I sit here at my desk at work angry and appalled by some of my fellow countrymen. A small minority, granted, but an unmistakably public group nonetheless. You see, last night some utter geniuses in the Newtownards Road area of East Belfast decided it would be great craic to go and have a good old riot… you know, because that's the logical thing to do for entertainment on a Monday night in summer. I mean, to quote the Interwebz, WTF people?!
I just do not understand these people. Like, at all. I get that in times of civil unrest, people find themselves siding with one group over another in an inevitably "us and them" situation, perpetuated by factors like the media and rumours and pre-conceived perceptions. I get that fear of the unknown causes anxiety, which causes tempers to flare and hence you will end up with people who had previously been neighbours now considering one another "the enemy". I get that once you feel that you or someone on your "side" has been wronged, it is only fair and just to seek vengence of some description. However somebody should tell these buckos that the troubles have been over for quite some time and that there's just no excuse for all this shit any more (not that I think there ever was in the first place but perhaps that's just me being naïve).
I mean, look at our city these days. We have modern art sculptures and high-rise buildings and chic shopping malls and new cafés and bars and hotels cropping up all over the place. We have carnivals and interesting markets and festivals celebrating film, literature, food, music and even our maritime history. We have a new big TV screen in the grounds of our City Hall, where last night I stopped for a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere as some people had settled down to enjoy Andrew Murray playing in the US Open together, just relaxing outdoors and sharing an experience with strangers. We're even going to be hosting the fricking MTV Europe Awards in November for goodness sake!
The city centre this morning was, as usual, full of 9-5 workers on their morning commute to work, takeaway coffee in hand, heads down and headphones in their ears. I was, as I am every day, one of them and I'm kind of proud to be. Take a random snapshot on a street like Donegall Square West, Chichester Street or Great Victoria Street at 8.30am on your average weekday and you could be in any other major metropolis. We're a modern, vibrant city with plenty to offer citizens and visitors alike...
…so why are these people acting like Neanderthals and ruining it for the rest of us?!
I get that not everyone particularly wants to sprawl on the lawn of the City Hall to watch a game of tennis when they can sit in front of their own living room TV watching Emmerdale with a cup of tea. I understand that your average Joe (or in Belfast your average Billy or Patrick) are more at home in their local boozer slagging off politicians and discussing the likely winner of the 7.30 at Chepstow than debating the situation in Libya over a martini in Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel. That's grand. Each to their own. But you know something?
How would you feel if you couldn't sit in your own home watching TV or go and see your mates down your local pub without people throwing stones, bricks and glass bottles at you? How would you feel if you had to try and calm down your kid who has woken up in a panic because people are shouting horrible things, smashing glass and shooting at each other outside his bedroom window? How would you feel facing a full day's work after you've been kept up all night, firstly with all the violence outside your window and then because you just can't sleep because you're "up to high doe"? How would you feel if it was your elderly mother or grandmother trapped alone and terrified in her house with no way to get to her?
My nerves tense up for hours when the bratty kids in my street kick their football against my living room window, never mind enduring hours of people literally attacking your home with the intention of damaging your property, scaring your family and potentially even injuring or killing you. It's just unthinkable why anyone would want to inflict that upon their fellow man! And in this day and age! Okay so our government leaders aren't exactly best buddies but even they're managing to work together to try and take this country forward, which given the murky pasts of some of them is actually quite an achievement. So, for the rest of the country, quite frankly, "They started it!" doesn't really cut it as an excuse.
And what's it all for? This morning I sat on the bus to work, queued in traffic at the bottom of the Newtownards Road. The traffic is usually alright at that time of the morning in that area but this morning was different. And why? There was a veritible cavalcade of Belfast City Council workers and bin lorries slowly making their way down each side of the road, brushing and shovelling up bits of brick, stones, glass and God knows what else that had been left over from last night's festivities. A little further up the road I couldn't help but notice the irony of a massive pile of post-riot rubble sitting mere metres away from a mural called "No More", which is essentially a poem about the end of sectarian violence. A little further up again a man in a shirt and tie sat waiting for his bus amidst broken bricks. Yet further up there were exhausted looking middle-aged women being interviewed by journalists about their ordeal, whilst the Council workers brushed the broken glass and stones out of their gardens.
All this takes time and money. And yet you can bet that these freaking idiot rioters would be amongst the first to complain if the Council said, hey, sorry people of Belfast, we had unexpected riot-clearing expenses this year so we won't have any money left in the budget to pick up your rubbish for the next few weeks.
And what of their cause? What was the aim? To scare a few people and make them feel unsafe in their own homes? To try and force them to move away and leave that area to the "right" side of the community? Do you really think that's going to happen? Not everyone is as frightened of your bullying as you think and in fact the rest of the country thinks you're kinda dumb. Or was it to make some kind of "point"? If so, please do tell because from where I'm sitting the whole thing is pretty pointless. Or are you just happy going out and fighting this seemingly endless, stupid fight, risking being seriously injured, if not killed, just for the craic, without any regard for anyone else who has to live here with you? Because let me tell you something, if that's the case I can't wait until natural selection takes care of the lot of youse!
And guess what, it's not just "the other side of the community" you're up against any more. You're up against people like me too, who want progress and an end to all this frigging nonsense. People like me who want sectarianism and pointless violence to be a thing of the past, where it belongs. People who just want a normal life without even noticing, never mind caring, what religious background or area their friends and colleagues are from. And you know what? These days I would like to think that there are more of us than there are of you.
That's what gives me hope that one day the attitudes of our countrymen will eventually change. It might not change as quickly as our little city seems to have in the past few years, but it will eventually happen, leaving the remaining wazzocks to lead lonely little lives, blinded by baseless prejudice until their dying days that they're "right" and that everybody else is "wrong" (about what? Do they even know any more?). What a sad, bitter and restrictive little life to lead whilst the rest of us move on and enjoy everything our city has to offer together.