stamped with the words ‘Jaffa’ – once we had filled a very large chest with them that is – hung low from trees struggling to bear their weight.
And so we were handed the tools necessary to relieve them of their burden, instructed by our leader in how to clip the fruit at their stalks, never to pull them free, and then on how to place these lush juicy spheres into the wooden chests provided without bruising them.
We picked in silence, our minder keeping a close eye on surrounding mountain slopes with a chunky pair of industrial binoculars meanwhile. Occasionally he would announce that we were being watched, his observations turning our heads to try to see what he had seen. But did we care? Of course not. We were young, immortal, on a great big adventure – our pioneering enthusiasm only waning when city limbs flagged and homesick stomachs rumbled.

Back at the dining room we tossed bare chicken bones into stainless steel pots soon filled to overflowing, gulped ice water, placed dishes onto trays on a conveyor belt trundling off into the distance before we ourselves trundled back up the path to our Ulpan.
Friendships began to form, language proving not to be a barrier in our enthusiasm to learn about each others cultures – why we were here- who we liked and didn’t like on the Kibbutz. Some made us welcome we agreed, even became our friends, others looked down on us. And some even shouted at us in a language we hadn’t learnt yet.
But try we did, aided and abetted by a large busty teacher, a woman bursting with enthusiasm and given easily to laughing – especially at our attempts to pronounce impossibly sounding words. She paid no respect to personal space either, her proximity often causing me to blush. But in truth she only had eyes for Steve, a  Canadian, a brutish hunk with red neck charm and very little interest in learning. Was I jealous?
Trips were arranged, a bus organised, a desire to teach us about the country we had come to visit taking us to Massada, Kiryat Shmona, to a bunker beneath a kibbutz on the border with neighbouring Lebanon. Families would have to flee here when under attack we were informed, a reality causing me to shiver despite the red hot humid day.
But in truth we were the luckiest people on earth – working the land, bathing in sunshine, feasting on fresh organic produce long before it had become fashionable.
And then of course there were the huge water melons devoured whilst we chatted, the friendships, the getting to know people from completely different back grounds – the partially shaded Ulpan lawns an adopted meeting place where we could get together and set the world to right. And swat flies, and look upwards, drawn by the deafening sound of jets flying low above us. We’d always assumed that they were friendly, and continued with our banter untroubled as they disappeared over a hazed horizon.

Saying goodbye was hard, but after a year and a bit it was time for me to explore new horizons. And so I left, full of knowledge and different perspectives, healthy, strong, and with an overwhelming sense that I had been a part of something special.

I never did return to my job in London – ended up in the United States instead. But that is an entirely different story.
But what I would like to say now, that I didn’t get to say then to all those people who supported me, laughed and cried with me, is this: ‘Thank you for a wonderful experience and for all of your kindness and generosity. Good luck and every success with whatever you are engaged in now. Where ever you may be, I hope the memories bring you just as much joy as they still do me.

Happily remembered, never to be forgotten, long live the days of the pioneering spirit.

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