December 3rd 2015 – St George’s Market, Belfast
For several days each year, possibly as many as fifteen, the largest freshwater lake in the UK is located outside the entrance of St. George’s Market. Those pedestrians unfortunate enough to work in, or around, the Markets are forced to take their dry ankles in their hands and dash along the damp pavement opposite the market hoping, and hoping, and always encountering the disappointment of a Translink bus or taxi as it speeds through the lake’s edge, baptizing them all in a head to show shower of stagnant water.
The DOE calls this phenomenon a puddle. Sometimes, on the wettest days, they place signs in the road and call a spade a deep spade, admitting that this is a flood. It is more than a flood. It can be seen from Space. Lough Neagh knows this. She envies the new lake its size, its depth, its cosmopolitan location and fears the day when she will look herself up on Wikipedia and discover that she is no longer the UK’s largest inland lake.
December 4th 2015 – QFT, Belfast
I am surprised to discover that Hal Ashby, director of cult 70s movies such as ‘Being There’ once proposed Agatha Christie as an ideal candidate for the role of Maude in his 1971 hit, ‘Harold and Maude.’ Despite the fact that Ms. Christie has no background in acting, and the unlikely, (and somewhat disturbing image of her, making love to a twenty three year old boy), I am intrigued by this possibility.
I would not put it past Agatha Christie. I would not put anything past Agatha Christie. I remember that she once stood up on a surfboard whilst all the other ladies sat down to tea.
I imagine Agatha Christie in pearls and tweed seeing a murder lurking behind every one of young Harold’s suicide attempts, taking notes, suspecting everyone, doing a stellar impression of Jessica Fletcher. I imagine her refusing Ashby his ambiguous exit scene for the chance to gather the whole cast in the drawing room in order to point an accusatory finger at the guiltiest party.
December 5th 2015 – St George’s Market, Belfast
Every year during the month leading up to Christmas Eleanor takes a stall at St George’s Market and sells disappointment in small, hand-made bottles. It is mostly locals who buy from her. The tourists tend to skip straight from the felt handbag stall on her left, to the organic candles on her right, barely pausing to register the little, glass bottles lined across Eleanor’s table.
She stocks any number of different disappointments: the disappointment of an unsupportive parent, the disappointment of a homely child, the disappointment of being alone or not nearly alone enough, the disappointment of cats, good wine, box sets and religion, the dry disappointment of Christmas Day evening which is easily the most popular product on her stall. Customers seem to know without asking exactly the right disappointment to buy.
Eleanor only sells disappointment at Christmas. She could not afford the fees for an all year stall. Besides, during the rest of the year people do not require an excuse for the way they feel kind of hopeless first thing in the morning. The sun is up or down, and one day follows the next, and what is there to be particularly happy about? At Christmas people are expected to sparkle and when they cannot muster the guts it helps to have a bottle to point to, to be able to say, “I was absolutely fine ‘til I took this.”
December 6th 2015 – Dundonald
We weren’t going to do a real tree this year but then I thought, “what the Hell, it’s our last year in this house. Next year, when the kids are gone, and we’re settled into an apartment, we can make do with a pretend one.”
I sent you off to buy a tree. You came back an hour later with a forest slung over your shoulder. You smelled like Vosene hair shampoo.
“It’s environmentally friendly,” you said, “afterwards we can plant it in the back garden. It’ll still grow.”
You only said this because the tree had cost almost fifty pounds and you didn’t want me to think you a fool. It was too late for rose-tinted thinking of any kind, twenty five years too late, next June. It was also too late to stop the tree. It did not want to wait for replanting. As soon as we’d set it up in the corner of the living room and draped the fairy lights round its outstretched arms it began to grow. Its roots burrowed beneath the hardwood floors. Its branches climbed the inside of the chimney and wrapped themselves around the radiators. It attracted birds who built nests.
When we came to sell the house we tried to pitch the tree as a feature, but no one was buying this.
“At least we’re set for next year,” you said and I wondered if we’d even see June.
December 7th 2015 – Royal Avenue, Belfast
I stole a pen from Eason’s this morning. I only took it to prove I was not adverse to stealing or either misdemeanours such as drunkenness and the use of those more offensive swear words. I decided that a pen was a perfectly acceptable first attempt at theft. It was not as insignificant as gum or loaded with the same weight of consequence as a book, for example, or a pair of shoes.
I chose a mid-priced marker in red, (the colour of danger), slipped it up my sleeve and walked swiftly out of the store and into Royal Avenue. After stealing the pen I felt invincible and also a little warmer than usual, (the sweat had begun to swim down the back of my jumper).
“What the Hell,” I figured, “now I am a criminal I might as well commit as many crimes as possible.” (I know from reading detective novels and watching The Bill, before it got cancelled, that the criminal life is a slippery slope with one crime inevitably leading to another).
So, I ran my red marker round every building in Donegal Square and added vandalism to my criminal record. Once the ink was gone I thought about using the empty carcass of my pen to stab a man but the nib was blunt and too soft to pierce even the thinnest skin, and by then I had grown tired of my life of crime.
December 8th 2015 – Bedford Street, Belfast
Certain parts of England are underwater this morning. River banks have burst, ponds have swollen to form lakes and there are lakes the size of oceans now, turning the fields and forest parks to soup. On the television news cars are swimming down the High Street like half- submerged submarines. Only the tips of the hedges are visible, islanding above the tide line and in one village a whole family has gathered on the roof of their house to swipe frantically at the air. They are not waving. They are not drowning either but the possibility is ever present.
The train tracks trundle into one side of the flood, disappear and emerge half a mile later, still heading in the same direction. It is easy to imagine the carriages submerged beneath the water and the passengers with their newspapers, their briefcases and packed lunches sitting tight as they wait for normal service to resume. Their hair writhes damply round their head like seaweed caught in the current. There are houses down here too, and trees, and other man-made structure. It is slower down here. It is calmer, and in some ways easier to breathe. The people on the train are in no real rush to leave.
December 9th 2015 – QFT, Belfast
Tonight they’re serving Christmas dinner to the inmates on C Block. Individual trays of roast potatoes, turkey and Brussel sprouts are placed in front of each prisoner. The turkey is tough this year and requires a knife. This is the first time in months that there have been knives on the table. The men stare at the knives for a long time before lifting them. They have forgotten how to hold a weapon- even a tiny, plastic one. They are still cuffed and struggle to slice and spear with both hands bound together. Food slips from their forks leaving stains on their festive, Christmas napkins.
They pull their crackers with both hands, reaching across the table to assist the prisoner opposite. The sound of crackers snapping is too like gunfire and in the in the corner of the dining hall one man lifts his hands to cover his ears and cannot manage this while shackled. The Senior Guard reads cracker jokes aloud. This passes for entertainment on C Block. They are terrible jokes but everyone laughs anyway, glad of the opportunity to stretch their voice.
After dinner the prisoners offer the cook a round of applause. But their cuffed hands will only stretch so far and the applause does not sound like clapping so much as a gentle, defeated tap.