July 2nd 2015 – Waterstones, Belfast
Josh and Holly Butler
Today is the hottest day of the summer so far, which is to say the city smells like the inside of a slow-roasted car, or the city feels like gym floor dust collecting under your fingernails. In the window of Waterstones they are making the most of the blue sky. They have arranged on a picnic rug, books on the theme of nature and the great outdoors, (also, to the right, some pocket-sized paperbacks, ideal for reading on the beach). A single ladybird is crawling across the cover of the foremost nature book. It is moving slowly, discovering with each thin step, the difference between photographed grass and the real thing. You stop to stare at the ladybird for a moment. It leaves the natural side of the window display, stumbles towards the Maeve Bincheys and Dan Browns. Is the ladybird product placement on Waterstones’ part, you wonder, or has it simply misread the line between inside and the green world beyond.
July 3rd 2015 – Albertbridge Road, Belfast
The Tall Ships arrived in Belfast yesterday. They are not as tall as we’d been lead to believe. We thought you might be able to see them from space, or at very least, Cave Hill. This is not the case. You have to be right under the masts, looking up to achieve the illusion of tallness. And, there are fewer of them than we’d been promised; something to do with the smallness of our harbour and also health and safety legislation.
“Still,” say the people who are captains, or whatever one call the drivers of ships these days, “this is a remarkably small country. Surely everything must seem big and tall and much, much more when you’re used to so very little.”
The old perspective argument.
We’ve heard this one before. The punchline is always, less is more in your case. It does not hold water. We know this for a facts. Belfast once harboured boats big as city blocks and these boats were considered equally grand from every foreign perspective, including the ocean floor.
July 4th 2015 – Reading
Eleanor changes trains at Reading. The platform is surprisingly crowded for a Saturday evening. The commuters are all well-dressed in suits and wedding hats. She presumes Reading to be a town of exceptionally stylish people and only later discovers that there has been a regatta –a famous one- just a few miles away with champagne and society papers.
Eleanor sits in the first empty seat she can find. The train is almost in Bath before she realizes that seats have been allocated and she is sitting in the wrong carriage.
No one has come to question her presence in First Class, not even the ticket collector, though she is odd woman out wearing jeans in a room full of heeled and skirted ladies.
Just outside Bristol a man pauses at Eleanor’s seat and presses a note into her hand. It is written on the back of a Marks and Spencers’ receipt. It reads, “meet me in the toilets in five minutes.” She is not sure if the note is intended for her or the actual ticket holder.
Eleanor does not go to the toilets. Afterwards, at her mother’s, she wishes she had.
July 5th 2015 – Burnham-on-Sea
We can see the end of the world coming up the estuary, past the power plant and the lighthouse. The blackness is dropping down in lines. With binoculars it is possible to see the exact point at which it makes contact with the ocean. Presumably the fish are already dead.
We continue digging holes, building sandcastles, passing the Thermos from one side of the picnic rug to the other. It is still blue above our heads and so we tell ourselves that this is a false alarm.
We have been led to believe that the end of the world will happen all at once, even in different time zones. We have over-simplified everything.
When the end of the world reaches the tide’s edge we say, “uh oh, looks like it’s time we got going.”
We pack up our things. We even fold the picnic rug neatly. We make for the car and, only at the very last second, break into a run. We do not want to appear hysterical. We do not want the children to know.
July 6th 2015 – Bath
It is impossible not to imagine Jane Austen at ease in this city, walking and folding her hands in gloves. The squares are square and bordered on all four sides by privet hedges and black, spike iron work. The buildings are the bleached blonde colour of old sand and everywhere the ivy climbs neatly, never once taking its ascendancy for granted. Even the cobblestones are correctly angled. This is a place for moderation and discrete romance. Small intrigues might be permitted in their proper place but even these would be tight as a well-laid table or a slip of Sunday afternoon needlework. This is the kind of city which is always clean, which is inclined to resolve itself in the time necessary to drain a china tea cup and refill. In other words, Bath is two square miles of sense and sensibility; the kind of place which made those Brontes howl.
July 7th 2015 – Bath
The Victoria Art Gallery is situated at the rear of the Guild Hall, Bath. It is sandwiched between a covered market and a Café Nero. It contains one Lowry, several minor Belgians and the country’s largest collection of porcelain dogs. There are so many small, ornamental dogs that there is barely space to contain them and they have been shuffled together on glass shelves with complete disregard for breed or context. (A sixteenth century hunting dog sits nose to arse with an Art Deco poodle, and, do not even get me started on the Dalmatians). In the main gallery the space is dominated by a Kenneth Armitage bronze, two fine cobwebs spidering the gaps between the subject’s raised fingertips. The Victoria Art Gallery’s brochure would leave its visitors to believe in a Warhol Marilyn. No such print is forthcoming but the porcelain dogs are more than adequate compensation.
July 8th 2015 – Bristol Airport
There is one unguarded plug socket in the whole airport. It is behind the seats in the arrivals lounge; a fair stretch past dust and balled up tissues and the soft, golden curls of abandoned, potato crisps. I have been in the airport alone and waiting for almost ten hours. I am down to my last bar of battery and the bar is red and I cannot reach the plug socket with my too short arms.
“Are you after that plug socket?” asks a young fella in a Hollister sweatshirt.
His voice is mashed potatoes with butter. This is common enough in the old people round here. In one so young it reeks of trustworthiness.
“Yes,” I reply, “for my phone charger.”
I assume he is going to reach the unreachable plug socket for me and this small act of kindness will go some way towards neutralizing the last ten evil hours.
He doesn’t. He shoves his own charger into the socket and thumb flicks his way on to Facebook. I make my case topple on to his foot. He is wearing flip flops. I do not even think about apologizing.