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.
I rarely have the chance to mooch about Belfast alone, and when I do I am struck by the buildings that speak of the city's past wealth and importance. Take this one for example. My little Olympus doesn't have a great zoom, so it's hard to appreciate all the details. It was the Scottish Provident Building, and has any number of references to Belfast and the things that made the city and surroundings: ship building and related industries, spinning, printing.
It overlooks City Hall which is pretty impressive in its own right. Note the statue of Queen Victoria. Surely the most memorialised monarch that ever lived.
The Courthouse is also something of a statement.
I like the statue of the Speaker.
I was aiming for Big Fish. It's more than a while since I have been up close to it.
When Mother saw the Harland and Wolfe gantries from the window of the 'plane her to excitement was palpable. To her, and to so many returners, they were and remain a powerful symbol of home.
Like London, Belfast grew to importance as a port, so the river plays a central role.
Nearby there are buildings that remind us of past trades.
The shopping arcades hint at a time of gracious shopping, when the democracy of pound shops and Lidl was not even dreamed of.
Cousin is watching a programme called Suits where the most commonly used line by any character is I don’t give a shit about…. If there were a swear box it would be getting quite full. As dialogue goes, I feel it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Do the script writers have these words on a clipboard and paste them in every few lines or so? I think I’ll stick with Shakespeare.
Night is falling and I plan to head off to bed soon. Tonight we have not been to the hospital so we are at home and the prospect of getting to sleep before midnight is deeply attractive. Westie Boy and I had another walk.
We have a deal: he can stick his head into rabbit holes so long as I can take photos. These are my favourite gate posts along the road. I must have photo graphed them dozens of times.
Quite a few of the pictures of hedgerow flowers I have tried to take have suffered from a sudden impatient tug by Westie Boy at the other end of the lead. Really he is not keeping to his part if the deal very well, maybe he resents the fact that I refuse to let him roll in the cow manure that patterns much of the road.
Friday already. The days are flying by. Staying with Cousin is like stepping into a life I know but do not usually live. I catch up with her friends, her children, the dogs, her in-laws, our shared family.
Walking Westie Boy yesterday I met her neighbour Julie. “How long are you home for?” she asked. Home is a loaded word, and I am not sure I could ever live here. Apparently I am an Irish citizen by right and birth, but I am English in my core. It is England that has raised me nurtured me, made me who I am. Mostly. Because in England I am aware that under my Home Counties accent lies another self, my half-Irish self, complicated by it being a Northern Irish, Protestant self, which to some means a non identity, a non country.
Which I find odd; because my English self is descended from immigrants from both Germany and France, and maybe elsewhere that I don’t know about. Why is it that your claim to nationality in one country should depend on ancestors rooted there for millennia and in another by your ancestors desire to belong to that country?
After Mother died I donated her mother’s autograph book to the Ulster Linen Library. The entries were from before her marriage. Around 17th March many were signed by friends describing themselves as proudly Irish. There were carefully inked harps and shamrocks; poems about Ireland; love of country written in flowing copperplate. A few years later those same people presumably described themselves, post partition, as British. Nationality is a strange creature. Continue reading
Home tomorrow, and enjoying my last hours in NI for the time being. Well mostly enjoying, but Westie Boy has been asleep beside me and passing extraordinarily smelly wind. Time for a change of diet I think. The cats have slept most of the day having feasted on most of a roast chicken. Fido looked like he could barely lift himself from the cushion, though he did manage to haul himself onto my lap when I got home from Belfast and sat out in the garden for a while.
There was both amusement and bemusement that I had been to meet a virtual friend in Belfast today. Cousin’s son was concerned she might have been a weirdo, and thought it strange I should go to meet someone I knew nothing about.
But I did know about her. The thing about this blogging business is you get to know a great deal about the minutiae of people’s lives. From the name of the family dog, to the colour of the sitting room carpet, all these details all add up.
I suppose someone could set up a alias and post pictures of dogs and rooms that had nothing to do with them, creating a whole false world, but I don’t see how that could endanger another person meeting them and eating sandwiches in the sunshine on a bench outside City Hall. Continue reading
This photo seems to sum up this summer. A flower blooming against a dark background.
It was a cold day in London, but sunny. By lunchtime, the trees and bushes that had begun the day pretty, their branches topped with a festive layer of snow, were bare again and the pavements were clear. But just twenty minutes out of Liverpool Street on the Stansted Express, fields stretched whitely and the snow had a more settled look. Horses, wearing warm blankets, stood grouped together, and watched the passing train. At the edge of one field, just inside the gate, was a wicker shopping basket, empty and incongruous.
At check-in, I explained my foot troubles, and my boarding status was upgraded to priority. That didn’t speed up the passage through security. Slow minutes in a winding queue. I stood on one leg, and hoped I wouldn’t have to take my boots off.
Back in the day, air travel was considered glamorous, but a lot has changed from those select, elegant few walking across the Tarmac at Croydon airport to the hoards standing in their socks and rethreading their belts at Stansted.
Flights to Belfast are from one of the more distant gates. I made my way down there slowly. My plan was to be in the right area long before the gate was announced. It worked. Soon I was comfortably settled in a near deserted seating area. Gradually it filled up. Flights to Belfast and Glasgow were leaving at the same time. Glasgow passengers were called first. Belfast passengers remained seated. Then some silent signal spread through the passengers and they hurried to form a bunched queue. I sat on.
When the flight was called, I joined the parents with toddlers and pushchairs to board slightly ahead of the hoard.
It was a two second advantage. More able passengers raced behind us and surged passed us. Those who had been first were now in the middle.
By some miracle, I got a window seat at the front of the plane. The sun was setting as we took off, and the countryside below looked enchanting; even the snaking lines of headlights on the dark roads. The snow lay bright and undisturbed in fields outlined by black trees and hedges. I sat back and relaxed.