My watch has been unreliable for the last number of months. It should happen 'on my watch' but it wasn't an expensive one. I have however worn a watch ever since my parents bought me one – second hand – for my thirteenth birthday. Watches were more expensive in those days too, ninety-five years ago (I only partly jest). I have worn one ever since.
Philosophers and thinkers of all kinds have often mused about the nature of time. I don't doubt that it was an issue or people in the Stone Age when precision might not have been so much required but the passage of time, in terms of the seasons and availability of food, as well as the process of growing up and growing old, would have preoccupied people at least as much as today. Somewhere like Newgrange indicates an acute awareness of time and seasons as well as the movement of the sun.
Having a dodgy watch has made me reassess my relationship to timekeeping. My relationship to time? Well, that hasn't changed, and getting older is an interesting process. A lot of young people don't bother with a watch as they can check their mobile phone for the time. I don't carry a mobile all the time. There are times I need immediate access to the correct time, and times I don't. I have decided that when I don't need access to the correct time, I won't plan to have it.
My compromise is; carry my mobile when I need it, and if I don't need it but require to have access to the correct time then I will carry or wear a new watch which has the correct time of day. The rest of the time? Consult a clock, ask someone, guess and feel what time it is likely to be.
I suppose I have just reassessed how I relate to one or two small details of time. Time will continue to be way beyond my control. How I try to relate to it, though, well, that is partly in my control. We can't control the passage of time but we can control how we relate to the passage of time. I am trying to have time on my side by not having the time by my side. I suppose as a gardener I also have thyme on my side.
The Athens of the North
In the late 18th century, Belfast was known as the 'Athens of the North' because of its learning and culture. That, ahem, has not been an epithet which has been used about Belfast recently. However, given the uncertainty reigning in both Athens and Belfast over the last period about whether they are staying 'in' – the Euro and the British much-cut welfare system respectively, maybe the adjective is appropriate once again. Ditto whether the current governments in Athens and Belfast will survive. Different time, different meaning. There hasn't been a run on the banks in Belfast, and Greece would like to protect some shreds of decency and social protection from the ravaging EU and IMF horde, but there has been a lot of uncertainty in both. Mind you, at this stage Greeks are conditioned to perpetual crisis (a Greek word, meaning decision) while most people in Norn Iron seem to want to avoid the issues and don't seem too concerned. In the EU, solidarity seems only to come with a € label attached, as the Republic discovered when it hit the ropes – socialism for the rich (bankers and governments), capitalism for the poor (the ordinary citizen made to stump up for the misdeeds of others).
In Norn Iron, will the Stormont regime survive? Will welfare be taken back by London or will the whole House of Cards on the Hill collapse? Is Sinn Féin doing what it's doing to protect the poor or its own electoral chances in both jurisdictions on the island, or both? Mind you the SDLP and Greens have been on the same track of opposition to further welfare changes. Will last minute deals be done at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour? That's the usual way in Norn Iron but who knows. Anyway, Belfast is back being the 'Athens of the North'. But it doesn't sound quite so positive at the moment.
My heart goes out to the Greek people. Caught between the divil and a hard place, blaming ordinary Greek people is just stupid; if they are very lucky, they are just getting by, and if they are unlucky then definitely on the breadline. Of course there are rich Greeks who have salted money away elsewhere. But the mistakes that were made were made by the others, primarily the banks, but also the EU as well as the Greek governments of the time. Jean-Claude Juncker saying he feels 'betrayed' by the Greeks? Ridiculous. And as for Greece possibly "saying no to Europe" as Juncker mentioned? It would be actually 'saying no to the EU' about austerity. In case Juncker doesn't realise, Greece has had more than a little to do with Europe over the last few millennia and also, ahem, a lot to do with European thought, knowledge and democratic constructs. The EU evidently doesn't do understanding, compassion and solidarity to any great extent.
It may have been a rollercoaster ride for all concerned over the last number of years, but there is no real hint of solidarity from the EU or other members for Greece, including Ireland which is held up as a poster boy of getting it 'right' on dealing with financial crisis. For 'right' read "totally accepting the demands of the banks and international capitalist institutions". Irish citizens have, and will continue, to pay the price. You would think that the chastening experience Ireland has gone through would engender some sympathy, from Enda Kenny and others, but not a bit of it. 'European Union' is an oxymoron; it looks like a 'European Big Capitalists' Union'.
James in a jam
Not for the first time, the flautist James Galway got into trouble for comments that he made about Northern Ireland, this time carefully coaxed out of him by Stephen Nolan on BBC NI television; he said Ian Paisley Snr was indirectly responsible for people's deaths in the Troubles by "planting the thoughts of violence..." (actually a very common perception in Northern Ireland, indeed universally). He also said he supported a united Ireland and objected to the British empire's historic rule of Ireland; he said he came from the "British occupied part of Ireland." Some wondered about such remarks being made by someone who accepted a British knighthood (he lives in Switzerland). Others commented that you should be able to feel Irish and British at the same time.
The best comment was a bit of satire on the Slugger O'Toole site (the place for political insights on Norn Iron as well as some on elsewhere); this was by Willie Drennan who took the Norn Iron humorous ballad the Ould Orange Flute and adapted it to fit Sir James: brilliant. And if you don't know The Old/Oul/Ould Orange Flute I would suggest you read that first.
Fracking in Britain hit for six
Brilliant news across the water in Lancashire where the County Council has decided not to give permission for Cuadrilla to frack the hell out of the local environment at Preston New Road. People are surely realising how dangerous and unnecessary the whole enterprise is. Let's hope this bodes well for decisions to be taken in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. The extent of alarm in the shale gas industry in Britain is indicated by an appeal to the government to review (and change) planning legislation – and it is obviously not impossible for Cameron and Co to move the goalposts, but whether they dare go against local opinion even if they do strongly back fracking (and they do) remains to be seen.
There are three mini-posters on fracking on the INNATE website (click on 'Posters') if you haven't seen them. Incidentally, the Posters section of the website is just being completed with over eighty posters available for free downloading on peace, nonviolence, violence, Northern Ireland, green issues, dealing with the past, human rights, and equality.
Dublin and some other places in Ireland like Kilkenny are lucky to have lots of historically and architecturally interesting buildings. No such luck for Belfast where the oldest part of a building dates to a couple of decades into the 18th century (McHugh's Bar) but there is very little before well into the 19th century. A couple of decades ago, I was coming out of Murray Street in Belfast city centre when an Italian tourist was trying to figure out what the building was across the road – the Presbyterian Church House/headquarters (Scottish baronial style). When they asked me the question, "What other buildings are worth looking at in Belfast?" I was stuck for an answer, particularly as I don't go for the City Hall. The latter I regard as a grandiose statement by the city fathers of the time – indeed I often contrast it with the much more modest (but too small) Old Town Hall in Victoria Street which was built only a quarter century earlier. I suppose I could have mentioned Clifton House (1774), the former Poor House, or the Custom House (1857). Perhaps today I could also mention the Titanic building but that is pretty much a stand-alone building rather than one fitting into a wider urban built landscape.
My favourite building in Belfast is actually an early 20th century one, the now sadly-neglected art deco former bank building on the corner of North Street and Royal Avenue. If you're going to look at buildings in Belfast it is likely to be walls and gable ends – the famous Muriels (murals) – and the City Hall if you are that way inclined. The graveyards and the murals are the best bet for a physical guide to the past and the reality of current and recent politics, respectively.
Belfast has come a long way in terms of its presentation to its citizens and the world. The Lagan river walk/cycleways are one aspect of that. The neglected Laganside area beside the river and close to the city centre was the focus of a redevelopment effort with Laganside Corporation set up in 1989 but that was the very beginning. It was a brilliant opportunity to mould an area which would reflect the best of design or themed design. The area included the former Oxford Street bus station, one of the worst of the sites for Bloody Friday bombs in 1972 where half a dozen people were killed and forty or so injured - this was just one of 26 bombs which went off in less than an hour and a half that day.
What we actually got in Laganside was a mish-mash of styles, colours and constructions with only one building which could be said to be outstanding; the Waterfront Hall, completed in 1997, whose iconic round shape stood out as a building which would stand the test of time. Ho ho. Because soon they built a modern office block partly in front of it. Now, because of the economic demand to increase the size of the conference facilities in the Waterfront Hall, the original building, which shone on the river side, is totally obscured – from the river walkways you can now only see the roof of the original build. I find that very sad. No, perhaps two decades ago they could not guess the scale needed for conference facilities, and jobs is jobs, but in the end of the day the one building in Laganside, perhaps the one large modern building in Belfast city, which would say something about the best of design, is now largely hidden away. An opportunity like Laganside does not come twice. Even the more modest and far from brilliant Gasworks site would show up Laganside for an uninspiring heap of brick and concrete.
Some things do come to those who wait. Wonderful story in the Guardian about a woman getting her doctorate 77 years after she qualified. 102 year old paediatrician Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport, whose mother was Jewish, was banned from receiving her PhD under the Nazis in Germany, but has now finally got her degree. She wasn't allowed to undertake her oral examination on her thesis in 1938 but undertook it just a month before being awarded her PhD this year – and on her original subject of diphtheria. It's an amazing story
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Well, there we go, I get a break (You mean readers get a break! – Ed) in August from my musings. At this time of year I usually, though not always, quote the Venerable Christy Moore for his brilliant summation of what holidays are about, in his song Lisdoonvarna: "When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there." I hope you get 'there', wherever that might be, and a great break from your routine. See you in September, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).