Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Very Shameful Homecoming.

I almost stumbled the whole way up the street to the door of number 5. The long starved legs teetered under the weight of my heavy heart as it all came to me at once. I was finally home, and at that moment I realised that I was sincerely coming home. Until that point I hadn't really considered the ramifications of my decision. The journey was a struggle, it obsessed attention in itself so I'd not the time to plan on the way. I only set out upon it because I was hundreds of miles away with nowhere else to go. Here through fatalism, not direction. There were other places nearer, but none that would have me. It had become the one part of the world unbarred and I realised I'd been neglectful of that great kindness offered by people that love me and my lifting heart yearned but feared to see them.
If it hadn't been for the crippling hunger I may have turned that day and felt the time for coming home wasn't then. I'd always dreamed of a triumphant return in wealth, dropping fivers in a suit made from pound coins but here, now that past dreaming day was upon me I stood unmasked the man I am, a beggar in his last pair of trousers.
But how that hunger drove me. Weak sugary tea and brown sauce on toast were all I had dreamed in the months on a road, and now so close, the first step towards humanity. See my Dad, find out about Mum, track down Clive, have an egg. With salt.
I paused before the door, catching breath to compose myself and delay the moment. The doorbell of five Elmhill Drive sounded announcing my final arrival despite the cruel machinations of history and geography. It was to be the happiest I was in all that year and I was lit up by a feeling that lasted only about twenty seconds.

The same old door was opened by a fat wee fella in a semen stained tracksuit and flip flops. Now I'm the kind of man who always goes with his gut, unfortunately my gut was in a state of stunned shock, which I regret now of course.
'Who the fuck are you?'
'What do you mean 'Who the fuck am I?' You're the one one knocking my fucking door.'
'Do you live here then?'
'No. I'm just here waiting for a bus, what the fuck do you think?
'How long have you lived here then?'
'Two years mate.'
'Two years eh? Shit. Look I used to live here, long time ago now, longer that I thought as it turns out, and I'm sorry to harass you in this fashion. I was very rude, I apologise. I'm looking for my Dad you see. Is there a forwarding address or phone number or anything. Please mate, I need this. I need to see my family.

My words had strong effect upon him and I felt my plea had awoken pity in that stout man's soul and he seemed to barely quiver, hoped with tears but in fact with rage. I'd completely misread the reaction. He went very red in the face and spat each word like a nailgun.
'Your family used to live here eh?'
'Grew up here mate.'
'Are you the bastards who pulled the chimney out?'
'That's us. Why do you need the tarp changing?'
'You dirty fucking bastards.'
'Sure you've a nerve calling anyone a dirty bastard when you're answering the door with spunk all down your trousers.'
After that he just snapped. He threw the left at me and with my prizefighter instincts I just leaned back a bit but he over extended and went falling on his face. He couldn't plant himself properly for the blow since he was wearing flip flops you see so the back foot just went from under him. A foolish shoe and all should learn a lesson from this. No wise person has any business being in a flip plop.I back pedalled nimbly on my sensible tennis shoe to remove myself from the path of his descent but he must have hit the side of his head against my knee accidentally on the way down so he fell funny and cracked the nut off the doorstep.
Blood started pissing all over the place and my trousers from the knee down got covered in the stuff. Then a wee fat woman in a pink tracksuit appeared at the back of the hall. I assume from the shared relaxed hygiene it was his wife, although if you'd told me she was his sister I'd have believed you. I don't know how these people find each other but I'm glad they do. She had a ceramic horse in one hand and a cordless phone in the other, hard to say which one I was more afraid of. Screeching like a diving hawk she shrieked 'You get away from my Alfie,' and launched this pottery stallion right for my head, which very unfortunately fell short and shattered across the back of Alfie's skull as he was trying to get back to his feet.
'I'm calling the fucking police. You wait. Nine, nine, nine.'
I tried to calm her, 'Madam, there is no need to involve the police in this.' I was about to go over to reassure her of my innocent role in this misunderstanding when a passing train of thought pulled me up at a mental level crossing. Husband bleeding on the doorstep? Strange man at the door and coming towards her with blood on his trainers? If I was in her place this would be the most reasonable time ever to phone the police. Situations like this is what phoning the police was invented for. I also noticed a bloody tooth knocked out of someone's jaw who wasn't me and felt expensive dentists would be soon be involved in the aftermath of this fracas along with accusations of trespass, assault, and battery.
I ran. Like Hell. I left Elmhill Drive the same way I had last time. Running from imminent police interest. I ran till my lungs burned ducking into gardens, every siren coming for me. I ran up Fortwilliam, through Lansdowne, to hide in the bracken of the forest at Cavehill. In the fine tradition of the outlaws and vagabonds of my ancestors and their accomplices for thousands of years or more.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Sundering of Elmhill Estate (1987-1991)

In 1987 a concrete works opened up beside the motorway. Mews, Rise, and Avenue were bulldozed to make way for a lorry park. Three years later a supermarket built itself upon the levelled, torn down, rubble of a derelict estate next door and then flattened Street, Lane, and Manor to lay out yet another car park. By the end of 1992 only Elmhill Drive remained, sandwiched between two slip roads and level tarmac lakes; the last remainder of a once upon a time community.
Not that anyone with their house demolished complained. To be fair most of the estate was boarded up anyway and had been as long as I could remember it. Life between a busy main road and motorway was no picnic and since loud late night house parties, the tinkling of jilted lovers smashing windows, and strolling sectarian mobs were de rigeur it was a community one could well do without quite frankly.
The concrete and supermarket men paid a comparative fortune for every crumbling home they cleared and everyone was able to afford to move to a swanky new build estate in Glengormley. A working families semi-detached paradise with proper back gardens, car ports, and leisure centre adjacent.
My Dad was gutted when the concrete men stopped buying houses, only one street away, we were so close to escape. When the same thing happened with the supermarket on the other side he started writing them begging letters saying if they bought our house he would go as far as to tear down the bastard himself, save them a few quid on labour. He even went so far as to pull down the chimney, sent it to them in the post, prove he meant business. It was an awkward and dangerous endeavour taking a heavy chimney of a leaking terraced roof, but by hard work and sheer will my dad and 'uncles' managed it. It was an expensive gesture as well because the postage and packing on a chimney stack in the mail took up all and some of his dole money for that week. The supermarket didn't bite and it came back unopened, return to sender, return postage not paid, so Dad got hit for double whack.
For the next seven years I lived there, in a house with a blue tarpaulin for a chimney in a street that wasn't even worth the knocking down. Grim times in an attic bedroom especially when it rained through the tarp, which living in Ireland was pretty constant. I was up most nights emptying out buckets and saucepans down the bath plughole. Miserable existence for a young lad. On the bright side but, ITV showed 'Baywatch' and 'Gladiators' back to back on a Saturday and we had a VHS tape recorder so on balance I still managed to enjoy my teenage years.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Return to Elmhill Drive

After my alarming yet unilluminating reunion with Hazlitt I soldiered on to the family seat of 5 Elmhill Drive. Elmhill Estate had been quite a fortress in it's early eighties hey day. The kerbstones ran red, white, and blue and Union Jacks and Orange Lodge flags fluttered from every house, like a never-ending royal jubilee. The Elmhill streets of Drive, Road, Avenue, Manor, Mews, Street, and Court, Elmless and not what they claimed to be, once housed a vibrant community of working class Belfast protestants. Well, as vibrant as you can get in only four colours.
Screaming lads, myself included, skirmished in eighteen odd a side football played the whole length of the street. Hoofing and tackling in a dirty denim scrum all for a newsagents cheap plastic football in a gauntlet of cars, parked and moving.
In the summer grown ups drank in their front, terraced, gardens; three foot of concrete from door to waist high iron railings, rusting below the paint. Roaring and cackling, loving with threats, front windows opened full to hear their turned up stereos in the back rooms. Patsy Cline, Pink Floyd, Bucks Fizz, and the radio mingled with the violent shouts of our game endless til teatime while the wee girls watched us wee lads and whispered.
The nearby motorway droned sluggish, occasionally the railway tracks rattled and a strained ear could pick out the muted blare of navigating ships horns. At night the motorway quickened and overhead was the soft whirr of helicopter blades seeking out bad men among us.

I'm probably taking some poetic licence there admittedly, but then I was only six at the time so all I've got are memories filtered through childish senses to go on, so what else can you do?

However, the eighties were a long time ago, and only one street now still stood from the high days of Elmhill. Elmhill Drive.

Monday, 28 March 2011

What is turning out to be an overlong explanation for my overlong absence part 4

Sorry I've been away again. I've been keeping it real back in Hackney these last few months and with a hardcore, twenty-four hour existence like mine finding the time to document all the shit that happens can be quite a chore. I've not even told you about what happened in Belfast yet and events currently are moving at such a pace it may be many months before I ca relate what went down last Monday week. Tristam Shandy eat your heart out.
Ah Belfast. A city much like a fine whiskey; in short sips a complex, heady taste of honeyed smokey strength distilled from the land and improved with age and history. However, like a fine whiskey, prolonged exposure regularly leads to violence and hangovers. I've sometimes heard people describe their home towns as nurturing places of sanctuary and I'd love to say the same but I would have to say that growing up in Belfast is more akin to being beaten out on an anvil. On the Shore Road, where I spent my formative years, we never thought of it as a place where we grew up but rather as a place we were dragged up to premature adulthood whether we wanted to be or not.
It was with trepidation I emerged from Central station on that sultry July afternoon. How long since I'd last been home? Seven years? Eight years? Somewhere in the distance the Orange pipes and drums of war shrilled and thundered as young East Belfast loyalists practiced their war-dance for the twelfth and the papers spoke of a bombscare on the Westlink reminding me that though I left, 'they hadn't gone away you know.'Unpleasant as these shows of strength were and are they still gave me a peculiar warm feeling but something still didn't feel quite like home. I wandered down to the city hall hoping to catch a bus up the Shore Road with my last £1.07, but when I got there the journey numbers had all changed to letters. I politely asked a chap in a cheap tracksuit and an expensive football top which letters went north. 'Do I look like a fucking timetable dickhead?'

And there it was, suddenly I felt at home again.

Once I learned that the old number 8 was now the letters AD I further learned that a single bus fare was now £2.10, so again I had to walk. I spent my last pound in the world on a scratchcard assuming that after all the shit they'd put me through the very least the Gods of fate, chance, and karma could do was give me enough for a bus fare home, a can of lilt, and a pack of tobacco but you can't trust to providence. I should have learned that by now. The last mile and a half of my quest for shelter would would end as it began... on foot.

That part wasn't so bad really, a warm summer's day down old familiar streets, memories thought forgotten waiting to greet me at every corner. Speaking of half forgotten memories I saw an old school chum of mine, Johnny Hazlitt, buying sausage rolls in the bakery outside Seaview Stadium so I stopped to catch up with a fellow Seaview Primary School alumnus, gave me a chance to make sure I'd not forgotten my North Belfast colloquial parlance.
'Fuckin bout ye Johhny big lad?'
'Fuckin bout ye Norman, what's the craic you're back?'
'Fuckin tapped out like Johnny, calling up to me Ma's see if I can crash for for a wee while. Ye fuckin seen her about like?'
'D'you not fuckin hear?'
'Fuckin not hear what like?'
'Well if you don't fuckin know then it's not my fuckin place to tell ye like, but it's bad fuckin news like.'
'Fuck. What about Clive? Seen him.'
'Sure fuckin no one's seen Clive for months now but there's plenty fuckin lookin for him. I know he's your fuckin brother and all but I'd stay away from that mad cunt if I were you.'
'Fuck what's he done this time?'
'What's he not fuckin done more like? He's fuckin mental.'
'Aye, that's Clive alright. How's you then, ye alright?'
'Aye alright. On the Bru, selling fuckin Methadrone you know? Sell you some like.
'Never heard of it, any fuckin good like?'
'Nah, it's fuckin shite. It's basically like ecstasy with the sweating, the tooth grinding and the horrible two day come downs but with none of the good bits being of your fuckin head beforehand like.'
'Fuck that sounds shockin mate. Why the fuck would any cunt do that to themselves?'
'Cos it only costs a fuckin fiver a gram.'
'Fuck, i'll see you later on an take two g of ye.'
'Sure fuckin buy it now sure.'
'Sure I'm fuckin tapped I'll have to borrow a tenner. You still living with your Ma?'
'How is your Ma?'
'Away and fuck I'm not tellin you how ma Ma is.'
'How's your sister?'
'Sure that's fuckin why I'm not tellin you how ma Ma is.'
'Fair enough like, well I'll see ye bout like.'
'Aye see ye bout.'

At that point I felt it best to leave since if any Shore Road conversation continues long enough the chance of it ending in violence will quickly reach one and at the mention of Hazlitt's sister that certainty was getting near. Also communicating in raw North Belfast patois can be very hard on the throat. Still it was good to know I could still cut a swagger in the old stomping ground and finding somewhere to buy cheap drugs was a further bonus. Only back in Belfast two hours and things were looking up.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A long overdue explanation for my prolonged absence part 3

I had arrived at what proved to be the most difficult and hazardous leg of the journey; Crossing the Irish sea. I presumed it would be simplicity itself, I mean you're out there floating on some wood after all so in theory the boats doing all the leg work and after my many hundreds of miles so far I was ready for a big, long sit down.
Stealing a row boat was easy. Coastal people don't even padlock them to the shore or anything. If you are to steal a boat for a brief marina joyride here's a tip; get some oars. First thing to do is steal some proper oars. Sea faring folks must take them home with them because I couldn't find a set anywhere. For a boat heist you should really go equipped. In the end I nicked a shovel from a building site which was a disaster for navigation but at the least gave me some means of propulsion.
Navigation is another important point, you really have some base knowledge of the heavens to find out where you're going. I knew Ireland was to the left from Wales and it being such a big Island I assumed that I would smash into it after a few hours. The plan was simple, leave at night, row out the harbour, turn left, then straight on until morning. Couldn't fail.
Twelve fucking days I was adrift, alone in that row boat bobbing about on the high seas. I did try to navigate by the stars but the only one I know is Apollo by the three stars on his belt, but what I'm meant to do with that knowledge is still beyond me. I will say however that without the light pollution the constellations are very bright and pretty at night on the sea. Dehydration and hunger were also quite awkward problems, if you are going to cast yourself adrift be sure to bring sandwiches. Many wast the night I dreamed about an egg mayonnaise and a can of Lilt.
Finally I sighted land and made for it with all the speed my withered limbs could propel me with. As it turned out I was back in Wales, about fifteen miles down the coast. Some sort of tidal shit apparently. I must have just gone over the horizon and then spent nearly a fortnight rowing in circles in some sort of slow whirlpool effect. Was I embarrassed? I was sure it was Ireland, from a distance Ireland and Wales seem very similar when you look at then flat side on. Another thing, in this day and age of radar and massive scale international shipping how is it possible for a person to drift about in a busy commercial lane for twelve days without at least one coastguard coming to see what's happening? I must of just got lucky.
Well needless to say I just threw the towel in and decided to beg on the streets of Bangor until I got enough for a bus and ferry ticket to Belfast, which from Wales is about twenty six pounds. It took me less than four hours and I realised that if i had just swallowed my pride and put my hand out for spare change in Truro four and a half months ago I would have been in Belfast the very next night. You live and you learn eh?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A long overdue explanation for my prolonged absence Part 2

The first part of the plan, walking from Truro to north Wales, took about four months. That took me by surprise, I'd seen it on a map and it only looked about an inch and a half apart, there's a tip; always check your scales. I'd like to say it was an adventure but in actual fact it was really fucking shit. Please excuse my bad language but no other words will suffice for how truly God awful it was. Five hundred miles I walked, It's not that far but I kept on getting lost. Ended up in bloody Derby at one point and no one has a reason to be in Derby, ask anyone from Derby and they'll tell you the same. It was winter to boot and all, November, January, December, February, and the crap part of March.
I thought it would be a piece of piss. Suren back in the olden days folks were always banging on about places only being a week or a few days walk away. I should have nicked a donkey or something but then I could barely forage enough food for myself. Apparently but, they eat grass, if I'd known that at the time I could have cut the journey time in half.
Suffice to say there many interesting encounters and fascinating misadventures on my quest to crash on my father's sofa, but I'll not recount those here and save the juicy details for a lucrative publication. It could well be an Odyssey for our modern times so get excited about that. There'll be a bit of violence, some animal cruelty, and plenty of sex; some bad, all inappropriate, and some imaginary. Hot stuff.
by the time I got to the welsh coast I was properly knackered. They keep it quiet but Wales is all hills and mountains. No wonder they don't tell anyone, If people knew it was uphill all the way in that country no bugger would go, well no one told me at any rate. However if you thought the walk was the hard part that's nothing compared to the next bit, traversing the mighty Irish Sea.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A long overdue explanation for my prolonged absence Part 1

I've been away for a year and a half. I didn't think it had been that long, felt longer really, a lifetime almost. Of course for the usual reasons of good taste and legality i can't fill you in on everything that occurred but I'll do my best to give you a brief overview.
Falmouth didn't work out, I'd have thought that if one was to be insolvent anywhere a sun kissed peninsula with plenty of fish in the sea and mussels on the beach would be just peachy but did you know Cornwall has a winter as well? I sure as hell didn't. Times got hard, and damp, and pretty soon after my last post here I found myself with just enough money to cover one more month at my gentleman's lodgings. Unfortunately, as you may remember, at the time i was naively placing my hopes in National Lottery scratchcards as an untapped get rich quick scheme. The reason they're untapped and no instructional guide for their successful use exists is because it's bloody impossible. I took the full ninety-seven quid left for my keep and walked all the way to Truro. (after a series of ridiculous misunderstandings I had become persona non grata in all the Falmouth newsagents.) That took the best part of three hours i can tell you.
Anyway I get there, walk into a Tesco's, dump all the small change at the cigarette kiosk and tell the lady to give me a tin of Irn Bru, twenty Mayfair, a packet of matches and turn the rest into £100,000 prize scratchcards. I spent the best part of half an hour standing in the pissing rain outside, which never bloody stops in Cornwall, seriously it's worse than flipping Ireland, scratching off all these cards and did I win anything? Yes, I won thirty-four bloody quid. Then I only won seven off that, one quid off that, and that was the lot gone.
I was shaken bad, my faith in scratchcards evaporated instantly. there I was, no money, twelve damp Mayfair's, half a tin of Irn Bru and a damp, seasonally inappropriate summer suit the only things I had left in the world. I had some socks and y-fronts on admittedly but the less said about those the better. I suppose I could have walked back to Falmouth but what was the point, there was nothing in the lodgings apart from a half read Kenny Daglish biography and an unusable library card. After all my misadventures I decided the time had finally come to swallow my pride and return to Belfast.
Having no money for a bus ticket I decided that my only option was to walk to Wales, steal a row boat, nip across the Irish Sea and once I was on Eire soil I could just dander up along the coast and crash at my Dad's until the money built up again. What could be more simple? As it turned out pretty much anything else but more of that tomorrow