July 9th 2015 – East Belfast
Josh and Amber Chang
Stormont and travel and a thing about Rory McIlroy and then we are in the east of the city where the residents of an end terrace are complaining about the sixty foot bonfire resting against their gable wall. The tower of wooden pallets is already twice the height of their home with two hundred more to be added over the weekend.
“We’ve to move out of our own house,” the wife is saying, “and dear only knows what we’ll come back to in the morning.”
“It’s like the bloody towering inferno next door,” the husband adds.
They are sitting in their living room, a little too large for the sofa cushions. There is floral wallpaper behind their heads; a kind of feature wall. Behind the camera the cameraman is beginning to sweat. He imagines the heat is rising from the walls and the fitted carpet though it is four full days yet ‘til the Twelfth. He requires both hands to hold his camera steady, both feet to keep himself from running. He is determined that he will not be here again next year or in some other angry room in this godforsaken city.
July 10th 2015 – Royal Avenue, Belfast
It is four days until the release of Harper Lee’s new novel. There is a blackboard in the window of the bookstore counting the days backwards from ten. People are taking pictures on their mobile phones. People are pre-ordering and re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, just to get the plot straight in their heads. (Sometimes, in the past, they have mixed this book up with Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. It has been a long time since O-Level English Lit.) On the internet the American actor, Reese Witherspoon is reading a selected passage of the new novel. This is available for download; a kind of literary trailer. It is very possible that the publishers have opted for the wrong voice –Witherspoon is all teeth and tight polo necks- surely Harper Lee would sit easier in an older throat, something worn around the edges. However, in four days’ time a book will be the most important thing in the world. In light of this small, (and fleeting), miracle the details seem entirely irrelevant.
July 11th 2015 – East Belfast
There are small, jungle-living monkeys in the new Ikea advert. Look at them eating bananas straight from the fridge, turning the taps on and off with reckless abandon and smashing the crockery like there is an endless supply of affordable cups and plates. They are having a jolly old time, these little monkeys in their jungle kitchen, and yet you cannot enter into their joy. You are reminded of the red-faced monkey in the National Geographic advert, squatting unhappily in some Amazonian river. You see this monkey constantly. It has the face of your father, sad and frowning as if utterly devastated. You find this advert impossible to watch and, by association, all monkey-based advertising.
July 12th 2015 – Portrush
The boys who work the summer shifts at Barry’s are wearing green bomber jackets now. In the old days, when you spent your holiday money on the two p machines, feeding the coppers in one by one so you could buy an hour to eye the best looking boys, learning their name badges off by heart, (Ian, Johnny, Chris), they were wearing royal blue doctors’ coats, like the long ones worn by old men in hardware stores. These were not the coats of youth or youngish men and it was always a pleasant surprise to find their smooth faces and their boy band haircuts peaking over their collars. Those blue coat boys are thirty five and older now. They have children and university degrees and take their holidays on the Continent. They have been replaced by their former selves in lawn green coats. Everything else is the same, even the ghost train.
July 13th 2015 – East Belfast
In the middle of the street which runs like a tree-lined artery between the Belmont and Newtownards Roads, two birds are fighting over a piece of food. The larger bird lifts it and drops it and lifts it again, struggling to haul its breakfast across the road and under the hedge. The smaller bird can only peck at its opponent and lose. The first bird is a crow, the second a starling and no bigger than a child’s curled fist. From a distance it looks like meat they are fighting for. Up close it is a third, even smaller bird, dead and oily with the blood. It could well be a starling. You choose to see it as a starling. It is easier to believe that one bird, at least, is fighting for vengeance and justice and an eye for the eye of a fallen friend. Otherwise it is just two creatures consuming a third and this is something you see almost every day.
July 14th 2015 – East Belfast
Up to a certain point in history British children were familiar with the work of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. They may not have known them under the collective name, “Peanuts,” but nevertheless understood exactly what was being implied when, on the eve of their weekly bath, they were referred to as filthy, little Pig Pens and scrubbed with a facecloth. American children are still familiar with the work of Snoopy. They watch him at Christmas and wear him on sweaters. However, somewhere in the last twenty years, their British peers lost interest, or perhaps demanded something more complex from their cartoons. This sad fact and the pancake breakfast, remain the only two examples of American superiority still standing after two hundred years of hard trying.
July 15th 2015 – Bedford Street, Belfast
Of course it would be desperately difficult to prove this as fact but they do say that Agatha Christie was the first Western woman to stand upright on a surfboard. There is context to this story if context is required. The first husband was a diplomat of some sort, widely traveled though not as interesting as the second husband who was an archaeologist. (Death on the Nile, ancient oriental weapons, fascination with the Near East etc. etc.). It is not the longest of leaps to imagine them visiting Hawaii or to picture Agatha in a long-legged swimsuit standing behind an upright board. This was, after all, the Queen of Crime Fiction; a formidable woman, well-accustomed to standing upright in a man’s place. What is harder to reconcile is the image of a surfboard with the way she came to be remembered: pearled and suited with a pen in hand, an only so slightly younger take on the Queen Mother.