Part Two – An Unexpected Optimism
Sat by the window as the train leaves Ballymena station and trundles on towards Belfast Central, if a fella’s got his eyes proper tuned, he can see a cancerous past spread its legs and give birth to a writhing, squealing infant future. Somewheres along that glorious stretch the water breaks, the belly trembles, the offspring crawls out squinting at the sun and the parent chokes on its own bile.
The boarded-window estates, the flags been hanging for decades, the murals and the scrawling cross the walls, they all get fewer and further between, till next thing a man knows it’s the shimmering Royal Mail building to the right, the motorways stacked one on top the other, the high-rises, the reek of commerce.
A cluster-bomb of contrasting emotions. Elation upon entering the City, coupled with intense hatred for the soulless banshee fuckers who let the estates out there end up in such a pitiful condition in the first place. A man gets to thinking bout how he can sympathize with the fellas headed out this way last weekend with nothing more than a sketchy map and a couple pistols.
32 armored-van robberies in Northern Ireland this year already, the radio lass announced a while back, and then it’s The Rakes;
“22 grand job… in the city!”
Thank fuck the train service terminates at Great Victoria Street, otherwise a man would be forced for to watch the whole affair reach its ghastly conclusion; that kid who crawled out the guts thirty miles ago, it grows up embittered and spiteful and shitting and puking cross the country till it collapses fourteen miles south a Dublin.
But right here, right in the center of Belfast City, the kid’s just reached its teens. It’s optimistic, it’s got ideals, you can smell it amongst the skaters sat outside City Hall, you can see it reflected in the puddles outside The Kremlin.
Couple miles away Stormont Castle grinds and groans and every now and again a sound-bite slips out the cracks, words like “Decommission” and “Disband” and “Progress”, shit dripping out a withered, dying arsehole, and reporters crawling out Strangford Lough on hands and knees fighting for a fistful.
Roomfuls of shuffling hell-spawn renegades arriving by police escort, spending the day babbling irrelevant cock into each other’s ears, and The Belfast Telegraph bounding from the newsstands with talk of Adams Says “Perhaps”, Falls Down Comatose In Pool Of Noxious Semen.
Who produced this semen? Pray god it wasn’t a Unionist!
Sometimes, just for a chuckle, a man might be tempted to let loose a Real Issue amongst those detestable rogues just for to see how the fuckers deal with it all, how the spines twist round as they scramble for a hint of a note worth noting, those beady half-eyes black with ambition.
And the headlines roar “Feuding… Agreement… Peace Talks… Disarm”
And the folks sat outside the City Hall, three hundred kids all listening to different songs on the head-phones, if they could be bothered, what they’d say would be “What?”
They need a hint to remind them why they were supposed to give a fuck, and a man finds it hard to offer any sort of answer.
Who are these politicians, these specters supposed to be offering any sort of service to these youngsters? Who are these dead-eyed hustlers? Hideous toothless crones staggering towards the City Center, barking in delirious tongues, hollering about how they’re all set for to think about adopting ideals the folks here adopted years ago, they fall to the pavements and rot, they’re swept off fore the night’s out.
Two headed monstrosities biting at each other and met with nothing but bemused glances.
Braying insensible creatures too fucked-up to notice everybody’s stopped listening, and it’d be a maniac who’d suggest we’d be better off if we lent an ear after all this time.
And yet outside of this tiny area in this fairly small City, still these bastards are all there is.
No wonder a fella’s sat on the back doorstep at half four in the morning, flicking cigarette ash to the wind and trying his damndest to recall what got him feeling all optimistic a few days ago. Something to do with Belfast. What the hell was it, now?
Flickering recollections, a man the far side of a week-long gin binge straining for to focus on a half-formed face, a statement just a notch too low to pick up with any degree of confidence, a fist swung in anger, but whose fist?
A kaleidoscopic haze of terrors;
Sin Fein and the DUP grabbing the most votes in the last election; gun-running, dope-peddling, pimping maiming thugs holding working class estates to ransom; hate-crimes increasing, the White Nationalist Party dragging primate knuckles cross any town desperate enough to offer them an ear; backwards, egotistical scum hanging from every headline.
Where the fuck was that light again?
It rose from the tongue of a girl with an accent I can’t place. In the back room of a bar on York Street, she’s been telling me how anyone who thinks that the Good Friday agreement, that The Assembly, might be some sign of progression, how those folks are beyond her comprehension.
She’s talking about how The Assembly needs sectarianism to exist, how it’s dependant on there being Republican parties and Loyalist parties, it doesn’t acknowledge any political movement outside of those concerned with self-serving barbaric bullshit.
But she smiles, and she takes a drink before leaning over, all conspiratorial. “But the wonderful thing about it all, is that it keeps those cunts preoccupied so as the rest of us can get a message through.”
“Look how many folks were here for the anti-war rallies, look how many folks in Belfast are involved in Amnesty International, look how many teenagers are involved in Socialist Youth.”
Somewhere around that last sentence, I think I can trace the swelling of that optimism back to somewheres around those syllables.
“Let the loyalists blow each other fuckless, let the IRA squabble amongst themselves. They’re half-arsed gangster thugs operating under some ridiculous presumption of nobility. Folks are moving on, and whether they have guns or whether they don’t, those fuckers play no part in it.”
And a voice says “That’s all well and good here in this street in this city, but my God, girl, someone had to vote for those cretins. Yeah, Belfast Center is gleaming at the minute, but let me tell you, it’s a hella lot different a few miles down the road.”
And it is.
But sometimes a man just has to take a moment for to stand in the rain outside a night-club, two fellas with hands down each other’s trousers just across the road, three gloriously debauched youths to the right sniffing glue and singing “They all get them out, for the boys in the band“, and maybe if the mood’s in order and the chat’s in fine nick, maybe he can allow himself a thought along the lines of “It may be well hidden, and maybe the dinosaurs are still making the most noise, but this city has changed, this country is changing, the consciousness is shifting, however slowly, towards something approaching rational, something approaching global.”
The fella in the toilets upstairs in The Front Page, he thinks as much. Chewing his lips raw with that bizarre wordless ecstasy mumble you can observe in most pub toilets on a Saturday night, when he can string a sentence together it’s something about “Wider perspectives” and “Fair Trade.”
Everyone knows the best conversations take place in tavern toilets, everyone knows the really radical fuckers are to be found in there, granted a serene platform from which to debate and explore any and all manner of infamies. Away from the crowds, away from the pounding speakers, folks are more relaxed, they can be heard, no-one’s gonna interrupt, on account of they dig the trail you’re fronting right now, on account of even if they did disagree, they most likely got their head tween someone’s thighs in the next cubicle.
Before he heads off on some spectacular nonsensical rant about how he’s gonna hire five gypsies to follow him round Vienna, he manages to say something along the lines of;
“Belfast, to me, see, to me, it’s like, Belfast is like someone I used to hate waking up beside, and now it’s like, now I get hard just thinkin’ bout it.”
A girl earlier on told me about how I shouldn’t worry, what happens here spreads eventually, like some kind of ideological Broadband. What we’ve got here, she says, you’ll have out there soon enough.
Maybe at home the fellas in the scarves are still wandering door-to-door selling disgusting hateful propaganda at a quid a time to people too scared to say “No, actually I’d rather you went and fucked yourself with a six-inch razor.”
Maybe a disconcerting percentage of teenagers are still being coaxed towards the soulless hordes hiding behind some perverted cause.
Maybe racist attacks are increasing, and are publicly condemned by hypocritical bastards who privately curse every immigrant they pass.
Maybe so, but there are more minds starting to question the toxic retort they been fed since as far back as they remember. More and more kids are turning on the ideals they accepted without question, and are angry that such ideals were ever offered in the first place.
More and more, the fella in the bar barking about “What Sinn Fein / IRA don’t realize…” or “What the DUP need to accept is…”, more and more that fella’s starting to look like Dylan’s Ramona;
“But it grieves my heart, love,
To see you tryin’ to be a part of
A world that just don’t exist.
It’s all just a dream, babe,
A vacuum, a scheme, babe,
That sucks you into feelin’ like this.”
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