October 8th 2015 –Shaftesbury Square, Belfast
There are at least six million people gathered in Shaftesbury Square tonight. This is approximate four times the population of the entire country, but no one is worrying about details tonight. Not tonight! It is balmy tonight like an early Spring evening, though it is October, and already gone ten. The crowds are out in their t-shirts. Almost all the t-shirts are green because we have won a football match, not just managed to not lose, but actually won, with three proper goals. We are now permitted to travel to another place and play further games of football. Six million people have taken this unforeseen victory as an opportunity to go clean, buck mad. They are swinging from the lampposts. They are drinking tinned bear in the street. They are yahooing and getting on like uncaged gorillas. The roar of them can be heard from Iceland. They are staring at the poets emerging from their poetry reading in woolen blazers, with conversation, and quiet cigarettes, as if they are the strange breed and it is entirely normal to run up and down the road, shirtless on a weeknight.
October 9th 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
This morning I found one of your pictures tucked into the back of an old notebook. It was a drawing of a castle with parachuting sheep, rendered in biro on the back of a restaurant menu. On top of the castle you’ve drawn a flag; a Union Jack in all its red, white and bluish glory. You are too young to know that flags mean things around here and this one is particularly significant. You did this drawing months ago in the space between ordering and eating. It was the same night you informed us that you knew a magic trick and then made the biro disappear from your hand with one deft flick of the wrist so it went sailing across the restaurant and landed in a stranger’s dinner. The sound of our laughing filled the space between eating and desert. Without a biro you could not finish your castle and so here it is now, pinned to my office wall, without a moat or drawbridge, without a King or Queen, or anyone sensible to run the show. Only the sheep who are leaping free of the battlements, unfurling their parachutes like close-capped mushrooms as they descend.
October 10th 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
In this version the Beast is not a lion or a large, hairy creature of any kind. The Beast is a crocodile. Or is he an alligator? Beauty is not sure how to tell the difference and she is determined not to stare. If she stares she will see herself reflected in the black balls of his eyes and recognize her own pale face, grimacing. Then she will not be able to sit outside her own skin like the ghost of a girl who passed through this place years ago and is now happy, somewhere else. The Beast in this version is a green thing with jaws and small hands, held close to his body, without arms. He is at least one third tail. This makes things difficult for Beauty who knows she is expected to read virtue into the way he carries himself; to see the human walking, talking and hiding, ever so discretely behind the Beast. It is almost impossible to fall in love with a thing that slithers. They can never stand next to each other like two equal creatures. The Beast is miles below her, dragging his belly across the floor. When he speaks Beauty cannot distinguish words from noise. She can only hear his teeth click, click, clicking like struck spoons. She cannot stop thinking that her whole head could fit easily inside those wide, green jaws.
October 11th 2015 –Dundonald
The park was empty. It was almost eleven and a weeknight. All the children were in bed. They sat on the roundabout, four of them back to back: boy, girl, boy, girl; their legs sticking out in front of them like a spider, like an octopus, like an eight-legged creature with trainers for feet. They spun a little, smoked a little, drunk liberally from the same green bottle of cheap wine, passing it hand to hand round the circle. When they stood up they could not tell the difference between drunk and dizzy. Emma found a child’s soft toy tucked down the side of a climbing frame and, for a few minutes, they amused themselves throwing it backwards and forwards across the park. They sang a song which was currently all over the radio. When the cold air took the edge off their buzz they sat on the swings: boy, girl, boy, girl, like pistons pumping in some strange machine. Emma held the toy like a baby in her lap. It was a bear, with clothes and she knew there was a child somewhere, missing it. She did not feel kind then, only jealous of this child with all her swings and slides still to come. There was a smell off the bear like clean sheets and long weekends outside. Emma had not smelt this smell in many years. She stuffed the bear into her handbag and took it home.
October 12th 2015 –Ulster Hall, Belfast
The man who lives in the apartment directly above ours has recently taken up drumming. He only practices during daylight hours. He is a reasonably considerate kind of man. I think his name is Bill. The sound of his drums stamping and settling against our roof is like thunder or something more precise. Claire says it is like dancing but I have passed this man in the corridor en route to the recycling bins or the communal postbox and the simile will not stick. He is no dancer. He is not even an elegant walker.
I say, “the sound of his drums is like Morse code muttering through the ceiling tiles,” and Claire like the idea of this.
“What’s he saying?” she asks. “Is it a cry for help?”
Because she is prettier by half when she smiles I humour her and reply, “oh no, it’s not a cry for help. It’s the start of a really great conversation.”
Then we lift brooms and tennis racquets and golf umbrellas and tap our pretend Morse into the ceiling. “Thump. Tadump. Thump.” Which, when translated means, “hey, Bill, hope you’re as happy as we are.”
October 13th 2015 – East Belfast
In spite of everything the experts said Miriam was convinced that the penguins in her care were intelligent creatures, capable of mastering simple acts of reason and dexterity. She selected two particular penguins –Jeeves and Cliff- because they looked up at her with a kind of rapt attention every time she approached their enclosure, fish bucket in hand and asked, “who’s for lunch then?” Miriam was certain they understood her, and if this was the case, they might be trained to complete simple tasks or even communicate in a semi-sophisticated manner. She began with those activities which her mind readily associated with penguins: ballroom dancing, top hat wearing and the smoking of expensive cigarettes in long holders. None of these took. Miriam would not admit defeat. She informed the head zookeeper that the two penguins in question had decidedly proletarian tastes and ploughed on with her research. Eventually she discovered Cliff and Jeeves to be reasonably adept at synchronized swimming. The cynic in Miriam knew this was nature rather than nurture but she ignored her own instinct, bought them floral bathing caps and pronounced her penguins smarter than apes and dolphins combined.
October 14th 2015 – East Belfast
A friend of mine once walked into a McDonalds restaurant in East Belfast and paid for his McChicken sandwich mean in one and two pence pieces. He’d counted them out beforehand and carried them to dinner in a plastic bag. The weight of all those two and one pence pieces was roughly equivalent to a melon or a bag of granulated sugar, which is to say, it was solid in his hands, heavy even. For the first time in his life my friend knew the real weight of money. For this reason he was suddenly taken with the notion that his three pounds something of coppers was worth much more than the same amount carefully measured out in pounds and tens and silvery little fives.
When he got to the counter my friend asked for, “a McChicken sandwich meal, please,” and turned the plastic bag upside down over the topmost tray in the stack. Coppers went avalanching over the till, across the floor and under the fryers. The manager was called for. The manager though my friend was taking the piss and barred him from this particular McDonalds restaurant. My friend did not know how to take the piss. He was one of those strange quiet boys in Velcro shoes, who do not notice they are different from everyone else.