the parade, the party, and the recovery

It’s been a week and a half, this week. I think I may be coming round, but I can never be sure.

Disability Pride was a glorious, fun filled, smiley celebration in Belfast on a sunny Saturday. Hundreds of people paraded, danced, sang and wheeled their way up the main street and gathered in front of City Hall. Hundreds more joined in the concert, the singing and dancing. and the smiling. All the smiling. People who don’t often make it to the city centre. People who aren’t often encouraged to be there, or to use public space to celebrate who they are. It was a wonderful event, and I’m delighted to have been part of it.

Several of us had to run away early though. No tidying up of leaflets for us, or untying banners. We had glad rags to find and faces to draw on. Accidents of timing and geography meant that we had been invited to the Lord Mayor’s Installation Dinner celebrating the Best of Belfast, the unsung heroes and the forgotten citizens. I felt a little guilty being in that company, but also, I was honoured. A vast, swanky hall, 400 people in finery, beautiful food. Like Disability Pride, it wasn’t simply inclusive, it was embracing. And the Lord Mayor’s daddy made me cry.

glad rags, westie

I’ve been in bed a lot since then. Apart from the very long meeting to prepare for a presentation, ticking names off a list at a research event, spending some time on my online course, and arranging a spot at another conference (on the same day as the presentation). Spurs Fan is rolling his eyes in well experienced despair. Less pacing; more boom and bust. The booms make the bust bearable.

Disability Pride and all that

Even without a job to juggle, my diary fills up in random spots. I have 2 confirmed events for 2015, both on 22 April. Of course.

I was due to go to Dublin tomorrow, but the event  time was moved to 8am. Patient involvement in event design still has a way to go. Last night, I was offered a lift and was so tempted to take it, but Spurs Fan advised caution. He looked at the bundle of banners at the foot of the stairs and wondered about Saturday.

Um, yeah. Saturday.

Disability pride promotion

Disability Pride hits Belfast. A family festival to celebrate diversity in society and all people with disabilities. There’s a parade, concert, information stalls, retail tents, wheelchair fixing station, all the fun. NI Rare Disease Partnership (where I come in) have organised buses and livery for the parade and a stall. Overall, there will be hundreds of people walking, wheeling, dancing, wobbling or being bussed through the city centre, partying. The girls are preparing to spend Saturday afternoon (or at least 10 minutes of it) helping out at the rare disease tent. I’m not organising this event, but will be there all day, doing something with the banners, ticking people off lists, and looking for a seat. I’ll be celebrating, having fun and being inspired by the awesomeness of other people.

That’s a lot, but it’s not all.

A few weeks ago, Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon completed the ice bucket challenge for MND and other rare diseases, and then had us in for tea. Tea and nibbles in the parlour, chatting about who we are, what we do, how she can help.

Obviously the Lord Mayor can’t get enough of us, because the Belfast City Council based people from the parlour ‘do’ have been invited back, to the Installation Dinner. A fancy dinner in the City Hall, invited by the Lord Mayor. Get us. Of course it’s on Saturday night.

Can I potter in, grubby, smelly and carrying banners from the day?

Can I stay awake when I go home to get washed and changed?

Will I fall asleep in the soup?

And, does ‘Dress: lounge suit’ mean dress for going to a wedding, or a cocktail/ formal type frock?

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.