29 October 2005

Mornings, movies and scary things

My first evening in Belfast was subdued but in a very comfy way. Videos, pizza, red wine and Champagne - a different way to start a holiday, but considering the drinking yet to come I feel that clubbing until the early hours would have been a severe tactical error. As it happens, I highly recommend Napoleon Dynamite: if you've ever felt an outsider, or there's a closeted geek/dork/nerd within your soul, then this is the tonic for it. And it is very, very funny. We also watched The Cat's Meow: fantastic 20's period drama with superb performances from legends like Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, Kirsten Dunst and the ever-enjoyable Edward Hermann (who I've been a fan of ever since The Lost Boys). The latter film (which we actually watched first) makes one think that there will be no success in life without the sacrifice of soul. Which I intend to disprove by being massively success but keeping my soul intact. I feel that surrounding myself with good friends not afraid to knock me down a few pegs when I need it is a good way to this.

I'm not sure what I expected of Belfast, but whatever it was, Belfast kind of lives up to those expectations. Weird huh? We did some shopping in the town centre and saw the rather grandiose city hall (you can tell this was a major imperial centre - the old buildings that haven't been blown up are very impressive). The chav/ned population seems massive, and I got the idea of a city whose internal problems had led it to a sort of Dundee-like existence, trying desperately to modernise in the right ways though having serious difficulty. Even in Jo's neighbourhood, which was wicked and reminded me of Turnham Green and that part of Chiswick High Road, the Police station looked like a prison. It seemed out of place, which I'm sure is a good thing. Then we drove down the Falls Road, one of the major Catholic neighbourhoods, complete with rage-filled murals demanding the freedom of everyone from the Catalans to the Palestinians. And, of course, the Irish. Irish tricolours flew from every other building and most of the signs were in both English and Irish. Jo lamented the waste of talent - the murals are impressive street art - and she's right, it is a waste of talent. You'd think that the rage and bigotry on both sides, redirected to take a city desperate to drag itself up from the conflict and make it a groovy place. And it seems like it's happening slowly. Everyone seems to be holding their breath a bit though, hoping that nothing happens long enough that nothing will ever happen again. My own views on the conflict are unchanged in their sympathies though my personal desire for the end to be truly nigh has intensified. The people here are really nice, and they just shouldn't blow eachother up. It's retarded.

Anyway. At the moment I'm sitting at Belfast Central rail station waiting for my train to Dublin as I missed the one before due to being a total wanker. Well, actually due to not listening to my sister's recitation of the timetable closely enough. It's one of those cases of switching off to a voice of elder authority and it coming back to bite me in the arse.

Other people's eating habits are revolting. I'm sure mine are to other people as well. But the old lady next to me is scooping the tuna mayo out of her sandwich and eating it raw sans bread, dribbling flakes of fish all over the table and herself. What's up with that? Am I scooping my Guinness out of the pint glass with cupped fingers and attempting to dribble it into my mouth? No, I'm not. And now she's just upped to another table because her old one is covered in rancid tuna. Mingin'.

In fact, so mingin' that I refuse to end this post with something so unpleasant. So instead here is a photo of Jo's lovely wee street on which her lovely wee flat and her lovely wee flatmate are situated.

28 October 2005

Good imbalance

Driving sorted, with the original dude. Planets aligning. Packing proceeding. Holiday awaits!

27 October 2005

Clocks, schedules & adventures...

The river looked incredible this morning and it seems to be the precursor for the day, which is beautiful and unseasonably warm. I was going to take a walk along the river but remembered that my iMac's arriving today and so I am housebound for the time being.

I reset the grandfather clock in the hall today. I have fond memories of it from when it stood in the entry landing of my grandparents' home in Virginia. It symbolised what I later determined was a sense of legacy, but at the time felt like a mixture of fear and warmth. It's arbitrary, I suppose. We are who we are and the only effect the past has on that is how much we let it, but it's still nice to have that clock ticking away, chiming on every hour. And I'd never set it before. So I'm letting that have an effect on me; a good one.

So, Ireland is shaping up to be more fun than previously expected. Failing my second driving test got me down mostly because I was hoping to be driving through Ireland and having loads of adventures for a week. Sadly, this was quickly turning into the nightmare of bus-ing around Ireland and finding ways to occupy myself. It didn't have quite the adventurous overtones that driving solo did. Fortunately it turns out the best man and a few of my other mates are taking a cottage in Cork for a week to get used to the beer while they're over there. They're also getting a car to go sight-seeing. So adventures and old friends await and I'm actually pretty giddy about the whole thing. I mean, I was excited before, but having a place to ourselves for a week of revelry has made me excited again. So it's looking like this: Tomorrow I fly into Belfast to check out Jo's palatial new pad which is apparently so cool that she giggles and smiles like this whenever she talks about it. Drinks and food will no doubt be involved and I may even cook breakfast Saturday. Saturday down to Dublin, possibly early and by car, possibly late and by train. Saturday evening is my brother-in-law's 40th, so there's going to be much partying. Sunday - recover, spend time with nephews and then head down to Cork to meet up with the guys. Once in Cork, debate whether Beamish is better than Guinness, take lots of photos, work out that none of us have grown up as much as we probably should have, chat up pretty Irish girls and wander around, getting into trouble in-a-good-natured-mischievous-rather-than-awful-and-obnoxious way. Then Friday up to Co. Clare for the wedding. For which I am meant to be sorting out accomodation.

And speaking of driving, kind of, my quest for a license has been perturbed yet again, and I'm beginning to get very frustrated. Especially as I thought I'd had it sorted. Jan, my folks' bookkeeper and all around legend found someone who sounded really nice. So I thought I was sorted. But it turns out my test is too early in the morning for him. He's got to get his kids to school. The nearest I can change my test to is 2 weeks later! So I'm still without someone to take my test with. Bugger.

So, incredible grooviness of Ireland balanced by the wind-out-of-sails ruination of driving limbo. Balance in the universe, I guess.

25 October 2005

Settling in...

I'm beginning to get the hang of things. My books (a large chunk of my personal belongings) are unpacked with clothes and whatnot next. I've been clearing space and come across loads of things that I just have no idea why I saved. Christmas cards from 6 years ago. Memo to self is to be more brutal about the random crap I have kicking about (manuals for video games that are so old they don't run on ANY of my current computers) and never, ever accumulate so much. Unopened envelopes from my old high school asking me to donate from some non-existant pile of money. Bleah.

Anyway. What's happened?

Well, it was a lovely weekend. Saturday lunch at the neighbours next door was fun, though I'm always a bit uncomfortable. They're very nice people and I sometimes become aware of my coarser nature. So I'm ultra well-behaved, only piping up when there's a clear pause in conversation and making sure it's something worth saying. I spoke twice during lunch. Maybe three times. I don't think of this as a bad thing because I normally talk way too much and feel that these situations balance that somehow.

Saturday evening was Kate's gig at a packed Shepherd's Bush Empire. Jo came along and we had a quick bite first and got caught up. The gig was incredible - I've been watching Kate for about 8 1/2 years now and it's just amazing to see her on such excellent form and enjoying huge success. After the tunes Jo and I rocked up to the after show party and I had some illusions shattered. You see, I had built this image in my head of celebs milling about, spraying champagne, laughing jovially and patting eachother on the back. Instead it was a bunch of low-key hangers-on, most looking uncomfortable and chain-smoking like chimneys. Then I realised I was a low-key hanger-on myself, and after downing 3 pints of Grolsch and quickly texting Kate to tell her congrats on an ace gig we made tracks.

When we got back I felt midnight snacks were in order so set about making omlettes. Mmm... omlettes.

Sunday was a day of food and wine. Sausage, bacon and pancakes were breakfast fayre and consumed with gusto. One of the pancakes came out very strange, but the others were yummy. Then, sadly, Jo had to leave before being able to enjoy the epic Sunday lunch. Well, epic is an overstatement, but I was chuffed because a few pebbles in my culinary shoe were shaken out. Roast tatties and rack of lamb: simple, but I'd never got the timing quite right on either, which is annoying. This time, both turned out perfectly. Lunch (with an old friend, Alisdair) went from about 2 to midnight with champagne, claret, port, beer and brandy consumed. I took it easy yesterday and got lots of little errands done.

So. Yeah. Things at the moment seem to be centred around having friends come over and keep me company as frequently as possible. It is a bit lonely here and I'm slowly but surely getting on with the being my own boss and having to make myself get things done. I think I accidentally threw out my to-do list. And anyone who's come to visit in the last few days, thanks.

Oh, and apparently my folks house in Key West is fine. Well, fine-ish, as in not submerged under several feet of water. You see, I was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, as Wilma weakened on approach I thought, "no problems". And the first reports about tide surges seemed under-reported. Then I found out 60% of the island was under water and it was a disaster area. So I worried, having heard nothing from my folks. There were no maps of the flooding to be had or anything and I couldn't for the life of me remember where they were meant to be. They could have been swept off the 7-mile-bridge for all I knew. But they're fine. And the house, as far as we've been able to confirm, is ok. But we'll see.

Got tickets for Ireland - off on Friday. Must buy lots of film.