Back to Belfast after 40 years.
I remember reading George Orwell’s “1984” in 1965 and thinking would I ever see the year 1984. Well I did and that was thirty years ago. It seems we are all getting a little older. We can only reflect on how lucky we have been. So many of us have left the olde sod for a better life and we were not disappointed.I did a gig last week to celebrate the birthday of a beautiful Irish lass who had just become an octogenarian. She was the life of the party and along with her husband had many stories to tell. Thanks S. and M. for the invitation. They invoked many memories of happy times I spent “back home!”One of them occurred quite recently. Well it was a lovely autumn day (for Ulster) 15 degrees and a little sun. The wife and myself were on our last day in the province before heading down to Dublin and Dubai. We had had a memorable flight from Barcelona to Belfast!
“Why don’t you go on the Belfast bus ride” my wife said to me. I had just left the rented car back to the airport so we were sort of stranded for the remainder of the day. “I don’t think so” I said. “Remember I lived here for all of my youth.” “Go on” she insisted, “I went on it yesterday and you might even enjoy it!” Well in the end I went and I did; enjoy it that is.
It consisted of two parts. So to keep you in suspense, I will describe the first part here and the second in the next blog. The bus was some minutes away so I chatted to the guide for some minutes in my still-Ulster accent. He looked at me doubtfully when I tried to explain to him I was an Australian. “Oh yeah?” he said. “And what would yew be doing back here in this neck of the woods?” I couldn’t think of a suitable reply so I asked him how things were in this neck of the woods. “Not so good” he remarks. “Sure we are just one bullet away from it all starting up again.”The bus arrived at this time so I happed on. Well it was described aptly in the brochure as a hap on hap off bus! (Apologies for the accent here) I proceeded to a good seat and was gratified to find that they now have traffic wardens in Belfast. See photograph above. In my day you did not leave your car anywhere near the city centre. Why not I hear you ask? Well it would probably have been blown up just in case it was a car bomb!
Our guide was in full swing by now and even the Japanese and Greek couples (despite their economy) on board were laughing at his sense of humour. It was not easy to distinguish truth from fiction. “Belfast has recently been voted the safest city in the world” He boomed through his microphone. “And why is that?” he proceeded. “Because the criminals of yesteryear are now all in government!” was his rhetorical answer. Great laughter from the passengers until we realised he was probably not joking.
The buildings at Stormont (photo above) he went into in great detail especially about the effect the pigeons were having on the roof and of course the statue of Edward Carson. “The funeral of George Best was here” our good guide informed us. “Tens of thousands lined the road right down as far as you can see.” And off we set again returning to the city centre via the Newtownards road. We passed over the Lagan once again where I noticed a weird sculpture. (Almost as weird as the communist’s statues I mentioned in my last article) It was designed (apparently) to represent the latest progress in peace. I quote our good guide once again.“Coming up on the left side of the bus you can see the latest in Ulster art. It was designed to represent the peace process but in usual Ulster humour - she is known as many things: The Thing with the Ring; The Nuala with the Hula (Nuala a common Irish girl's name); or simply The Doll on the Ball.” Of course he failed to tell us what the real name was.
Above you can see my picture on this fine autumn day of the “Doll on the Ball” from the bus. Back then to the city centre where our guided reminded us that this was just the first half. The second half was much more exciting as we would be travelling to the Shankill and Falls and would be able to see the peace wall and the many murals. Well it’s back down to earth for me after remembering the cool time (in both senses) I had on the bus. Of course I will reveal all in the next article.