Tag Archives: Belfast

preparation for student life

I lived in a small town in the west. We had fields behind, a lake in front, lakes all around. Far enough from the border for it not to loom, close enough for it to be an everyday reality. Regular life in Northern Ireland in 1982.

But changes were ahead. I was planning on going to university. I didn’t know any students. Past pupils from my school came home at Christmas, smug and worldly wise, too busy being grown up to discuss their new lives.

I’d intended to go to England, but wasn’t brave enough to head away into the world on my own. Belfast was far enough.  I’d never stayed there overnight. Belfast was scary, but at least my accent would be understood there, and I could go home anytime I wanted. Small steps.

We all prepared for my student life together: Herself, the Old Man, the Brother and I learned everything we needed to know from TV. We laughed and winced and cringed and learned a whole new vernacular.


Rik Mayall died yesterday. Thank you, Rik for all the family fun.*


*not “family friendly”

all about the clothes

Somewhere, somehow, somebody made a law. It was unwritten and unspoken, but we leapt to follow it. We had to wear pink.

I wore a pink coat. Girl1 had a hoodie. Girl2 turned up with her class from school, a riot of shiny pink. The costume cupboard had been raided. Non regulation pink waistcoats and pantaloons, spangly headscarves and cheeks adorned with highlighter pen. We mingled in café with proper bike people, sophisticated hangers on. They were here for the cycling, but weren’t watching the practice. They’d seen it all before. They were coordinated and groomed. Multi lingual. Women with scarves (pink, stylish, not from a primary school costume cupboard) knotted for the chic rather than the warmth. Men in long shorts, with pink silk scarves. Belfast has never seen the like.

There were no crowds in the morning for the practice session. A few minutes walk from our house, some of the world’s top cyclists whizzed by on empty roads, with only us to holler and whoop. The regular Belfast cyclists were having a wonderful time on the clear roads too, and got the odd cheer from pink schoolchildren, as they went about their cycling business with an added glow.

I’m not a cyclist, or any sort of sportsperson. I didn’t expect the adrenaline buzz. I didn’t expect my jaw to drop at the power and sophistication of what was happening. A bunch of guys on bikes, behaving as one. One speedy, sleek organism. And the noise. In the quiet morning, the noise of the wheels was like magic. A long building buzzz, and away. Because this was practice for the time trials, we got to see the same teams several times as they worked out their moves. It never got dull.

We didn’t know who or what, so we talked about the yellow team and the blue team and the brown team and the black team and Team Sky. They looked like velodrome cyclists, with the pointy helmets and solid wheels.

pink bike

It was a different story in the evening. Spurs Fan had nothing pink to wear, so wore an Italian football jersey instead. The pavements were packed- from one man and his dog in the morning, to the whole country in the evening. Our local streets were packed tight with parked cars. Thousands of people dripped at the side of the road, or put up pink umbrellas. The local pizza place delivered to the crowds. There were no regular cyclists on their bikes then. They were in the crowd, burbling excitedly to strangers about tactics and rules and speed.

The teams were faster the second time round- the competition was on. I did feel a bit sorry for the guys who seemed to get left behind. A group of five or so would power past, and then the rest of the team would come along in dribs and drabs. Why did they get left behind? The Brother (cycling expert) advised that they hadn’t been abandoned, it was the speed of the first five that was key in a time trial, and the ‘lost’ ones were being saved for something else. They were probably the fierce mountain men, waiting their turn to let rip.

I didn’t do the volunteering. I didn’t go to the finish line, or the start, or to any of the city centre festival type activities that went on during the weekend. We have no foam fingers, pink ponchos or clacky hand things.

I had a comfy seat by a window. I had coffee and a bacon bap. I could see all the teams doing all their things.

I had sunshine, an empty road and elite athletes.

I win.

Edit: belatedly, some wonderful pictures from the Guardian – they’ve got the pink, the murals, the big buildings, the cranes, and lots of cyclists.



not silent

Dank. January.

Cold, grey, soggy.

Time to gather the thermals, the hats and scarves, and the tambourine.

Friends, bloggy buddies, the politician/ citizen, the musician and thousands more.

We gathered. We milled about, chatting , huddling, small folk getting bored.

At 12.55, for five minutes, we made ourselves heard. A small portion of the NI “silent majority” let rip.

There were shaky things, drums, biscuit tins, whistles, horns, trumpets and a didgeridoo.

Cheering and clapping. Whooping

not silent protest

drummer boy

I’ve been protesting about whatever you’ve got for years; in truth I’ve never had such fun doing it. But. But. But…

What are we doing?

Belfast is headlining national news again. There are riots, water cannon and plastic bullets. These affect us all, even if we live a few miles away, mostly untroubled. The huge problems in our society, those problems that politicians try to ignore, are making themselves forcefully felt. The protests are nominally about a flag, but are about alienation, the loss of power and status. People who traditionally had no need to value education or political involvement feel that they’ve been left behind as NI has moved on. Local politicians used this, deliberately provoked the anger, and then walked away, washed their hands as the situation mushroomed out of control. Disgraceful behaviour. The result of years of sectarian voting and political arrogance.

A didgeridoo, my tambourine and few drums. What do we think we can change?

Maybe, just maybe, we can remind the world that there’s more to Belfast than protestors literally using a flag to beat the police with.

who is winning?

Lives are threatened.

Homes and businesses are threatened.

There is rioting, and water cannon in action.

Main roads are blocked at the busiest time of the day.

Families are anxious; will they all be able to get home?

It’s apparently a good news story when 500 or 2,000 people gather to protest and block roads, but do so without violence breaking out. No matter how intimidating they are. No matter what chaos is caused by their behaviour.

Politicians say “There is no excuse for violence, but…”


city hall flag protest

We’re seeing masked men on the streets. Banners announcing “democracy doesn’t work.”

Shops and restaurants are losing money, at what should be the busiest time of year. The time of year that could save some of those businesses, those jobs.

This is not simply about a council decision regarding a flag- many of the protests are happening outside that council area. This is how some people react to what they see as a loss of power and status. Their view of the natural order has been threatened and an unholy tantrum is the chosen response.


The bit that I’m missing is this: who is benefitting from this situation? A week ago I thought I knew, now I’m as baffled as the rest of the world.

The economy is losing.

The reputation of the region as a place to visit or do business is vanishing.

Children born long after ‘the troubles’ are being introduced to political violence in their city.

Any jobs going where you live?


pictures from Belfast Telegraph