Good day to you one and all in whatever part of our sadly troubled world you may be. I trust the current virus pandemic is not affecting you too adversely although it is difficult to think of anywhere in the world, bar the Antarctic possibly, that has not been impacted and the Antarctic has problems enough of it’s own to worry about.
For the battle-hardened veterans that constitute my small band of regular readers, you know what to do, just skip the preamble and head South to the “main event” but for anyone who has stumbled upon this page for the first time by whatever means, a very warm welcome.
This disordered little corner of the worldwide interwebthingy.org is where I record my various travels over the years as well as the occasional entry about my day to day activities. Some people laughingly refer to it as a blog but I wouldn’t go that far!
Until recently, I confined myself to writing up lengthy overseas trips, sometimes contemporaneously and more often years after the event. For example, I have recently finished an 18 post “magnus opus” describing a long-distance walk of over 150 miles round the circumference of Greater London that I completed some years ago. If you have any interest in that then it begins here and I hope you find it of some interest.
Let’s see where and when we are travelling in time today but first………..
These events all took place many years before the current Chinese virus pandemic that has brought the world to it’s knees. All the practical details are not as they were in those happier times so, if the opportunity ever presents itself and you would like to visit any of the places mentioned then please do your research first to find out the current situation.
Date: 9th April 2010.
I might as well get my almost obligatory apology out of the way right at the beginning and my “regulars” will know what I mean by that, I always end up apologising for something or another. This entry’s “mea culpa” is that this whole piece is really a very self-indulgent trip down memory lane for me to the city of Belfast where I was mostly raised.
I will not cover a fraction of the many wonderful things there are to see and do with tourism very much on the agenda in Northern Ireland now as part of the so-called peace dividend. This is just a wander I took one day to have a look at some of my old haunts, have a pint or two in some other old favourite pubs and bring back a memory or two. There are any amount of excellent sites dedicated to tourism in “the Province” as Northern Ireland is often erroneously referred to and I strongly recommend the official Tourist Board site which has everything you need.
Why do I say the term “the Province” is erroneous? I shall explain and as with all my writings about the country of my birth I shall try to keep it apolitical although politics seems to be the single most important entity there.
Historically, the island of Ireland was divided into the four Provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. Ulster comprised the modern day counties of Fermanangh, Antrim, Down, Armagh, Londonderry (Derry), Tyrone, Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan, that is nine counties. You will often hear Northern Ireland referred to as “the six counties” so what is going on there?
For many centuries the entire island was under British jurisdiction until 1922 when it was partitioned. A Border Commission had been set up and decided that the new country of Northern Ireland would comprise of the first six counties named with the latter three forming part of the 26 counties of what is now the Republic of Ireland.
Like any formation of new countries and re-drawing of boundaries (think of the former Yugoslavia) this led to all sorts of upheavals, one example of which refers to my own family. Born in Co. Monaghan, my paternal grandfather was a Protestant and considered himself to be British and so when partition came about he and at least one of his siblings (great uncle Jim) left home and moved North so as to remain in the United Kingdom. Hopefully that has sorted out some of the terms for you, I know it can be confusing. Anything to do with Irish politics is confusing!
My day out started not too early for various reasons. Firstly, on the odd occasions I do sleep at night I am not an early riser and secondly the trains, like trains anywhere, are packed with commuters early in the morning. I left it until after 0930 as that also attracts off-peak fares. I should say that the rail network in Northern Ireland is not vast but it is fairly well run with decent rolling stock and reasonable punctuality. I like train travel anyway and the bus takes an age from Portadown to Belfast as it seems to stop at every hole in the hedge.
I had timed it so I caught the 1108 Enterprise from Portadown which runs non-stop to Belfast Central in 37 minutes as opposed to the 55 minutes of the stopping train. The Enterprise is the express service between Belfast and Dublin and I do rather like it. I arrived in Central bang on time and you will notice that I am calling it Central as that is what it was called then, what it had always been called and what I suspect it is still called by the majority of people, I shall certiainly refer to it as that. You are probably wondering what I am talking about so I shall explain.
In 2018, for reasons I shall never understand, Northern Ireland Railways decided to change the name of Central to Lanyon Place which is a nonsense. I lived in Belfast for many years and I never heard of a road called Lanyon Place, in fact I do not believe one ever existed. It is now the name of a general area there which had been relatively recently re-developed and where a number of businesses have adopted the Lanyon Place tag. This was presumably to give them a sense of identity in what was a fairly derelict area in my day. No doubt some senior railway executive or marketing guru got a fat bonus and / or a promotion for thinking up that piece of expensive and completely unecessary nonsense.
Just as a quick one of my numerous asides the name Central was actually inaccurate even if everyone knew it because it is slightly further from the centre than Great Victoria Street station. Until Cental was opened in 1976 (I remember it) Great Victoria Street was the terminus for the Enterpise and local services to Portadown and Newry. It still exists but is more of a backwater now.
Shaking my head slightly at the idiocy of the name change I made my way out of the station on East Bridge Street which is still thankfully East Bridge Street. East Bridge Street, nice and simple and, to borrow a phrase form a British advertising campaign for creosote (really) it does what it says on the tin. It is the Eastern part of the street that leads to the Albert Bridge and to borrow another famous British advertising catchphrase (for an insurance comparison website)- simples! Further apologies to those who have not got a clue what all that was about.
I turned left and started walking into town with no clear idea of where I was going to go or what I was going to do except for a few pubs I had in mind. I was immediately struck, as I always am on my occasional return visits, by just how much Belfast has changed since I left Northern Ireland in 1988. Even before that I had been living round Co. Armagh and did not visit the capital too much so the changes now are even more pronounced. The number of skyscrapers is amazing in a city where the tallest building for decades was the Europa / Forum Hotel.
I was still in the Lanyon Place district which has been massively re-developed from the area of mostly disused warehouses it was in my youth. I had no idea who Lanyon might have been, although I really should have as he more or less single-handedly designed the Belfast and Northern Ireland I grew up in, so as always I have looked him up whilst researching this piece.
Charles Lanyon was born in Eastbourne (Sussex, England) in 1813, the son of a Royal Navy purser and after his schooling he trained as a civil engineer in Portsmouth under a man called Owen, training which he was to put to good use over the next decades. His mentor was subsequently appointed to the Irish Board of Works and Lanyon went with him. After a brief period in Co. Kildare he was moved to Co. Antrim where he remained for the rest of his life.
Over his working life, Lanyon’s output was prodigious and produced some of the most recognisable structures in Northern Ireland. In addition to over 50 churches, he was responsible for the Linenhall Library, the now disused and somewhat notorious Crumlin Road gaol and Courthouse, scene of some of the most significant terrorist trials of “the Troubles” and now a visitor centre and Belfast Customs House.
He also re-designed Killyleagh House and designed Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan. He was responsible for the Campanile in Trinity College, Dublin and in another academically themed commission he designed the magnificent main building for Queen’s University, Belfast.
Apart from buildings he was also reponsible for the Palm House in Belfast Botanical Gardens and, spoiler or not, we shall be visiting that later on in this piece but perhaps my favourite of his creations is not a building at all but I love it for the memories. It is part of the A2, a route that follows the coast of Northern Ireland from Carlingford Lough in the Southeast of the country to Londonderry / Derry in the Northwest but from Larne to Cushendall in Co. Antrim it is known to one and all as the Antrim Coast Road which is rightly regarded as one of the great scenic routes of the world, it is stunning.
It was here in the mid 1970’s that my brother, two friends and myself had our first holiday avay from our parents. I think I was either 15 or 16 and the others were all a year younger. I have mentioned it in previous entries here explaining how we cycled the length of Coast Road and a bit further, staying in Youth Hostels at night.
It was a not a great adventure in the grand scheme of things but I think it was probably that and an even more adventurous trip round the Peak District in England the next year that engenderd my love or travelling. Yes, both trips were organised to the last detail and in complete contrast ot the way I travel now but it was a start.
In later years both my brother and I rode with a Motorcycle Club in Belfast called the Eagle MCC which was formed in the mid-70’s but is now long since defunct. Remarkably, on one timed run on this road, I actually won and was rewarded with a lovely trophy that is probably still in my late Father’s attic, I must look for it next time I am back. It was a hugely polished piston from a bike engine with a plaque on the wooden base and, apart from my medals it was probably the best thing I was ever awarded. Combining all these things together I am going to give you a link here which may interest you.
After so many years of the club being disbanded and everyone drifting apart, some of the Eagles met up on social media and planned a (naturally anti-socially distanced) run for August 2020 along this very road. My brother is a bit of a dab hand with his Go-Pro camera so, as well as some lovely bikes and a few memories for me there is some footage of the scenery on the route. I know my brother reads this blog so you owe me a pint for the plug, kid.
Beautiful as it is, Lanyon’s Coast Road was not intended for tourists but as a necessity for this previously isolated region. Prior to 1842, when the road opened, the North Antrim coast was isolated as the roads over the hills and through the famous Glens of Antrim were so poor and so steep that the residents used to sail over to Scotland to trade as it was quicker than trying to get to Belfast or even Larne. Lanyon did not plan the road, that was the work of William Bald, civil engineer to the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, but he was the second of two County Surveyors who supervised the work and it was he who saw it through to completion.
I always like to report accurately here and I should point out that some sections of the road you travel today are not the original Bald route. The principal geology here is white limestone and very prone to rockfalls. After two particularly bad ones in 1967 the local authority built a new road to the seaward side of the original to avoid the worst of the falls, which still occur but fortunately don’t obstruct the Queen’s Highway now.
Apart from his commissions for others, Lanyon was ultimately to benefit from his own work. In 1850 he designed a grand house in Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim, for the MP Richard Davison and he eventually bought it himself. He died here in 1889 at the age of 76 and was subsequently buried in Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast which is no more than a mile from where I was brought up and, as I said, I had never even heard of the man until today. He was obviously a successful man in his civic duties and private businesses as he left an estate of over £53,000 which equates to almost £7 million today.
Now, where were we before that Lanyon digression began? I remember I was in the area named for him and which is now home to one of the more impressive buildings in Belfast, the Waterfront Hall. It is an impressive structure as you can see, with planning begun in 1989 and opening in 1997. It is a multi-purpose structure with the main 2,000+ seater auditorium being used for exhibitions, conferences, concerts and sporting events, notably the Northern Ireland Open snooker championships. There is a smaller 380 seater “studio” (some studio!) which is predominantly used for plays.
As well as top line artists, it is here that several important political events have taken place. US President Obama delivered a speech here in 2013 but the Hall is probably best known as being the venue where President Clinton spoke in 1998 as part of the political process which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement that put an end to most of the terrorist violence that had blighted the country for 30 years and left over 3,000 dead with many more maimed. There is also an iconic image of rock singer Bono holding aloft the arms of David Trimble and the recently deceased John Hume (both of whom became Nobel Laureates for their actions) at an historic meeting and handshake between the two on the stage here.
One thing I just found out about the Waterfront is that the dome roof is clad in copper which must have accounted for a fair chunk of the £32 million budget. The reasoning behind this is so it will weather and turn green to match the roof of Belfast City Hall, which is only a short walk away.
London has Big Ben and Tower Bridge, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Berlin the Brandenburg Gate and Belfast has it’s cranes and, yes, I have seen them all! There are certainly some beautiful buildings in Belfast courtesy of our friend Mr. Lanyon and others but the iconic image of Belfast is undoubtedly the sight of Samson and Goliath as they are called, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard so I simply had to take this image. They look impressive from here, about a mile away, but I have actually stood under them and they are truly staggering in their scale.
Goliath was completed in 1969 and Samson in 1974. Goliath stands 315 feet tall (96 metres in new money), while Samson is even taller at 348 feet (106 metres). Sadly, they were built at the wrong time as by the 1970’s shipbuilding in the UK was in serious decline, mostly being forced out of business by Korean yards with much cheaper labour costs. The Clyde, the Tyne and the Tees all went the same way and today there is effectively no shipbuilding in my country.
The last ship was built on “the island”, as H&W’s site was referred to, was in 2003 whereupon they re-branded themselves into ship repair and heavy engineering and it was thought the cranes might be scrapped but a Government Order later in 2003 preserved them as historic monuments so they are thankfully here to stay.
Although the cranes were kept in working order and used a little for the shipyard’s new work, they were under-employed and still functioning at the time of this image. Sadly this is no longer the case as Harland and Wolff ceased trading in 2019. A massive part of Belfast’s history has gone, never to return, but at least we still have the cranes.
I was now walking North on a pedestrian walkway parallel to Oxford Street and I couldn’t help but remember that this was where the old Oxford Street bus station used to be and from where buses to the South and East of the country came and went. I used it regularly as a boy. Buses to the North and West originated from another bus station in Great Victoria Street, adjacent to the train station previously mentioned.
I was certainly reminiscing a fair bit and not in a particularly negative way but I could not help thinking about a terrible day on the 21st of July, 1972 when the Provisional IRA detonated in excess of 20 bombs all over Belfast. In an 80 minute period in what was to become known as “Bloody Friday” nine people were killed and 130 injured, many seriously and 77 of them were women and children. Where is your warrior code? Proper Irish heroes of antiquity, both real and mythological, men like Brian Boru and Chuchulainn would have been appalled at what happened that awful day.
One of the bombs exploded right here at what was the bus station, killing two British soldiers and four Ulsterbus employees who were looking for the bomb. The youngest of the victims was William Crothers who was only 15. Another young life ended in the litany of murder and bloodshed that was my teenage life.
I know it is getting on for half a century now and it was 38 years since it happened as I walked along that day in 2010. At that point I had been living in London for 22 years and yet it still came back to my mind. I remember well exactly where I was that day and fortunately it was nowhere near Belfast. My paternal grandparents used to rent a little cottage in a seaside village called Millisle in Co. Down and I used to go and stay with them. I heard about it there on the news. I was 12. All those years later it still came back to me, some things are hard to forget.
Enough of that, Belfast is a much different place now and was even in 2010 so let’s see what’s next. What is next is the huge sculpture you can see in the image above which stands at the Western end of the Queen’s Bridge and you certainly cannot miss it as it is an impressive 19.5 metres tall. It is the work of Scotsman called, appropriately enough, Andy Scott who has work on display all over the world but is probably best known for “the Kelpies” near Falkirk in his home country. These are basically two massive steel horses heads apparently rising out of the ground. I have seen them and they are very impressive.
This piece is called Beacon of Hope and was dedicated in 2007 and at a cost of £300,000 it is certainly a beacon of hope for Mr. Scott’s bank balance. Hardly surprising really as the figure is stainless steel and the globe bronze so at least it shouldn’t rust in the seemingly never-ending Northern Irish rain. Of course, with the famous Belfast sense of humour it was never going to be referred to by it’s proper title. Amongst other names it has been clled “Nuala with the hula”, “Belle on the ball” and perhaps least flatteringly “The thing with the ring”. They will re-name anything in that city.
Heading away from the River Lagan and on towards the centre of town, not to mention manfully walking past a number of the excellent hostelries that Belfast boasts, I made my way to Belfast City Hall. I had vague idea that I may have been taken there once as a small child but that may just be memory playing tricks. I know I had certainly never been inside in adulthood although I have walked past it literally thousands of times, you cannot really go round central Belfast without passing it.
For some obscure reason I did not take an image of the outside of the the City Hall, don’t ask me why. Anyway, it is not as if there is a shortage of such images online. I did, however, manage a couple inside but only of the hugely impressive staircase and the equally impressive rotunda complete with the mural you can see in the one of images. It was painted in 1951 by the Belfast artist John Luke to celebrate the Festival of Britain of that year.
The mural depicts the foundation of Belfast and if you look closely you can see nods to the linen indsutry (to the left) and shipbuilding (to the right). These were obviously the two industries that made Belfast such an industrial powerhouse from the late 18th century right through until the 20th and which led to the town being granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888. Obviously a city needs a City Hall and plans were begun immediately but it was not until 1906 that the Portland stone building, to the design of Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas, was finally opened. It cost a whopping £306,000 which is over £37 million today so it is probably just as well Belfast was booming then.
Outside the City Hall on the East lawn was a structure that was most definitely not there in my childhood, the Ferris wheel you can see above. It had been there since 2007 but I was lucky I got some images as it closed two days later and was dismantled. There were two reasons for this involving “jobsworths” as usual. Firstly, the Titanic Society (whoever they might be, is it an offshoot of the Lennie di Caprio fan club?) complained that it obscured the Titanic memorial and the Environmentb Agency, never ones to shirk a bit of petty bureaucracy, got antsy about it becoming a permanent structure alongside a Grade A listed building.
At 200 feet it was impressive enough although it is not a patch on the London Eye which rises over 440 feet in the air. I have mentioned before that I am not good with heights and so why I allowed myself to be talked onto going on the London Eye I have no idea but I did. I spent about 45 minutes of my life or however long it is in sheer, blinding bowel-clenching terror. 45 minutes? Something like that but I know it felt like hours. I contented myself now, as I should have done on the London Eye, with a few images taken with my feet solidly planted on terra very firma before heading off for my next port of call which was going to be a pint in one of my favourite bars in Belfast, the Crown.
My route to that fine pub took me past the building you see above and yet more memories for me as it was the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street. It was here in the early 70’s that I saw my first live gig, fell in love with it and began a serious relationship with the music of Rory Gallagher all in one night. I still remember it vividly even though it was about 45 years ago.
When Rory came onstsage in his signature outfit of jeans and a checked lumberjack shirt and launched into “Bullfrog Blues” as his opener and then went on to play some of the finest blues music I have ever heard, I was hooked and I decided I wanted to play like Rory. I started playing guitar shortly after that and 45 years later I still want to play like Rory lthough I think it is unlikely because nobody can play like he could.
Not far now until the Crown and my first pint of Guinness of the day and so into the into that fine pub I went. Again, I have so many images of the Crown I didn’t need any more so this is from another visit. It is OK, the place has not changed for centuries so it looks the same here as it did on the day I am writing about.
The Crown Liquor Saloon, to give it it’s full title has been keeping customers happy since the 18th century and is, in it’s way, as iconic as the cranes. It was originally called the Railway Tavern because it was directly opposite the Great Victoria Street railway station, yes, that place again.
In 1885 the son of the then owner completely re-furbished the place and gave it the name it bears to this day. It is as ornate as it is because he managed to persuade a number of highly skilled Italian craftsmen to work on the refurbishment. These artisans were in Belfast to satisfy the Victorian appetite for building ever more extravagant churches “to the glory of God”. Rather more to the glory of the Christian church and the parishioners I feel but I am not going to get drawn into that one.
The new owner, Michael Flanagan, even managed to persuade the Italians to work at night so he could continue trading during the day. The result of all their labours was the magnificent bar you see today which is generally, and rightly in my view, regarded as being one of the finest examples of a Victorian “gin palace” in the British Isles. Believe me, I know whereof I speak, having been in enough of them over the years, purely in the interests of research you understand.
The poor old Crown suffered horribly during “the Troubles” as the train station, for which it was originally named, lurks behind what is generally called the Europa Hotel although it used to change it’s name fairly often with the Forum being one of the other names employed. It seemed as if in the 1970’s and 1980’s Provisional IRA terrorists blew it up about once a month to the extent that it proudly delared itself the most bombed hotel on Earth and issued customers certificates to that effect. Obviously, bombs are indiscriminate and the pub suffered a lot of what military tacticians call collateral damage.
By 1978 the Crown was for sale and no less a person than the Poet Lureate Sir John Betjeman, amongst others, urged the National Trust to buy it which they did. There followed a three year £400,000 refurbishment followed by a further £500,000 refit in 2007 to present the gem you see here today.
The NT do not actually run the place, they lease it to M&B Brewery who administer it through their Nicholson’s retail arm and they do it very well. I have to say that I quite like Nicholson’s as a chain, they seem to have some very interesting outlets and are always well-run. The Crown is always packed and is a “must see” for visitors to Belfast and I have heard anecdotal stories that the profits from the pub effectively subsidise all other NT operations in Northern Ireland.
Here is a quick insiders tip for you. There is a full menu but the thing to go for is a “snack” is a bowl of the Irish stew which they keep in a huge urn behind the bar as it is some of the best Irish stew I have ever eaten, it is delicious. A bowl of that and a couple of pints of the superbly kept and poured Guinness and you won’t need feeding for hours.
I would in no way consider myself to be a beer snob as I’ll drink just about anything anywhere but I will only ever drink Guinness on the island of Ireland. I was virtually weaned on the stuff but even in England and even there in “proper” Irish pubs it just does not taste the same. Since the closure of the Guinness Brewery at Park Royal in Northwest London some years ago, all the draught Guinness in England comes from the St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin so it should taste like Guinness in Ireland but it just does not travel well.
Having had my couple of pints it was time to move on if for no other reason than to walk off that calorific pit-stop. I didn’t have the stew as I had something else in mind which I’ll tell you about now and it is a wonder of Northern Ireland called the Ulster Fry although it is prevalent throughout all of Ireland. In the Republic I have heard it referred to as a “Full Irish” but it is all much the same thing and I have spoken about it numerous times on other pages in this blog.
Whatever you choose to call it, the Ulster fry is basically the biggest fried breakfast you can imagine with some ingredients you have probably never heard of like square sausage, potato bread, soda bread, wheaten bread and vegetable roll as well as the usual fried eggs (always fried, never poached or scrambled for a proper Ulster fry), tomatoes, pork sausages, mushrooms, bacon etc. etc. Pick a selection and fry them. I say pick a selection as you will never get it all on one plate or even two if you do everything possible.
The Ulster fry is basically a heart attack on a plate and I used to virtually live on them but I have sadly had to more or less knock them on the head now for health reasons, damn this cholesterol! Back in 2010 I was cooking for myself in my Father’s home and was devouring one nearly every day. This particular morning I had skipped breakfast to get to the train on time and so I was a bit hungry and looking for a fry-up. Whilst it is traditionally a breakfast meal, many places serve it all day so I was pretty confident I’d find one somewhere.
Rather than walk along Great Victoria Street, which is the main thoroughfare, I decided to take a short detour and have a wander up Sandy Row which is one of the Protestant / Unionist / Loyalist enclaves in Belfast as you shall see in a moment.
When I was young I used to wonder occasionally about the name Sandy Row but never did anything regarding getting round to finding out where it originated. As I get older, and as regular readers will know, my thirst for knowlege, no matter how apparently trivial or esoteric seems to increase in direct relationship to my age and almost to the point of what I am sure is a clinically identifiable mental condition, a sort of obsession. Naturally, you know what is coming next, an explanation of the name and one that I found somewhat odd.
The name Sandy Row itself is pretty straightforward as it refers to a sandbank which formed a pathway through the lower lying marshy ground but what is unusual is that this sandbank marked the limit of the alluvial plain of the river Lagan. I know that rivers alter their courses over their lifetime but the Lagan is currently at least a mile away to the East. Can anyone assist with this? I’d love to know, it is that compulsion again.
Local legend has it that the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange used this track on his way to the Battle of the Boyne where he defeated the Catholic King James to ensure a Britoish Protestant monarchy which remains to this day. This battle is of massive significance to Ulster Protestants, specifically the Orange Order which is so-called as they wear Orange sashes or collarettes to show thei support for the “Orange” William whom they call “King Billy”. Some sources state that Willaim and his Army actually camped overnight at what is now the North end of Sandy Row but there is no firm historical evidence for this.
It is telling that if you walk South to North in Sandy Row, one of the first features you encounter is a bridge unsurprisingly called the Boyne Bridge. Almost immediately you are, or at least were, confronted by the fairly uncompromising mural you can see above which shows a masked man holding what appears to be an AK-47 assault rifle (the omst numerous such weapon in the world and remind me some time to tell you a story of it’s inventor!) and the legend you can see glorifying the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a terrorist offshoot of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) which is very strong in this area. Basically the UFF were the UDA who adopted the new name to avoid being prorogued in the early 70’s.
Like all the terrorist organisations on both sides in the Northern Ireland conflict, the UDA / UFF is effectively what law enforcement agencies refer to as an “Organised Crime Group or Syndicate” and, even though they have now officially ceased terrorist activities, it is the paramilitaries that control all the drugs in the country as well as running prostitution and the associated human trafficking, protection rackets and numerous other criminal activities.
In the 1970’s drugs were virtually unknown in Northern Ireland but the mid 1980’s there had been a massive increase to the point where it is now a very serious problem. This happened because the paramilitaries saw it as a much safer and easier way to make money than robbing banks and post offices as they had done before. Obviously, they had a monopoly in their respective areas as they just murdered or maimed “independent” dealers and, in a brilliant political move, claimed it as being for the benefit of the community. They were portraying themselves as occupying the moral high ground in removing drug dealers when all they were doing was protecting a very lucrative cash cow by supplying themselves.
One of the great joys of having my own blog now is that I can say what I think (within the bounds of the law obviously) without fear of “moderation”as would have happened on other websites I have contributed to over the years and I think that all paramilitaries, on both sides, are common criminals that would be shunned in any decent society. For decades they hid behind the faceade of “the Cause”, whichever cause it may have been but that fallacy has now been completely exposed and we see these thugs for what they are. Back to the mural.
I know there are murals in countries all over the world but the genre is endemic in Northern Ireland and has been as long as I can remember. Tourists now even go on organised trips to view them. Historically they were of the type you see here, glorifying one paramilitary group or another or commemorating another “martyr” for “the Cause” although more recently there has been a shift away from this and onto slightly less contentious subjects.
The mural you see here was intended to mirror the “free Derry corner” mural in that city, painted in the Nationalist Bogside area of the city in the late 60’s and proclaiming “You are now entering Free Derry”. It is perhaps the most famous mural in the country and is also on the tourist trail now. If toy are wondering about hte Latin in the lower right hand corner which says “Quis Seperabit” it means “who will seperate us” and is the motto of the ADA / UFF. We shall see it again shortly.
If you want to go and see this mural, don’t bother as it is no longer there. This is literally a few minutes walk from the central commercial district of Belfast and, with all the money being pumped into the city now, it is being redeveloped at a rate of knots. There were many new office blocks and the like round here but there was a slight reticence on the part of some business people to lease premises here as they found the mural off-putting, it is not the kind of thing you want your international business partners looking at when you are discussing deals.
The “business class” approached the local paramilitary “godfathers” and, in 2012 this mural was over-painted with the more traditional mural of our friend King Billy. This sounds very decent of them but I suspect an ulterior motive as it is hard to run a protection racket in an empty building! I hate terrorists.
Carrying on North along Sandy Row I came upon what I was looking for and that was Ena’s Plaice (that is for once not a typo) which, as you can see, is a chip shop. A quick look through the window at the menu confirmed my hopes, they did an all-day Ulster fry which I duly ordered and which was delicious. I know I have been a bit slack bout taking images for this post but it was a deliberate policy not to take one of the wonderful calorific feast.
Despite having lived in London for over 20 years at that point, I still have a Belfast accent you could cut with a knife and it gets worse when I go back so there there was no way I could pass as a bona fide traveller as it was obvious I was or had been local. I just thought it was probably best if I did not start waving a camera about inside a Sandy Row cafe.
I realise this is probably a throwback to my 1980’s thinking and nothing would have happened but I just didn’t think it was a good idea so I have included here an image of one of my own creations. This is included just to give readers who may not be familiar with this culinary delicacy an idea of what it is all about. I have to say that Ena’s was much better presented than mine. Ena’s is a cracking little sit down chippy, spotlessly clean with great food and friendly staff, I do recommend it.
With a belly full of good fried grub and cholseterol undoubtedly coursing through my veins (as I was to find out to my cost years later) I felt suitably fortified for the next leg and a couple of hundred yards brought me to the junction of Blythe Street and more murals which are quite telling as I hope the images below show.
First we have a mural of the late George Best, arguably the best footballer (soccer player) the world has ever seen but don’t take my word for it. The legendary Brazilian striker Pele, who many believe was the greatest ever, was once asked who was best and he said Best! George was brought up on the Cregagh estate about half a mile from where I used to live and he is a genuine hero to everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of religion or political affiliation.
If you don’t know much about football, Best is regarded as being the original “superstar” player, idolised the way most top players are now. He was good looking, had a string of gorgeous gilfriends including a couple of Miss Worlds and hung out with A-list film and pop stars. He wore his hair long (well, it was the swinging 60’s) and the press dubbed him “the fifth Beatle or El Beatle” amongst other things. Screaming girls swarmed him if he went out in public, you get the idea.
Best opened a trendy fashion boutique and he loved to party but therein lay his downfall for he quickly became an alcoholic like his Mother before him and, whilst he won several prstigious medals, including the European Cup in 1968, it is generally agreed he never fulfilled his potential. The world’s greatest ended up an overweight journeyman playing for nothing clubs all over the world with his last competitive game being for Tobermore United, a non-League side in Northern Ireland. What a waste.
Bestie, as he was known, just could not lay off the drink even when he had to have a liver transplant in 2002 and he died in 2005 at the age of 59. His funeral was massive and brought Belfast to a standstill. He was held in such high regard that they re-named Belfast City airport George Best International.
This is a mural commemorating Robert Dougan, a UFF terrorist who was murdered by Republican terrorists in 1998 in what I consider a case of “live by the sword, die by the sword”. This was part of a series of “tit for tat” killings at the time with various terrorist groups jockeying for position ahead of the Good Friday Agreement which led to a general cessation of violence although dissidents on both sides still continue their violent actions and, as I have explained, the organised criminal activity of both sides has gone through the roof.
Again you can see the “Quis separabit” motto I mentioned before and again, if you fancy going to look at this mural don’t bother as it is not there, it too has been over-painted but in this case, without any posh office blocks to worry about, it is just another depiction of the murdered terrorist.
It is this image that I find the most interesting as it shows that the people of this working class Loyalist heartland find no problem in celebrating an international sporting icon and a murdered member of a criminal organisation side by side and apparently without distinction, they are both heroes here. What exactly this might tell us about the country of my birth I amnot entirely sure. Much more intelligent people than me have been pondering it for a long time and I am not sure they have got the answer yet.
Whilst I was looking at the George Best mural my mind turned to another world beating sportsman from Belfast and another flawed genius, Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, world snooker champion in 1972 and 1982. He was dubbed “The People’s Champion” by the Press and is regarded as having borught snooker to a much wider audience than it had previously enjoyed. This was partly due to the speed of his play which earned him the “Hurricane” tag and partly because he was fairly unpredictable to say the least.
Perhaps it was because I was in Sandy Row that I thought of him as he was born just off the Row and started his snooker career as a boy in the nearby Jampot Club (now and then long closed). Like George Best, he was a heavy drinker and he was also a heavey smoker and gambler. His life was a series of disasters, run-ins with the law and all manner of other problems. He assaulted an official at a tournament, was alleged to have assaulted a 14 year old boy, was stabbed by a girlfriend and so on. If you wrote a Hollywood script like it people would say it was unbelievable but it happened.
When he won his first world championship in 1972 he did not even have a home and was squatting in a row of derelict houses which were awaiting demolition in the North of England. Imagine that, a world champion living like a tramp. There are various TV clips of him so drunk he cannot string two words together and yet he could always play although the cocaine and cannabis he admitted using on top of the drink cannot have helped. Somehow or another, despite all his travails, he managed to win a second world championship ten years after his first and the TV images of him tearfully embracing his child afterwards are the stuff of televised sporting legend.
Almost inevitably, the dissolute lifestyle caught up with him (I can sympathise with that) and he contracted throat cancer. His teeth fell out due to a course of radiotherapy and he was living on liquid food which caused his weight to drop to around six stones. He eventually died of a number of conditions including pneumonia and malnutrition, what a sad end for such a talented sportsman.
In scenes reminiscent of George Best’s funeral five years earlier Belfast came to a standstill as people gathered to pay the respects to “the Hurricane” on his final journey to Carnmoney Cemetery. I don’t know what it is about Bestie and the Hurricane. Is it a Northern Ireand thing that we cannot handle fame should it come, are we all pre-disposed to be alcoholics, do we all have a big red self-destruct button hardwired into us? I really have no answers.
I popped into the Royal for a quick pint of stout (local term for Guinness) and I had not been in there for years. I remembered it as a big football pub, which it still was, but htere were loads of photos of Alex on the walls, including several of him in that very bar, it must have been one of his many locals. I know he used to drink a lot in the Crown where we were a while ago. Again, the Royal Bar in Sandy Row is not a place to be brandishing a camera so no images again I am afraid.
On again across the Lisburn Road and into what is now known as the University Quarter, centred on Queen’s University. I went through a few backstreets I know as I am very familiar with that area and into the back gate of the Botanic Gardens which, as you can see, are a delight.
The 28 acre Gardens were opened in 1828 as a private space with the “peasantry” only being admitted on Sundays and this state of affairs continued until 1895 when Belfast City Council bought it over and allowed free access for everyone every day. I know the Gardens very well as my school, which we shall come to shortly, is nearby and it was a good place to go and hide at lunchtime for a smoke. Yes, I know, it is not big and it is not clever but it is what we did in the 1970’s. It is so big that the teachers would never find you on the odd occasions they came looking and you could dodge them easily. I am sure this is not the use the founders had envisaged but it is what we utilised it for.
Apart from the Ulster Museum, which is a much later addition and is another place we shall visit in a moment, the most striking feature of the actual Gardens is the glasshouse which was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon as I explained so many paragraphs ago. It is one of the earliest structures of it’s type in the world, pre-dating the much more famous Kew Gardens glasshouse in SW London by some years.
Whilst the design was by Lanyon the actual construction was the work of a Dublin ironsmith called Richard Turner who went on to construct the Kew glasshouse. He almost won the prize to design and construct a building for the Great Exhibition in 1851 but came second to a man called Paxton. The result of that was the Crystal Palace which is long gone but still gives it’s name to an area of Southeast London and a famous football (soccer) club.
The glasshouse is wonderful for a walk round and it has two wings as you can see, with one being temperate and one tropical. I prefer the tropical as it is fairly warm and humid and it reminds me of being, well, in the tropics and on one of my jaunts which I shall hopefully be able to do again some day.
I promised you the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Museum you shall have, dear readers. This was another lunchtime school haunt for us. When I got into sixth form, which is still a mystery to me given my “O” level results, we had access to a wonderful sixth form centre including a very decent, and important for impecunious schoolhildren like us, cheap coffee bar but we just liked to get out and about and the coffee shop in the Museum was a favourite haunt. After satisfying our nicotine cravings n the Botanic Gardens we would head in there for a coffee and a chat before heading back for the two afternoon periods. We never actually went to look at any of the exhibits although I did do when I left school and could do what I liked.
The roots of the Ulster Museum go all the way back to 1821 and a group of scientifically minded Belfast worthies getting together to form the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society. They had no premises and they amalgmated their small collections with those of the Belfast Reading Society and Belfast Literary Society.
They managed to secure some storage space in the Belfast Academical Institution, now the XXXX Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI) or Inst. as it is locally known. I went to Methodist College, Belfaast (MCB) or Methody in local parlance and we were the fiercest of rivals in every field of human endeavour both academic and sporting. From personal experience I can tell you that rugby matches against Inst. were “local derbies” and keenly, often violently, contested.
Belfast at that time was beginning it’s huge boom, fuelled by industry and there was an appetite for the newly moneyed classes to show an appreciation of the more cerebral things in life. The Society grew rapidly and must have been well-connected because early contributors to the collection included Josiah Wedgewood of ceramics fame and no less than Charles Darwin. They built a Museum at 7, College Square North (near Inst.) and opened it in 1831. This building still exists and there are current renovation plans to keep it in it’s original condition.
The Society first exhibited in 1833 and metamorphosed into the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1842, an organisation that exists to this day. It was still very much a “rich man’s club” but the public were admitted (upon payment of a small fee) every Easter Monday, how gracious of them. By 1853 nearly 6,000 people attended on the “special day”. An art gllery was added in 1890.
By the early part of the 20th century it became apparent that larger premises were required and a competition was held to obtain a suitable design for land which had been purchased in Stranmillis at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. The competition was won by an architect called Wynnes but sadly the Grat War put everything on hold and his design, a U-shaped classical building was put on hold and not eventually completed until 1929 when the entire collection was moved and exhibited there.
This situation continued until the 1960’s but constant acquisitions were putting pressure on the space available and so it was decided an extension was required. Yet another open competition was held in 1964 in keeping with tradition and an untested architect called Francis Pym submitted plans for a very modern structure to abut the existing one in what has been described as the “Brutalist style” which was popular from the 1950’s onwards in the UK.
I m now going off on another tangent and, for once, I am not going to apologise. I am writing this post and it is proving very useful in passing my insomniac hours. Please skip a few paragraphs if you don’t want to hear my probably ill-informed comments on Brutalist architecture.
I know nothing of that discipline, science, art or whatever it is save the evidence of my eyes and a bit of amateur research whilst writing various travel blogs like this. I am no expert, I can barely tell a portico from a portcullis but, to use an old slightly rustic phrase, “I knows what I likes” and I generally do not like the Brutalist form.
I know my good friend XXXX Sarah, who I have mentioned before on this blog, loves Brutalism and writes lvoingly about it, not to mention taking some wonderful images, so I know she will love this. Hello, mate. I don’t actually dislike Brutalism per se. I remmeber visiting Poland not long after the Berlin Wall came down and was dumbstruck by the sheer scale and ugly functionality of much of the housing, for example, but in that functionalty lay a strange appeal if that does not sound oxymoronic.
It was the same when I visited Zagreb in Croatia and I was staying on “the wrong side of the tracks” or in this case the “wrong side of the river” there in a formerly Government run hotel which was slap bang in the middle of a huge Soviet style housing complex and I loved it. Apart from the unbelievable friendliness of the locals, some of whom I got to know a lttle, I felt like I was living in something from a film. Although thoughts of Orwell’s 1984 kept surfacing unbidden to my mind I used to marvel at the gargantuan housing blocks as I walked to the tram every day.
What I am trying to say, somewhat long-windedly, is that I do not dislike Brutalism per se but I prefer mine standalone and preferably in context. I am sorry to potentially disagree with Sarah here and others of you who may be fans of the style but tacking the structure you can see here onto the much more classical building that already existed just does not work for me. It is jarring on the eye and the mind. I am so sorry I did not take a wider view to show you what I mean but there are plenty of images online.
As I said at the beginning of this now ludicrously lengthy piece it was just a day out for me to amble down “memory lane” and I had never really envisaged writing it up on my own blog, that was the stuff of fantasy in those days. Come to that, it still is as I have difficulty comprehending that I “own” a website, it is so far removed from reality as to be ridiculous, the stuff of dreams, and yet it appears to be happening.
This extension to the Museum was finally opened in 1972 and gives the Museum an impressive 90,000 square feet of space for exhibits so don’t expect to whizz around here in half an hour, well not if you want to see anything anyway.
As with any Museum, the exhibitions change regularly and with the Museum’s huge collections you never know quite what you might see here. Back on this day in 2010 one of the major exhibitions was devoted to relatively the relatively modern history of Ulster and “the Troubles”, it took up one whole level of the Museum. I know I keep mentioning it and I really do not want to keep harking back to that very ugly period of history which I lived through but it is unavoidble and you cannot change it, much as the 3,000+ victims of criminal terrorists would love to.
With the “Peace Process” still only about 12 years old and memories being long and wounds still raw, it was always going to be a big ask for the curators to present a balanced picture of thirty of the most violent years of the history of any country, never mind the country in which it stood and I thought they got it just right. Nobody but the most bigoted could have argued with the presentation which was meticulously researched and completely impartial.
Thankfully, it was not too busy in there that day as I am not at all ashamed to say I had to occasionally find a quiet place to wipe away a tear whilst reading about something that was personal to me. Like so many others, I buried too many friends. Realistically, it will never go away for me but I can only hope that those who come after, like my sole nephew, will be able to have a much more normal life.
The “Troubles” exhibit was moving and thought -provoking and it had left me a bit shaken. I could have done with a bit of fresh air but there was one thing I wanted to see, something that would tie me back to my youth which was the priary purpose of this whole walkabout. I suppose that if I asked you what that might have been you might have struggled so I shall tell you that it was a Spanish galleass, not a galleon but a galleass, there is a difference apparently. You’ll be glad to know I am not going to go into it here.
The galleass in question was the Girona, part of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and, interestingly, it’s captain was Hugo de Moncada y Gralla, a Knight of the Order of Malta (aka the Hospitallers aka Knights of St. John aka Knights of Rhodes etc.) which I have dealt with extensively on my XXXX Malta pages. They are a fascinating organisation although somewhat overshadowed in history by their great rivals the Knights Templar. At least the Maltese Knights are still going strong with the Templars either defunct or underground depending on which conspiracy theory you wish to believe in.
The Armada’s mission was to meet with land troops of the Duke of Parma in Flanders (modern day Northern France and Southern Belgium) to transport them to England to overthrow the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and restore England to Papal dictatorship.
Following the scattering of the Armada off Calais, mostly by a night attack of fireboats, the prevailing winds forced the Armada to sail North and around Scotland and Ireland on the “long way home”. Sadly for them, more storms blew up and many of the fleeing Armada were foced ashore, often with fatal consequences, on the coasts of those two countries. Of the few of the shipwrecked sailors that survived, many chose to stay where they were albeit they had little choice as their ships were wrecked. They simply assimilated into the local community, married and bred.
I remember seeing an excellent documentary on TV some years ago when DNA was very much in it’s infancy. They took tests from people in the relevant areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland and, after about three months in those days, they established a “Spanish gene” in many of the samples collected. Quite what a Spanish gene may be I have no idea but it appears these geniuses (genii?) can pin down your ancient heritage pretty accurately. It is all too smart for me.
Back to the Girona which was dived and explored in the late 1960’s and, in what can only be described in archaeological terms as a hoard, thousands or artefacts were discovered. These wonderful pieces were acquired by thee Museum in 1971 and formed some sort of continuum of my visits there. If I am ever able to visit Belfast again with my health and the draconian regulations of not one but four jurisdictions to negotiate, I’d love to go back to the Museum and have one last look at this exhibition, which seems to have been a prerennial since I can ever remember. The permanent display is understandable, I suppose. If you have the “Crown jewels” of your vast collection, you are not going to keep them in the vaults.
The Girona had been comparatively lucky as it had made it to Killybegs (another destination of my childhood visits and a beautiful little fishing village beore the EU wrecked fishing in the British Isles). It had a broken rudder, never good for a sailing vessel, but it had been repairedby local shipwrights there. The Girona set sail again, hoping to round Scotland and head home to Spain. A trip down the Irish Channel and out by Cornwall would have been suicide. Sadly for her, she only got a few miles until she was off the coast of Ballintoy where another vicious storm wrecked her on the rocks.
The Girona had had 1300 men on board, undoubtedly overladen for a vessel of that size. It was late October and I know how vicious the weather can be in that area atthat time of year, they didn’t stand a chance. Of the 1,300 on board a mere nine survived.
In our modern age, the Titanic (built in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard which we met earlier) is now a tragic symbol of maritime loss of life but numerically the Girona is worse. I suppose much of this is to do with perception. Of the crew and passengers of the Girona only 29 (some had gone ashore in Killybegs) survived, 260 bodies were washed ashore to be buried in a pit in the local graveyard and the rest lie, to this day, at the bottom of the sea. It is a sobering thought.
In the 21st century we don’t think so much about the Girona because there may have been later newspaper reports of other maritime disasters but there was not then the immediacy of nespaper reporting today and, latterly, instantaneous streaming television news.
Whilst the loss of the Girona was a calamity in terms of human suffering and loss of life it provides us, somewhat selfishly I suppose, with an absolute treasure trove, in every sense of that term, of items recovered from the wreck site. In the late 60’s a Belgian led diving team recovered thousands of artefacts from the wreck. These range from fantastically rich pieces to the mundane, things like cutlery and the personal effects of the seamen which in many way I find more interesting. I just had to have a look at the Girona exhibition and it entranced me as it had done all those years before.
The Ulster Museum is a fantastic place and another one that is highly recommended should you ever visit Belfast, just leave plenty of time to do it justice.
Exiting the Museum, my next port of call was my old alma , the Methodist College, Belfast or Methody as I still call it. The image above shows only a small portion of the whole school as you would literally need a satellite to see it all, it is huge. Go on, look it up on Google maps. What you see here is the old, original building which dates to 1868 but the school now extends from the Malone Road, which you see in the foreground here, to the Lisburn Road some 500 yards or so away, it really is a massive complex.
I did not go in although I had paid a visit a few years before during the school summer holidays when I had had a good wander round my old school haunts and, to be honest, little had changed in the intervening period. I did stand gazing at the old pile for several moments with memories flooding back.
The old original building you can see here is called School House (what else?) and in my day housed the boy boarders as we were a mixed gender and mixed day / boarding school. People like me were referred to by the boarders as “day dogs”, very Tom Brown’s Schooldays. We even had a resident “Flashman”. They had very cunningly placed the girl’s boarding lodgings, McArthur Hall, at the very far end of the complex. Well, you know what teenagers are like and I suppose they did not want any little “embarrassments” although I remember at least two in my time.
I was standing at a pedestrian crossing and singularly failing to do what it was designed for. Passersby must have thought I was mad but Belfast people are an astute lot, I am undoubtedly mad by any common definition. I was humming the school song quietly and thinking of the words which I can remarkably still remember after all these years even though it is in bloody Latin, a dead language that utterly defeated me whilst trying to learn it. I do think, however, that Wilf Mulryne, the poor sod given the unenviable task of trying to beat the tongue of the Romans into my unreceptive skull would have been proud. “Situs in monticulo, callide delectus………..” That is quite enough of that.
I had met Wilf at the 30th anniversary school reunion a couple of years before and he was in fine form. He had gone on to be the Headmaster at Armagh Royal School before eventually returning to Methody as Head. He is a very decent bloke and went on to hold many prestigious posts and recieve a number of awards. A born teacher even if he never managed to instil more than very basic Latin into me.
I have to say that Methody did absolutely nothing for me academically but I doubt there was then an academic institution on the planet that could have done. I was permanently bored, occasionally suicidal, frequently stupidly in love in the way only hormonal teenagers can be and basically a mess. I suppose now I would have been diagnosed with all sorts of syndromes and sent to see all manner of head Doctors but that was not the way things were done in Belfast in the 70’s.
I learned next to nothing about chemistry of art or anything else but I learned how to survive and how to live. I learned how to deal with people and I gained some interests which remain with me to this day like rugby, drama and music. I think that out of my year of about 200 pupils there were 12 that did NOT go on to University, that was just accepted as”the done thing” but, as always, I was neve one for doing the “done thing”. A rebel without a clue, that was me. I have to say that my brother outdid me on that front as he left Methody after his “O” levels which was unheard of. He went on to have a fine career and raise a family and is completely happy so academia is not everything. I have the utmost respect for academics and watch documentaries made by them obsessively but it just was not for me.
Having stood gazing at the old school long enough I thought I had better move before some well-meaning citizen called the cops to report a “strange man standing at the side of the Malone Road smiling idiotically and humming”. There was only one place I could go after that, The Bot and it merits the capitals. The Bot is a legendary watering hole in Belfast and the fact that it is about a three minute walk from one of the back gates of Methody ensured that it was “our pub”.
I think I probably had my first drink in the Bot at the age of about 14 or 15. I was always tall (I was 6’00” at 14) and so I could pass off as older even though my voice had only broken a couple of yers before. As long as you sat quietly in the corner and one of the “big boys” went to the bar and bought the Guinness, nobody said a word although they must have known.
For two thirds of my last year at school I was 18 and legally entitled to be in a pub and somehow it lost a little of it’s attraction then as it was no longer an illicit activity. In sixth form we all had lockers in the sixth form centre and we all kept civvy clothes in there. As I recall, my favoured outfit was flared jeans, highly polished brown steel toecapped brogues, a white cheesecloth shirt and the fake sheepskin lined lumberjack jacket you can see in the totally gratuitous image I have inserted above. At least the shoe polishing came in useful later!
The double period on Friday afternoon in sixth form was always given over to a lecture, often from an outside expert and presumably designed to prepare us for the University path I never followed. Generally speaking they were boring as Hell and accompanied by projected slides so we used to “bunk off” (not attend and play truant) and go to The Bot.
Of course this was Friday and I had to play one, or possibly two games of rugby on the Saturday as I used to play for the school in the morning and then turn out for Malone RFC in the afternoon in the days when you did not have to be 18 to play “big boy’s rugby”. I do not wish to be indelicate but I remember several occasions when I was violently ill after a hard early tackle or a particularly vigorous ruck. After that I was fine as I was as fit as a butcher’s dog in those days. Sorry about that but this is my trip down memory lane and memory just threw that up (pun intended).
What can I tell you about the Bot? Lots and yet really nothing as it has changed a bit over the years but not much. The main difference is that they have a big emphasis on food now as most pubs have to do to survive and which is why I have included the image of the menu above. In my day the culinary choice was cheese and onion, plain or salt and vinegar. These are all crisps (chips for the American speakers) and in the inter-connectedness of all things which regular readers will understand they were always XXXX Tayto, made in the village of Tandragee where I had set out from that morning. My sister-in-law still works the evening shift there.
Again, I was being very lazy about taking images as it was a very selfish day out and I did not plan on writing about it so the other image is from another trip. I have just had a look on Google maps and it has not changed one iota, some things never do and I hope The Bot is one of those.
I just sat quietly at the back bar (I was never a fan of the front bar) and shovelled a few pints of stout down my neck as the local vernacular would have it. Translation: I drank several pints of Guinness.
I knew it was a long trip home and so I reluctantly dragged myself out of The Bot and walked, rolled or staggered my way back to Botanic Station and onward to Portadown and thence a taxi home. It had been a great day out so let’s summarise it before I finally release you from this torment.
I started writing what was supposed to be a fairly small blog post three days ago and literally have not stopped. I have not been messing about playing games although I have spent a little time answering e-mails etc. Looked at dipassionately, this post has probably taken me around 40+ hours to compose and I do not regret a moment of it.
In these times when I am effectively under house arrest I need something to do and this blog provides that outlet. Yes, I know this post has inadvertantly turned out long, rambling (as befits the blog site title) and probably verging on the incoherent at times but it is the only way I can write At least it is honest, sometimes embarrassingly so, and that is more than you can say for a lot of the dross that sullies the internet now.
Does it work? That is not for me to say and only you, the people from all over the world who inexplicably read this nonsense, can decide. One of the great delights about this type of writing is that it is permanent or at least it is unless the whole internet dies which I think is unlikely s there are too many vested interests relying on it now, for good or evil.
This was merely a nostalgic walk for me, never intended as a “project” for blog many years in the future, but if you have found any small thing of interest here then I am happy.
If you have even read this far thank you, but if you find my entries too verbose and unfocused then please don’t annoy yourself by reading them. There are literally millions of better written blogs online, many of which I read and singularly fail to take writing advice from. Trust me, I will not be offended at you leaving my site but I would ask one small thing. Would you please send me a quick message here telling me why you are leaving. I suspect it will be along the lines of “You talk too much” and I know I do but I’ like to know for sure.
What’s next? I have not decided. If a one dy trip to Belfast can cause me to spend four days writing it up then a major trip like Canada or Sri Lanka or the British Isles will take months but, as things stand today, I only have months of doing nothing to look forward to.
As always, you dear readers will be the first to know so stay tuned and spread the word.