September 17th 2015 –Derry
This afternoon in a fit of stress-induced panic I purchased a pair of leopard-print trousers. The phrase, “leopard-print trousers” when said confidently, (ideally with a glass of wine in hand), is a believable enough sentence. Depending upon your age and listening habits it may even bring to mind a snippet of the Bob Dylan song, “Leopard-Print Pillbox Hat,” and an image of Edie Sedgwick at her hippest. Unfortunately the reality of a leopard-print trouser is somewhat less chic. They are unforgiving in both cut and pattern. They are the last, cheap fling of those ladies who knew their youth in the 1970s. They are like nothing so much as pyjamas or beach pants you might pull on over a bathing suit when leaving the poolside for the terrace bar. In short, leopard-print trousers are sort of thing you purchase in haste, (having had your notion self knocked senseless by a particularly stressful morning). You would then regret this purchase at leisure; the leopard-print trousers making perfect leisure wear.
September 18th 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
The concept was simple enough: professional musicians learn three hours worth of floor-filling favourites, (Footloose, Elvis, a spot of Springsteen for the lads), turn up at weddings dressing in Rat Pack blacks, become the wedding band. They may never have met before but it is essential that they give the impression of being a well-established band. No bride or groom will want to know they’ve inadvertently booked a bunch of strangers playing popular standards.
All is well and reasonably good until the bass player arrives in a hotel outside Monaghan, knowing none of his fellow band mates and, spotting a youngish man in a black suit and skinny, black tie, accidentally asks the groom whether he is the drums or the keys in tonight’s outfit. The groom, despite the fact that this is the best day of his life, does not see the funny side of this.
September 19th 2015 –Killyhevlin Forest Park, Newtownards
There are children walking round Killyhevlin forest by themselves. One is definitely a boy. The other may be a girl as she is wearing flowery leggings but because she has the hood of her sweater drawn all the way over her face and head it is almost impossible to be sure. The boy is giving the second child instructions: left two steps, up, down, turn sideways. No one is supervising these children. They belong to no one but themselves. It is possible that they live here amongst the trees and the fleet-footed, free-dwelling squirrels. There are blackberries for eating and edible mushrooms clustered beneath the fallen logs. They are practicing now, with their hoods drawn over their faces, for night, when the deep forest dark will leave them, edging their way round their own homely kingdom, like blind creatures or newborns.
September 20th 2015 –Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
Last night we met a Spanish penguin floating round the Cornmarket. It was raining, as it almost always is in Belfast and he didn’t have an umbrella.
“I am looking for a traditional music session,” he said in broken English. He was on a mini-break from Madrid.
We took the penguin to the Duke of York. There are usually Trad sessions there on a Sunday afternoon. It took almost half an hour to walk across town on account of his very short legs. When we arrived at the Duke, the Bouncer told us, quite firmly, that penguins weren’t permitted on the premises.
And we said, “he’s on a mini-break and isn’t this city supposed to welcome visitors now?”
“Ah,” said the Bouncer, “I’m sorry. I thought you were a local penguin. We make an exception here for tourist penguins. Come on, on in. You’ll be wanting a Guinness, I presume?”
The Spanish penguin had a pint of Guinness, and then a second pint. By the third it was clear that penguins cannot hold their drink for he was on the table doing his own penguin version of the Flamenco and taking photos for Facebook.
September 21st 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
One thing led to another and before too long we were all in a circle singing Elvis songs, which would have been great if we’d known the words, but as it was we started lustily enough, like teenagers embarking upon a two hour hike. Straight in we went, bullets on the first and second lines, petering out on the third and, by the fourth, lost completely. Then, finding our lungs on the chorus, for this was the bit we remembered from the radio and it was easy enough to bellow these words with voices like young bulls in heat. When the second verse slid between us it was a third cousin, it was a childhood friend, only vaguely familiar. We kept the tune, tonguing it against our teeth, but had no time for the words. This was like a joke we all knew without being told. Our eyes, catching across the circle, had smiles in them. We held on for the chorus because we were not lonely when we sang Elvis songs like this, strongly, in a circle.
September 22nd 2015 –Botanic Avenue, Belfast
Last night I went to the cash machine in the dark and accidentally mistook my Costa coffee loyalty card for my bank card. Imagine my surprise when the ATM spat hot coffee out at me instead of cash. I just about managed to jump back in time, avoiding a good scalding, but my shoes were ruined and the cuffs of my jeans were splattered with tiny, brown stains, like dirty tears. The next day I went back to the same cash machine with a variety of different cards. My library card gave me freshly pressed books and the loyalty card from Tesco, a whole variety of thin foods such as crackers, cooked ham, and cheese slices, all of which were able to slip easily through the slot for dispensing cash. The staff card which I use for swiping in and out of work gave me three extra hours of time, which, with hindsight, I realized was more precious that money or any kind of edible product. I did not tell anyone the trick with the ATM. I was scare there might not be enough miracle to go round.
September 23rd 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
There was a swan sitting in the door of the Super-Valu, just sitting, it’s arched neck coiled like the first deft strokes of a fountain pen. The automatic doors rushed to close upon the swan and, sensing its presence, came only so far before scuttling back into themselves. This could be compared to the nervous progress of the tide, or the very earliest stages of love. On one side of the swan people waited to enter the Super-Valu and, on the other side, different people waited to exit, their arms full of milk and bread and packaged biscuits. No one made a move to kick the swan or come at it with any urgency for they knew that swans are violent birds, capable of breaking a man’s arm, (or so they’d been told as children).
“Can we step over it?” asked one of the inside men.
And an outside man shouted back, “I wouldn’t chance it, Mate!”
No one thought to ask where the swan had come from. There was no significant body of water in miles. Soon the outside people drifted off home, or to the little Tesco at the top of the road. The inside people could not follow them. They opened a bag of Maltesers and passed the sweets round, chatting with each other, and did not even notice that the swan had sauntered off.