Monday, September 29, 2008

Belfast

On Friday evening I found myself standing in Belfast airport, looking supremely confident in my ability to find the exit but in actual fact feeling the complete opposite. A cool breeze briefly disrupted the stagnant air inside the terminal building, indicating that I was close to my first step on Northern Irish soil for seven years. After a one-sided conversation with a bus driver (not that he didn't respond to my questions, I just couldn't understand a word of his thick, high-pitched accent) I paid what I thought was the right fare, grabbed the ticket to the incomprehensible destination and shuffled to the back of the empty bus.

I find something nice about being the very first person on a bus, each seat offers a different experience. The raised seats at the back of the bus gives an almost regal view over the peasants in front of you. Placing yourself on the back seat also enables you to play a favourite game of my sisters. You bounce once on the seat to see how long you can make other passengers heads wobble, the winner making heads wobble the longest - endless entertainment! The seats towards the front are my least favourite as they tend to get clogged up with people too scared, too lazy or simply unable to walk any further back. I prefer the middle of the bus, there's usually less leg room but a window seat just before the seating rises becomes the most anonymous location on the vehicle.

I guzzle down a bottle of water, attempting to hydrate myself after the stuffy, air-conditioned plane and and the effects of a birthday party the night before. The bus lurches into life as my mind starts to wander back to my last experience of Northern Ireland. I was attending a wedding reception in the troubled city of Armagh and had sneaked out with my cousin to a nearby nightclub. Fuelled by alcohol we tried talking to people but were often ignored after a few seconds, it was a little odd but one lad nice enough to talk to us explained the situation. "It's because of your English accents" he said as it suddenly dawned on me that this was no ordinary town, the bombed hotel in the papers the night before should have suggested this. I actually felt a little vulnerable all of a sudden, the effects of the alcohol temporarily disappearing. I visualised myself amongst my friend back in Wales and switched back to a Welsh accent, this seemed to do the trick as we found people to be a bit more receptive. The following morning I discovered that this particular night-club had recently seen some violent clashes between loyalist and republican supporters and to think we had been running around with English accents amongst it all shook me up a little.

Before too long the bus had pulled into the centre of Belfast prompting the driver to turn around and reel off another couple of sentences, I picked up the words 'final stop' and got up to leave. I made a comment which he found hilarious, I like to think I knew what he said to me after that but I just smiled and stepped out onto the street. Friday night in Belfast was in full swing, I could hear music blaring out from a nearby bar and saw all the smokers spilling out onto the street. It was only a short walk to the hotel but I suddenly felt apprehensive after my Armagh experience, seven years previously. I soon cast aside that feeling, times had changed and Belfast was a completely different city anyway. I approached the hotel and glanced to my right. I was given a chilling reminder of the past by a large mural on the side of a building 100 yards away stating "You are now entering Loyalist Sandy Row Heartland of South Belfast" along with a balaclava-wearing man wielding an automatic rifle.


Mural aside, I didn't feel as though Belfast was different to any other UK city. Many bars were inter-connected by a maze of doors and live music belted out from more than a few of them but the beer tasted the same and once you got used to the local accent it was just like being back at home. The Guinness went down extremely smoothly and before too long they'd reached double figures in a myriad of different pubs and bars. 2am suddenly jumped up at us and we decided it was best to head back to the hotel, we had to be up early because after all, we were there for work.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's a small world

Some facts:
  • Wales is a small place and the city where I live, Cardiff, is even smaller.
  • I am occasionally loud and talkative.
  • I don't like staying in.
All of which contribute to me knowing quite a lot of people in the area. Monica and Huw witnessed one of my stop-start journeys through the city centre as I talked to people on our way to watch Wales play South Africa last November (Causing much eye-rolling from Monica). Although my ego performs a little fist-pump each time I bump into someone I know, it sometimes isn't such a good thing.

It's 9am and I'm walking up a street about ten minutes away from my house, my eyes haven't quite adjusted to the daylight and I'm still wearing the same clothes I wore to the pub the night before. Two girls I half-know walk past and smile in a "I know you but I'm not going to say hello" way*, I can only squint back at them because the sun is unfortunately in the same direction as they are. My brand-new Italian housemate is the next to see me, "Curly! How are you? I wondered if you were okay because I didn't see you this morning", I just said I was very tired and gave her a hug before I psyched myself up to start walking again, hoping I hadn't given a bad impression as a housemate already. I put my head down and hoped that I didn't see anyone else. Surely enough, a mere one hundred metres up the road I ran into a guy I lived with about a year ago and had hardly seen since then, he wasn't as worried about me as the Italian was. A big grin crept across his face, he knew full well what I had been up to. "Let me guess, quiet night at the local?" he asked, I tried to hide my smile but there was no point. I'd been busted. Despite my ego doing back-flips at that point, I wondered if I should be moving on and trying somewhere new again.





*Either that or in an "Oh bless, you look like shit" way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

1/4 Steam Ahead

Cracking ahead with my apparent two-posts per month rule, containing considerably less bullets than a Rambo film (but more than the JFK movie).
  • Dilemma. I want to cull many of my facebook friends (not kill them) but I keep treating them like bits of old junk lying around. "I can't get rid of them, they may come in useful one day", I think. I also want to take heaps of pictures down, but stop short when think other people may want to keep the pictures of themselves.
  • We'll have a new housemate in the next couple of weeks, I'm really excited about it.
  • I wish that one of my friends girlfriends would stop touching my arse when she speaks to me.
  • I took some broken headphones back to a shop over a month ago and despite regular visits from myself they have taken ages to be replaced. I received a replacement pair today but I'm now a little sad because I don't have an excuse to talk to the girl in the shop anymore.
  • My daydreams have become increasingly vivid, I enjoy being away.
  • I feel like a spectator of my own life.
  • Physically, I'm close to being in the best shape I've ever been in.
  • I don't talk as much as I used to, I don't smile as much as I used to and I have less patience with people than I used to. I've always looked forward to being a grumpy old man, but I wasn't expecting it to start in my twenties.
  • I'm brilliant at frisbee... really, I'm fucking great at it.