December 10th 2015 – Linenhall Street, Belfast
Martin and Lucy Cathcart Froden
This morning I read that Kay Ryan poem, the one about the fourth Wise Man who disliked travel and preferred his own bed to the open road, which made me think of the shepherd who went off for a quick wee at exactly the wrong, angelic moment, and all the people who, upon hearing there was only one portion of loaves and fish to split between so many, went home to fix their own sandwiches, and the guests who drunk themselves blind beneath the tables long before the water turned wineish, and, of course, the disciples, who were almost always asleep in boat bottoms and gardens and other comfortable spots, missing the point of everything. And finally, I arrived at myself, and the very many times I have decided to stay in, watching re-runs of Morse and Poirot, reading paperback novels in bed, whilst in the streets and bars and staged rooms of this city, miracles are miracling away, and I am only afterwards hearing about them on Facebook.
December 11th 2015 – Ormeau Road, Belfast
This morning the Loch Ness monster died. It was to have been her nine hundred thousandth new day and, while she was a great old one for rounding up, she did not think she could bear another hundred thousand wakenings just to hit the square million.
It was not guns which killed her in the end, nor old age, or even the skeptics trying to disapprove her with their sonar machines and special cameras. It was, instead, a very specific kind of loneliness which causes her to draw breath, and hold that breath until her big lungs sunk and all the seeing went out of her eyes. It was the loneliness of being left behind after everyone else has gone home.
By this evening the Loch Ness monster had begun to disappear; her monster belly caving in upon itself, her skin slipping loose and bones unclasping to bury themselves in the gritty silt. Smaller and more ordinary creatures will strip her bare with their mouths and teeth.
Tomorrow there will be nothing left to prove the Loch Ness monster has ever been. This will have no impact whatsoever on those individuals, (both local and international), who can believe in things unseen. They will continue to hope for her arched neck, humping every time the Loch rises.
December 12th 2015 – Ballymena
My grandfather was a difficult man who always chose the road not taken even when the obvious route made much more sense on paper and in practice. Each Christmas he asked for a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. We were careful to choose images we thought might appeal to him such as vintage cars, French chateaux and watercolour paintings of the Lake District. We needn’t have bothered. My grandfather turned each piece over and built his jigsaw cardboard side up.
“More of a challenge this way,” he said, yet still requested a different puzzle each Christmas.
When my brother, the artist, was twenty five years old and back from New York for the summer, he spent weeks painting pictures on the cardboard side of our grandfather’s puzzles, forcing the aesthetic back into the old man. By this stage it was too late. Our grandfather had gone blind, though he was still building his jigsaws by hand. My brother sat next to him as he felt his way round the ins and circled outs of each piece, describing the picture his broken eyes could no longer see. This was too much for the old man- a final indignity he could not stand. Perhaps, he’d never trusted beauty. Perhaps, he’d always had more confidence in things he could touch. He quit building his puzzles and, two months later, died; the events unconnected, or perhaps, intrinsically linked.
December 13th 2015 – Queen’s University, Belfast
Enough was enough and I had to draw a line under it all. It seemed just the right moment for a protest so I decided to lock myself inside my car and stay there until things changed. I was not an idiot. I’d seen films about this kind of thing. I took water, crisps, books and tinned fruit to stave off the hunger. By the middle of the first night I was wishing for a warm blanket and other essential items.
It was almost a perfect protest. I was angry and visible to all those passing by. They stopped to peer through my windscreen and ask was I ok? And, what was doing, staying up all night in a Citroen Saxo? I tried to give them my list of demands, gesturing furiously and using my outdoor voice, but the windows got in the way, and I could not risk wasting the battery by lowering them, even an inch. I wished I’d informed the Media about my protest, or even a friend on the outside who could advocate for me. It was too late though, and leaving the car would mean starting my protest all over again.
When the Fire Brigade came to break me out with a special key I was not angry, only relieved to have attracted some concern.
“We thought you were having a breakdown in there,” they said, and I wondered if I was.
December 14th 2015 – Bedford Street, Belfast
Kasey Pilcher Mascenti
This morning is our annual Christmas Party. We are playing Pass the Parcel with accompaniment on an upright piano. Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Silent Night; we are singing all the words we can remember, humming the rest. Almost half the people taking part have Dementia. Several of them are not sure why they are passing a gift-wrapped box from hand to hand around the circle but they keep watching their neighbours and copying their actions. They have learnt to do this with almost everything.
When the music stops they look down at the thing they are holding. It is gift-wrapped and shiny, so they assume it to be a present, and because it is resting in their hands, are certain it must be meant for them. They smile, say thank you and try to put the gift into their handbag or coat pocket. It doesn’t fit.
When the music begins again and the present is snatched from them they are confused but do not object. They have grown used to having things taken from them; precious things which never come back.
December 15th 2015 – Linenhall Street, Belfast
Ali Fitzgibbon and Glenn Patterson
This morning’s envelope contained a wedding ring, two slices of cooked ham and a photograph of my late grandfather, squinting into the sun on Portstewart Strand. He couldn’t have been more than twenty five years old in this photo but I could already see how his face would fold and slide slowly downwards with age. The brine from the cooked ham had caused the photograph to smudge a little around the edges and there was a damp, almost translucent patch islanding across the envelope. It contained no letter, no written explanation for its contents, but of course we weren’t expecting any.
An envelope like this arrived most mornings from my grandmother in the nursing home. They habitually contained coins, sugar sachets, paperclips and coils of children’s hair, a page clipped from the Radio Times, boiled sweets, buttons or plastic, cocktail swords; small envelope-sized items which my grandmother had come to believe were precious and therefore liable to be stolen by cleaners or light-fingered care workers. She sent them to us for safe keeping. Some were worth keeping and my mother stored these in a biscuit tin on the topmost shelf of the larder. The rest she binned.
“It’s just rubbish,” she said, and though I agreed in principle I always wondered if perhaps my grandmother was judging her treasures by a different standard.
December 16th 2015 – East Belfast
As a child they took me to see Santa in Connswater Shopping Centre. Connswater Santa was not particularly believable, but he was free and every child who visited him was entitled to a free souvenir photo and gift-wrapped present. This was always a selection box, one of the cheaper brands with fun-sized chocolate bars and a miniature Bounty which no one on in our house –not even my hoover of a dad- would eat. In those days we were not yet rich or even moderately well-off. I did not get many Christmas presents and so, despite the lack of surprise, kept my selection box from Santa fully wrapped until Christmas morning.
The year I turned eight the selection box contained no chocolate bars, just six rectangular indentations in the plastic like tiny, unfulfilled graves. I should have suspected this. The Santa present had felt worryingly light that year. Perhaps, I’d assumed it full of Maltesers or bubbly, lighter than air, Aero bars. Perhaps, I already knew that a stranger giving gifts and expecting nothing in return was a little too good to be true. Either way, I said nothing and held on to the idea of Santa for one more Christmas.