March 19th 2015 – The Sunflower Bar, Belfast
The twinkle-eyed folk musician Liam Clancy died in 2009. His Aran jumper was made of sterner stuff and persisted well into the next decade. Entering the charity shop circuit in Cork it migrated North via Limerick and Roscommon to arrive in a Save the Children shop on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue just before Christmas 2014.
A young writer, hoping to look more poetic in cable knit cream, purchased the jumper, wore it to a reading of no real consequence in a local library and, though it itched like a prison blanket, refused to take it off. He imagined that the right kind of girls would take him more seriously in such a sweater. Besides, there was something of Clancy haunting every stitch of his pullover and, ghosted by the grip of songs he was too late to remember, the young writer found that his stories now came easier when sung loudly in low-roofed rooms.
March 20th 2015 – The Ulster Hall, Belfast
My heart’s near broke with the old people. The dressed up good for dancing ones and the ones with yesterday’s dinner crumbed into their beards. The ones on sticks and zimmer frames, rolators and wheelchairs, (both acoustic and electric). The ones with eyes like broken cups, with teabag paper skin and a smell off them similar to damp flannels dried once too often. The ones who drink and fold the free sandwiches up in a clean hankie to keep for later in the zippered part of their handbags. Specifically the one with the cameo brooch pinned on upside down. And that one who sings Elvis Presley without cause or invitation, his voice folding and unfolding like an old-fashioned map. Also the one who could have been my grandmother if my grandmother was not already dead; who takes my hands in two of hers and cannot stop her teeth spitting out, “shit. It’s a lovely day isn’t it? Shit. Shit. Shit.” She is dressed up like a Sunday School picnic and my heart’s near broke with her.
March 21st 2015 – Amsterdam
Of all the books in the well-stocked bookshelf, the dog has chosen to sink its teeth into the hard backed cover of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning behemoth, “Wolf Hall.” Though the weight of English history is pitched heavily against him, not to mention seven hundred individual pages and Hilary herself, (who taketh no nonsense from man nor mongrel beast), the dog has devoured a substantial chunk of the book’s opening section. This, despite what they told you, filling in their ignorant gaps with the BBC television adaptation, is more than most human readers will manage.
March 22nd 2015 – Amsterdam
In cinematography the Dutch angle is a type of shot where the camera is set at an angle so the image on screen appears tilted/slanted/slightly skewiff. The Dutch angle is one of many cinematic techniques used to portray psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed. The cobbled streets of Amsterdam contain more Dutch angles than any Hitchcock movie you’ve ever seen. And, while Pisa has its tower and in Belfast the Albert Clock leans South like a half cut sailor, these are isolated incidents; the only two buildings thus inclined in otherwise upright cities. Almost every house in Amsterdam is angled against gravity. They line the streets and the side streets like dominoes waiting to tip each other into the canal. Just passing these Dutch angles on bike or foot reminds you that the world itself is far from straight. You are not sure if this feeling equates to psychological uneasiness.
March 23rd 2015 – Amsterdam
You are in the foyer of the Rijks Museum when you hear that the heart has finally fallen out of Belfast. You receive this information not by carrier pigeon or telegram, (both of which would seem the fitting vehicle), but rather by text message from a close friend. You are sitting down when the bad news arrives from far away. You are glad of this and also the marble beneath your backside; a cool, glossed reminder that some things are still permanent.
On the opposite side of the foyer Rembrandt glares from beneath the brim of his slouched hat. “This is no fit place for hysterics,” he says, “though I’ve always found a gloomy disposition particularly charming.” You can tell he’s known wars and other black losses.
Rembrandt is loud and close today, as is Mondrian and the good things you will eat for dinner. Belfast is far away and therefore smaller. This is universally known as perspective. You order wine with lunch and resolve to save your sadness for home when the bad news will be all you can see.
March 24th 2015 – Amsterdam
Wilhelm was almost seven when he first began to display symptoms of cyclophobia. He was, by this stage, old enough to know better but still too young to explain his distress. The fear, if he’d been cute enough to word it, might have sounded similar to appendicitis or other violent stomach complaints, including morning sickness.
During his early childhood Wilhelm had perched happily on the Y-shaped intersection where his father’s handlebars met, giggling and grinning as his teeth jittered on the more roughly cobbled streets. By eight the very sight of a bicycle chained outside the Vondelpark was enough to leave Wilhelm howling like an open sore. His father persisted with stabilizers, with tricycles and a small, wooden trailer not dissimilar to a horsebox, which he hitched to the back wheel of his own bicycle. Young Wilhelm refused to indulge any of these concessions.
“I shall walk,” he said and his voice was unraveling around the edges. “I shan’t even care if I am the only uncycling boy in Amsterdam and it takes me twice as long to get anywhere.”
And, in other cities, where the bicycles did not line the streets like spoked, metal sentries, this might well have worked.
March 25th 2015 – Greater Belfast
Two monkeys have escaped from Bellevue Zoo. They are small monkeys with lionesque faces, barely bigger than six week kittens. It is only a year since the last band of monkeys outwitted the fence. Upon reaching Cave Hill they had split to visit the Peace Wall, a local integrated and a mid-sized shopping centre on the outskirts of Glengormley. They had not purchased anything, (even food).
The zookeepers are not amused by this second act of defiance so close to the first. They are hunting the escaped monkeys with social media, with stun guns and an extra large bunch of bananas. They are like zookeepers from an early 90s movie.
Most of Belfast hopes the monkeys will escape capture. The possibility of a funny story running for weeks will make the sic o’clock news more bearable.