Saturday, 7 May 2011

The city in the sunshine

The weather has been glorious in Belfast over the last couple of weeks (well except Thursday when it rained, but we'll ignore that). It hasn't been exactly the hottest temperature-wise, but the sun has been out, the skies have been blue and there have been smiles on the faces of strangers wandering the streets. I've had the good fortune to be on leave from work to enjoy it and, when he has been home, The Yorkshireman has joined me in heading out and about into the unexpected mini-summer too.

Last Friday night, inspired by the beautiful sunshine, we planned to go on a bit of a walk on Saturday. A bit of a walk inevitably turned into a bit of a hike as we somehow ended up walking to the Cave Hill, up around the Cave Hill all the way up to McArt's Fort (or Napoleon's Nose as we locals call it), then down again and all the way home, about 11km in total we reckon. It took us about 4 hours 20 minutes including a pit-stop at the supermarket to buy supplies and a brief picnic in the gusting wind at the top of the hill (made all the more brief by the fact that about half of every mouthful blew away before it was eaten).

It was all very nice and pretty and scenic, etc, but I am not an outdoorsy kind of girl. I am much more comfortable with pavements than plateaus, with malls than muck, with Starbucks than shale... or as it became known throughout our descent of the hill, "fucking shale!"

You see, my balance is less than stellar at the best of times, but when faced with any kind of surface that increases the risk of slipping and falling (like ice, wet grass or fucking shale), I will inevitably slip and/or fall. It terrifies me! I cannot adequately describe the fear as I made my way slowly (oh so slowly!) and unsteadily (oh so so unsteadily!) down one particularly slippery bit, with nothing to hold on to and tiny little pebbles moving underfoot. Swearwords were emitted in their multitudes and my heart was racing. I was still shaking when we settled in at a little table at Belfast Castle for afternoon tea. Nice scones by the way - definitely worth a try if you happen to be in the area!

Having eventually calmed down, and with my leg muscles just about recovered, I also went for a bit of jog up the tow path earlier this week. I always looked at people who jog as though they were a different species - why would you voluntarily run? For fun? Seriously?

However I have previously written about my attempts to get fit and active by going to the gym and also how competitive I tend to be. The combination has somehow led to me now running for 30 minutes at a time (without stopping) on the treadmill at the gym, with the aim of increasing my speed slowly but surely over time. I'm not exactly speedy quick (I'm up to 8.8kph now) but it's more about the stamina than the speed for me.

The Yorkshireman and I had gone to the park to try an outdoors jog/run over Easter and both declared it boring and also harder than the treadmill. However with the nice weather I decided to give outdoors running another try and so headed down to the tow path along Belfast Lough. I had Google Earthed it beforehand and knew that the run from where the path straightens out after Duncrue up to Hazelbank Park was just a little over 3km. I've been reaching about 4.5km on the treadmill so I was determined to make it all the way without stopping.

I managed to make it but man it was tough going! Actual ground is harder on the joints than the treadmill and, dude, the wind! It was like trying to run forward with someone pushing me sideways the whole time. But I made it to Hazelbank, stopped for a quick break on a rock and then headed on back. I even managed to jog some of the way back too, which I was quite pleased with. I still prefer the gym but it was interesting to see how the two different conditions compare.

Apart from being all fit and healthy and actually being active outdoors (quite unlike me!), I've just been enjoying the lovely weather through the window and by wandering around the city, shopping for our upcoming holiday, sipping a skinny cappuccino or two and people-watching. Everyone seems to be in a good mood and it's catching. Even pubs are enjoying the craic - I had to giggle the other day at a sign outside the Kitchen Bar, a pub well-placed at one of the entrances to Belfast's beautiful Victoria Square shopping mall, which said "Free Man Crèche - buy him a few pints and we'll look after him for you!" Now there's an offer I should bear in mind next time I drag the Yorkshireman shopping.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pride and prejudice at the polling stations

So it's votin' day here in Northern Ireland, with three exciting polls in which to have your say: the election to the NI Assembly, the local Council election and, of course, the infamous Referendum about the Alternative Vote. Exciting. Or not.

You may have been able to tell from the Yorkshireman's recent post that he is a bit of a liberal soul and that he's not fond of what has come to be known as tribal politics here in Northern Ireland. And you know what? He's not alone.

I was born, bred and indeed currently live in quite a staunchly unionist area of North Belfast. Many of the folks around here are all about hanging up their flags for the Twelfth celebrations and the only dilemma they seem to have about voting is which party ending in "UP" to choose as their first choice. I am... not among them.

Living in this area and seeing people so blindly follow the herd has only led me to question why. Why do people select who they want to oversee their constituency or council ward based on prejudice founded decades ago instead of what they're offering right here, right now?

Personally I want to move forward. I want the best person for the job to get the job, not the person who shouts the loudest about something I don't consider to be significant. I only wish that the others in my area were starting to move on too and think along the same lines but it doesn't seem to be the case.

This morning, bleary-eyed, the Yorkshireman and I rocked up to our polling station to do our bit for democracy. Before we even got to the door, some women started trying to push DUP propaganda at us. I said "no thanks" and walked on, but one of them just shouted after me, "but you need it for the order!" Excuse me?! Not only do you assume I will be voting DUP, but you also feel the need to dictate to me in which order to vote for the DUP candidates? Wrong crowd, lady!

Already somewhat irked by this, I was waiting for the Yorkshireman to finish his voting when an elderly man, seemingly a little bewildered by the whole process, approached the ladies responsible for checking you off the list and checking your ID at their little table. It seems he had already been in that morning but had forgotten his ID and had just returned with it. The ladies asked him if he wanted to vote in "all 3". The man clearly had no idea what they meant, so they explained about the different polls he could vote in that day. The poor wee man was clearly overwhelmed and so simply waved the DUP ladies' propaganda at the women in the hope this would explain his intentions (so much for voting being confidential, eh?). Inevitably they explained to him which of the elections those specific candidates were running in and tried to explain further about the other two votes he could cast. He didn't seem interested - he was there to cast his vote for the DUP candidates in the order he had been told to and that was pretty much that... what a good little sheep.

It saddened me that people like this, who don't even know what or who they are voting for other than a party, mean that our country is essentially stuck in the past and doesn't seem to be moving forward at all. In recent years I have been given some hope that things were changing, for example the election of Naomi Long (of the non-sectarian Alliance Party) firstly as Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2009 and then as an MP in Westminster in 2010 (beating Peter Robinson, the leader of the DUP and indeed First Minister himself). However little scenes like with the old man this morning reinforce that Northern Ireland as a whole, and in particular little stronghold communities like ours, have a long, long way to go before the past can actually become the past.

In the meantime I'm proud to do my bit. I will show up and vote for change by refusing to lend my vote to anyone from a unionist or nationalist party. Quite frankly I just don't care about that issue. I want my political leaders to enhance and enrich our little country. I want them to fight for better quality public services. I want them to increase the quality and availability of education for people of all ages. I want them to decrease the poverty divide. I want them to encourage people off benefits and into empowering jobs. I want them to fight anti-social behaviour. I want them to lead by example in moving towards the future. I don't care whether they think we should be part of the UK or a united Ireland, unless the issue happens to come up for some reason (although I think the South might be a little too preoccupied with rebuilding their economy at the moment to worry about the folks up North), in which case I want them to use common sense and all the resources and advice available to them to make the best decision for our country's wellbeing.

Some might argue that I'm being naive but I would say that I'm being optimistic and forward-thinking. I would much rather be that than stubborn, closed-minded and insular.

So, as 10pm approaches and the polling stations are getting ready to close, I wonder what the immediate future holds for my area. I imagine the DUP will have yet another storming victory, but I can at least hope that with each passing election their hold will lessen. Perhaps by the time my grandchildren are casting their votes there might actually be some competition and the candidates will actually be selected based on their perceived ability to run the country well. Until then, only time will tell if my fellow liberals (there must be some of us out there surely?) and I have managed to make any difference whatsoever.

The language you are about to hear... is disturbing

Title quote attributed to Dave Chappelle

There are many things that marriage can teach you: love, trust, patience, humour, compromise, humility, how to take deep breaths instead of choking someone to death... you know, all the important things in life. However a relationship between two people who hail from different areas, especially different countries, can teach you even more besides. You learn about things like the history of different communities, cultural differences and different social etiquettes.

This is all very interesting. I now know, for instance, that Maggie Thatcher is not exactly a celebrated political leader "oop Nawth". I have learned that, in Yorkshire, Rugby League is the only "proper" form of the sport, whereas Rugby Union is "for pansies who like sticking their fingers up each others' arses". I have learned that, for Yorkshirefolk, complaining is not only a popular passtime but indeed an art form, especially when it comes to money and work. However my favourite differences hark from a bottomless pit that is simultaneously age-old and yet ever-changing: language.

In high school I remember being taught about colloquialism - words, phrases or expressions which are used informally in conversation and are often unique to a certain group, for example people from a certain area. We had to come up with some examples of Belfast colloquialisms but I remember thinking that we weren't quite so unique as some other areas of the UK - we had nothing on the Cockneys for example. In fact, for the most part, I thought we were a pretty dull bunch. However the Yorkshireman and I have known each other for about 9 years now and during the course of that time it has become apparent that I underestimated the complexities of our local language. It has also become clear that Yorkshire can be its own little world in some respects.

These are some of my favourite gems from each side of the Irish Sea that at first perplexed each of us and then tickled us a little.

Northern Ireland

Boke/boak - to gag/vomit ("I'm going to boke in a minute!"); also used to describe something sickening ("Katie Price? Boke like!")

'Bout ye? - literally "what about you?" but mainly used as an alternative to hello

Dead on - alright/sound, ("Yes that plan sounds dead on" or "aye she's dead on like!")

Do you think I came up the Lagan in a bubble? - do you think I'm gullible enough to believe what you've just said?

Eejit - idiot

Foundered - to be very cold, freezing ("Flip, it's cold out there, I'm foundered!")

Keep 'er lit - phrase used to spur on and encourage, especially when things are already goin well ("C'mon Crues, keep 'er lit!")

Meet - kiss/snog

Wee buns - easy to do

Wick - rubbish/crap/disappointing ("The Blair Witch Project was totally wick!"); also an expression when something goes wrong ("Aww wick!")


Gee over - instruction to stop it (known as "give over" usually but the alternative pronounciation threw me at first!)

Ginnel - a passageway, usually between the front of a row of terraced houses and the alley behind them

Gizza ring - please telephone me

Flower - term of endearment, seemingly mainly from South Yorkshire

Owt - anything

Put wood in t'hoile - instruction to close the door

Tarn - a lake (I know, not specifically a Yorkshire term, more of a geographical one, but apparently mainly used "oop nawth" so I feel justified!)

Thissen - yourself

I had written the start of this post a couple of weeks ago and never quite got around to finishing it. However this evening I received the required inspiration, as my mother, sister and I choked with laughter at a Facebook status update from my evidently perplexed English-born-and-bred cousin, whose Belfast-born-and-bred mother had just told her that for dinner this evening she would be having "shite with sugar on it!" The Yorkshireman looked equally perplexed and also a little (quite rightly I suppose) disgusted, perhaps even more so when we explained that it was something said by stressed-out Irish mammies whose kids are whining about what's for dinner. My sister and I were threatened with this tasty-sounding meal on more than one occasion but yet it caused such consternation for those not brought up hearing it. Ain't language grand?