Titanic Days

My Cousin Tom comments that the Titanic was fine when it left Belfast. The liner was built in Belfast at the Harland and Wolfe shipyard. Last summer I finally got around to visiting the revamped Titanic Quarter and was very impressed. Well worth a visit. It reminds you of the scale of the project, the pride the city had in its shipbuilding, the number of people involved, as well as the awful loss of life.

This memorial to the disaster stands outside Belfast's City Hall.

 

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The Arrival of Spring

In the short time I have been away winter has begun to recede and make way for spring. Walking Westie Boy the past couple of days my heart has lifted to see the snowdrops and crocuses in gardens and by the roadside, fat lambs in the fields and yellow gorse in the lanes. The days are noticeably longer, dwindling to soft greys and blues as the sun streaks the clouds with pink.

 

While I looked, Westie Boy sniffed. He may have missed the rabbit that hopped ahead of us, but his nose twitched at burrows, his head disappeared down the entrances to larger animals' abodes, and we had a difference of opinion about the wisdom of rolling in cow dung and fox poo.

 

Ewes lifted their faces as we passed, keeping a watchful eye. Their lambs, less wary, bounced about them, or nuzzled at their bellies. Farmers were making the most of the extra daylight, working in the fields. Once the elderly golden retriever at the bottom of the hill rushed out barking, but when we passed on later walks, he slept on on the porch step.

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Of Cousins, Culture, Colds and My Cat

Crumbs, Friday already, just the weekend and then I fly home. Mind, I should be back in five weeks to enjoy a weekend of culture at the Heaney Homeplace with Cousin’s friend Ann. I have booked my flights this morning, and am texting and whatsapping to arrange cat care for my boy.

Last night we went to see Cousin’s brother, my cousin Tom, who has just retired as a church minister. He and his wife have their hands full packing up the contents of a house that has been home for some twenty years, finding somewhere new to live and visiting their eldest son daily in the hospital where he has been for nearly five months.

Tom was keen to offer me sets of books he will no longer have room for, or maybe I’d like the imposing and very fine sideboard his father thought would be perfect in a rectory. It wasn’t just the fact that the luggage allowance on Easyjet precludes such items that made my refusal more prompt than diplomatic; my own home is full to bursting.

The new house sounds promising, but it needs a lot of attention. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that the deal goes through quickly and the most disruptive work can be done before they move in. Retired Church of Ireland clergy do not get magnificent pensions, and this particular cleric has been giving his money to good causes for years.

So our talk ranged through family memories, Young Tom’s anticipated move to the Brain Injury Unit to begin his rehabilitation, removing polystyrene tiles from ceilings and the merits of plasterboard, whether their two cats may move to the country and live at Cousin’s while their dog (don’t stroke her, she may try to bite you) will move with them.

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Back on the Bus to Belfast

Back on the bus to Belfast. It would be fun to continue in this alliterative way, but the people I'm meeting have names that begin with F and J.

 

Fiona, known to WordPress readers as Speccy, and I have met once before by the Europa bus station. That was a summer's day. It's February now, and chill winds whistle and find unprotected gaps in clothing, seeking out the spaces between glove and sleeve, sneaking down the back of a collar and testing the advertised thermal qualities of underwear.

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Saturday

Day five of my holiday (or four if you don’t count Tuesday which was when I travelled) and this is my first post. I am sitting on a warm bus heading into Belfast and just beyond to visit Uncle Bill and his wife, and to go out to lunch with them and their elder son. I’m armed with a book for my uncle, chocolates for my aunt, and nothing for my cousin.

I have my ‘phone and its charger as since Monday the battery has starting running down very rapidly. I hope there is a power point on the bus home, or I may not be able to tell Cousin I am back at Toomebridge, and the walk to her house in the dark is not something I should like to attempt.

In contrast with my journey from London to Belfast n the summer, this time the ‘plane was half empty and we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. It was still early afternoon, so we reached Cousin’s in daylight where I was greeted by Westie Boy and made Westie Puppy’s acquaintance. She belongs to one of Cousin’s daughters, and is a temporary resident while her toilet training is completed. She’s a rough and tumble scruff at the minute, and it’s hard to imagine her as a townie sophisticate in Belfast, sitting primly by her owners while they enjoy a cup of coffee in the city. Though she does love to sit beside you, to lie on your feet, so that bit will be fine, but I think we’ll have to get her used to the brush before her first public appearances. Continue reading

Death and the New Year

There's a piece in today's paper describing 2016 as the Year of Death, especially the deaths of those who died too young. Admittedly Debbie Reynolds wasn't in the first flush of youth, but waking up to read that she had died just a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, was shocking.

I saw Star Wars back in the day. I became aware of Carrie Fisher, but I can't say I followed her career. It is only in recent years when she has been a regular and extremely entertaining guest on Graham Norton's shows that I have taken any interest in her. She came across there as funny, self-aware, warm and almost unforgivingly honest. Graham Norton obviously loved her, and there was always a relaxed rapport between them.

The Year of Death began with Aunt, who died 14th January. In the same week Alan Rickman and David Bowie died. Both were people I admired, but it's fair to say it was Aunt's death that affected me, and continues to affect me, the most.

The other death that made the greatest impact on me was that of Jo Cox, murdered by a right wing extremist in the run up to the referendum. The reverberations of her death are still echoing, and will continue to echo as we go into 2017.

The referendum question was a simple one of stay or leave, but the far right immediately seized on it and hijacked the out vote as one for anti-immigration, nationalist policies. Shamefully, the Tory government in the shape of Theresa May, immediately responded by pursuing these lines, doing the work of the far right for them, making speeches that encourage disunity, saying people are right to fear immigrants accepting lower wages and thus taking 'their' jobs. (Surely it is the buying public wanting ever cheaper prices, and bosses seeking a labour market who will accept less pay that is to blame here.)

If I have followed the arguments correctly, the Tories are worried about UKIP's share of the vote, and are clothing themselves in these ugly arguments to retain power. In this they are supported by various newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail, a paper that continues to describe Jo Cox' murderer as a person with mental health issues, rather than the white supremacist he has been shown to be.

The Tories are playing a very dangerous game. This is appeasement. You give the far right a bit of what it wants, use its rhetoric, and think you can rein it in, contain it. Not so distant history shows this does not work. Having taken one bite out of democracy, the far right is unlikely to declare itself satisfied. It will come back for more and yet more. It will flex its muscles, strap on the metaphorical knuckle dusters, behave like a bullying colossus, all the while claiming it represents ordinary people. Continue reading

Christmas Eve 2016

Christmas Eve, the candles are lit, fairy lights twinkle, the choir of Westminster Abbey sings carols quietly in the background, the Christmas cards from friends and family deck the sideboard, tops of paintings, and book table, MasterB is paying misdirected carnal attentions towards his newest toy, a yellow feather boa that Octavia brought him from Melbourne.

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Little Innocent

I know there’s a term for this, people who are turned on by inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags, which though odd and somewhat disturbing, is probably no less odd than people who develop phobias about inanimate objects such as lamp posts or handbags. How common a condition these lusts are in cats I don’t know, and why this toy should have sparked such desires in MasterB I have no idea.

I’m spending the evening at home, just me and MasterB. This morning was work, last night nibbles and drinks here with some neighbours. I should have asked more people, but the flat is small and there’s limited seating. Reinhild came before joining her husband at the theatre; my lovely neighbour Lawrence who broke the news to me that he is moving in a month; Charlie (Mr Celia); B&J: Celia a bit later.

Charlie’s arrival was the signal for MasterB to go into hiding. He’s accepted Lawrence, but is deeply suspicious of Charlie. J was bereft. I have a feeling my invitation was only accepted as she wanted to see Himself again. It is a humbling experience to be less socially successful than one’s cat. She tried coaxing him out with biscuits, no luck. Eventually I opened the drawer in which he had secreted himself under the bed and he hopped out. Little Star, he not only conquered his fear of Charlie, he actually rubbed his face against Charlie’s feet, and spent the rest of the evening with us.

December has passed in a blur, hence the lack of blog posts and comments. I finally downloaded my holiday pictures, and looking at them has brought details of my trip flooding back. I probably say “when I was in Australia..” annoyingly often, and I know I should like to return there. Equally I should like to return to Singapore.

Here and in the US, as well as other countries in the west, we are increasingly seeing the politics of division on the rise; there is much talk about our differences, less about our similarities. More in Common became a rallying cry in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox by a right wing extremist. In Singapore I saw diverse communities living together in harmony. As a white westerner I was just another ethnic minority, accepted and welcomed. When I looked online at reasons why the crime levels in Singapore are so low, I found articles citing the heavy penalties for anti social behaviour: ten year prison sentences for graffiti for example. The slip of paper handed me by immigration when I entered the country warned of the death penalty for drug smuggling. But it didn’t feel to me as though Singaporeans were only behaving because they feared the consequences of stepping out of line, and I reckon there must be more carrot than stick that makes this society work. People seemed to have a real pride in Singapore, they wanted me, a vistor, to feel welcome. When the rain poured down I was offered the shelter of an umbrella to cross the street; people smiled at me and I smiled back.

One of the things that caught my eye was the Art Connector, a series of seats celebrating fifty years of independence, and all quoting lines from the National Pledge which says, in the four official languages of Singapore; English Chinese, Malay and Tamil:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity
and progress for our nation.

The Art Connector

The Art Connector

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Heathrow to Home

There is something about doing a journey in reverse that makes it feel as if you rewinding a holiday. Would I reach home to find November was just starting? In the event, no, but the reality of here, made there, which had been here the previous day, curiously unreal.

The plane had Christmas decorations, and Heathrow was full of festive decs too, if somewhat low on the festive cheer. After a bit of a battle to get into a lift to the bus station, I pulled on my gloves and zipped up my jacket against the cold of a London that had embraced winter in my absence.

The journey home was uneventful; bus, train, taxi. I lumbered up the stairs to my flat where no one was surprised to see me. The cat/flat sitters had been exchanging texts with me since I landed so were obviously expecting me, but MasterB seemed remarkably unphased by my reentry into his life. He was engrossed in a biscuit game with B, who could have an alternative career training cats.He gave me a nod, rubbed against me and resumed his game. It was a while before I got the nose rub, but it came. I know people who say their cats ignore them when they come home. That has never been my experience. Continue reading

The Penultimate Leg parts 2, 3 and 4.

One film, a meal and two hours in. I’m sticking with the French films, and coincidentally this one is set in Provence as well, just up the road from Marseille at Aix. Retour Chez Ma Mère was great. For starters, and this is almost all you need to know as a recommendation, it stars Josiane Balasko. Two of Marseille‘s actors were also in it, so it is telling me I am behind with French cinema’s current actors. Patou, if you are reading this, I’d happily see this film again on the big screen.

I should probably try for a snooze before I embark on my second film.

*****

I started on a second French film, title already forgotten, but it included the word diable, and it quickly became apparent it was pretty hellish sexist crap. So, abandoned that and watched About a Boy. My snooze had not been very successful, and I hadn’t great expectations of this Nick Hornby offering starring Hugh Grant. Maybe I should just go the whole hog for the next few months and only see films starring Hugh Grant, because actually yet again, I really enjoyed it. Now fairly determined to wear myself out to the point where sleep was the only option, I continued my cinematic journey with Love and Friendship, and just for a change, starring Kate Beckinsdale rather than Hugh Grant. I seem to remember this bombed at the cinema. I can see why, though I should quickly clarify that having stuck with it, I did enjoy it. Beautifully filmed, it starts rather slowly, there are sumptuous exteriors and interiors, and the humour is subtle. At times it feels like it is being a bit too clever, and the assemblage of characters at the start with subtitled explanations of when they were, rather overwhelming.

*****

I have steadfastly sat with my eyes closed under the eye mask, a fleece blanket wrapped round my knees, my headphones in place and dozed for around three hours. There may have been a few minutes of actual sleep in there somewhere, but not many. I should like someone to invent the following: an inflatable footstool that packs to a tiny size that I could put my feet on so that they are at about the same level as my hips; an airline seat in Economy class that allows one to sleep on one’s side without anything digging in. I did the long leg on my outward journey at night, and I think that helped me to sleep. I am fairly resigned now to feeling pretty ghastly by the time I land. Still, I am popping the Jet Zones every two hours in the hope of warding off the worst of jet lag, so fingers crossed.

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The Penultimate Leg part 1

I was going to call this the last leg, but that will be Heathrow to Home, and even this penultimate leg divides in separate parts however you look at it.

I was early to bed and earlyish to rise. With only five Singaporean dollars to my name this morning, the hotel blow out buffet was never an option. But I had a very good vegetarian selection at a nearby Indian café last night for a princely almost five dollars, and had the sense to ask if they did breakfasts. The answer being in the affirmative, once washed and my bags rearranged for the nth time, I set off.

It was obviously a breakfast venue popular with locals too.

You may not find Dynamic Dining in any of the eating guides to Singapore, but I recommend it for good food and friendly service. There was a slight hiccough with my coffee which was served already sweetened, but my food was great from the word go. It turns out one of the cooks used to work for P&O as a chef. The before and after pictures of my meal tell their own story.

 

This chap arrived by motorbike just as I was paying.

Then back to the hotel and a quick trip to the eighth floor for some last views of Singapore.

 

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