February 5th 2015 – Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
When you were seven years old you threw a dart at a black-haired girl, running away in the garden. The dart lodged and stuck just below her shoulder blade. She fell forwards in the grass. The flight on the dart was red and black and white, the colours of the duvet cover in your parents’ bedroom. Afterwards it came away clean as needles. No harm done. You did not tell and neither did she.
You are still wondering if it was ordinary rage that raised your hand to your chin and flung, or something skinnier: the desire for black hair, an older sibling or a mother waiting by the school gates in a red sports car. Each time you unbend your arm to give blood or raise your ear to the piercing gun you will recall this black-haired girl, running away in the garden and hope you left a mark she can still see.
February 6th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
“I’m working on a documentary about flying horses,” he says, “for the BBC, probably The One Show.”
“Flying horses!” you repeat, nodding.
Of course, you take him to mean Pegasus, rainbow coloured unicorns, a whole shuttling brace of bird ponies blurring across the horizon, tails tickling the cumulus drift. You are surprised, impressed even, by the BBC’s capacity to believe in truths less tangible that suicide bombers and Albert Square, to put the license payer’s money on imagination as fact.
“Flying horses?” you repeat.
“Aye,” he replies, “there’s a whole rigmarole involved in putting a horse on a plane.”
You nod without smiling. These are not the sort of flying horses you wish to see on The One Show.
February 7th 2015 – Victoria Square, Belfast
In the thin dip between Build-A-Bear and Top Shop approximately one hundred disaffected youths have gathered. They are not quite a line, neither are they a circle. Some smoke. The smokers are in the minority. Most are pocket-handed, trainer scuffers, each on capable of cultivating a One Direction haircut. It is not immediately apparent what they are waiting for; the advent of girls, or perhaps adulthood; the opportunity to rush Abercrombie as one indivisible unit, Hell bent on up-collared polos and skinny fit jeans.
February 8th 2015 – Castlereagh Road, Belfast
Bob Dylan is walking his dogs along the Castlereagh Road gain. It is February,th the first blue day of spring and though they are not strictly necessary, Bob Dylan is wearing sunglasses. Most of the people passing him by – in cars and buses, sometimes on foot- do not recognize Bob Dylan. This has nothing to do with the sunglasses. These people simply do not expect to encounter a famous person walking his dogs on the Castlereagh Road. Having little or no expectation left they often miss the opportunity for a good anecdote.
February 9th 2015 – Brussels
The fictional character Tin Tin took less than one calendar year to defeat the Soviets. This was no small triumph as he was merely a child with a quaff and a lamby looking dog. Elsewhere the same Soviet problem had preoccupied the entire American nation for the better part of a century.
Overcome by his own clever achievements Tin Tin hopped a train to Brussels and was, for an afternoon, a real boy with particularly expressive eyebrows. One thousand Belgian souls, or more, came out to cheer him and high on their raised voices Tin Tin forgot he was only a fictional character. Standing on the platform he declared war on the worst kinds of evil –Germans and pirates, shiftier looking Spaniards and various mythical beings- and week after week defeated them soundly, if only on paper.
February 10th 2015 – Brussels
Nine tenths of Brussels is under construction. On the minor paths and back lanes the cobbles have loosened and slip underfoot like baby teeth waiting to pull free. Tourists stumble on the Grand Place and even the locals cannot be sure of their next step. Every other road is reduced to a single, crawling lane, and around the parks and blooming plazas, various pitch-roofed buildings are held together with modern scaffolding. The planks and metal piping remind you of dental braces and you imagine a day one year removed, or possibly two, when the city is finally freed from these kindly restraints, to emerge beaming like a teenage dream.
February 11th 2015 – Brussels
Louise and Michael Monan
He is not particularly impressed by the Manneken Pis. At sixty five centimetres it is barely the length of a man’s arm; no mean match for those proper tourist attractions like the Towers, (Eiffel and Blackpool), which dominate the skyline in proper tourist towns. He is even less impressed by the jaunty outfits the Manneken sports on holidays and festive occasions, each one tailored to accommodate the statue’s incessant need to piss. On the two or three days per year when the fountain is tapped into a keg of fine Belgian beer he is disgusted by the tastelessness of his neighbours yet nonetheless drinks and returns again for a second sup.