Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Sharing my life

Hello to whoever might be reading this (all two of you and the hamster).

I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts and feelings and experiences as I approach my sixtieth birthday. I have spent most of my life in London but have been in Belfast for the last seven years, partly to reinvent myself for the millenium and partly because my partner, Jenny, whose dad was raised in Belfast, wanted to move here.

When I first moved to Belfast from a very fashionable part of London (Islington), some people thought I was mad. They took for granted that London was culturally, economically and politically superior to anywhere else in the UK, particularly Belfast which (if they thought about the grim wastelands outside London at all) they associated only with violence, religious hatred and cultural backwardness.

Of course as anyone who lives in Belfast knows, the (rapidly declining) violence is only one dimension of the city, and alongside it is a peaceful, thriving, exuberant, creative Belfast that most of the media is ignorant of and never writes about. There is a wealth of theatre, cinema, art, music and cultural stimuli of all kinds, not to mention easy access to sea, mountains, lakes, forests and other stunning natural landscapes. The people are more lively and positive and witty than the average Londoner who seems ground down by the pressures and congestion of the English capital. Yes traffic is building up in Belfast, but it's still very easy to get around on the underused roads and the uncrowded buses.

Of course the familiar religious and political conflicts still simmer under the surface, just as racism and classism simmer in London, but they have only a limited effect on most people's daily lives. In the workplace people just get on with the job they're there to do. At social gatherings, people just want to enjoy themselves and have some 'good craic'. The peace process is now well established and there is more and more evidence of pursuit of the common good rather than tribal warfare. The locals tend to be more cynical about the future but with so many bitter experiences of the Troubles, and so much personal loss and grief, that's to be expected.

My only concern when I left London was that I would be 350 miles from my mother who was a fit and healthy 78 but might in the future need looking after. Thankfully she is still pretty healthy as she approaches 85, but ironically it is my sister Heather (57) in Cambridgeshire who needs care as she developed motor neurone disease four years ago. I'm glad she has her husband Mike and daughter Lucy to support her.

I certainly have no regrets about leaving London. I don't feel at all isolated or out in the sticks. As well as enjoying news, art and culture not just from Britain but from both parts of Ireland, people here travel extensively, partly because they have relatives in many countries but also because they are curious and adventurous. Since moving to Belfast Jenny and I have been to Italy, Canada and Australia. I hardly think about London, whose only major influence on me is its political initiatives. In fact London now seems almost as remote as Paris or Rome, while New York, just across the Atlantic, seems nearer.

At 59 I'm still pretty healthy. My sense of smell is poor and my knees are getting a bit creaky but I'm still able to climb Slieve Donard (850 metres and pretty steep) without any trouble and I would be most upset if I had to give that up. I have a fairly sensible lifestyle - I've never smoked, I don't drink much, I'm vegetarian and I get plenty of exercise. I still qualify to give blood, which I've done 28 times. I'm a fairly optimistic, adaptable soul who prefers on the whole to meet people halfway rather than dig my heels in.

I'm a diehard socialist and a Buddhist but I don't try to force my beliefs on anyone else - other people have different beliefs for good reasons and can I be sure I'm any wiser than them? Strange though how troubled my sleep always is - full of peculiar, tangled dreams about disasters and disorder. What on earth goes on in my unconscious?

I think that'll do for a start. If there's anyone who's got as far as this, your responses are welcome. The longer I live the more ignorant I feel and the more I believe every other person has something to teach me.


  1. Hi Nick
    Enjoyed reading your blog
    Best wishes to you and Jenny
    Keith form down under

  2. Well done on getting the blog off the ground!

    Here's to a new regular read, and the many, many posts to come.


  3. Hi NIck,

    I came across your blog by accident, I really like it! As a Belfast native, slight socialist and attempted vegetarian living and studying in England, I'm chuffed to see someone out there, with me interests and love of the Mournes (in my case fuelled by nostalgia) blogging for Belfast! Keep in up old man! ;)

  4. Gee thanks, anon. Nice to find a kindred spirit in this sometimes hideously conventional world. But hang on - a slight socialist? Come on, have the courage of your convictions and be a committed socialist. I mean, which part of capitalism do you agree with??? I'm with the oppressed masses myself.

  5. I am now officially more confused than a blind cross-dressing donkey on a playground roundabout.

    My kudos to you for picking such good looking impostors though.

  6. K8 - Shhh, you're not meant to know about the cross-dressing. Well, of course my impostors would be good-looking, obviously if they were ugly as sin nobody would believe it was me.

  7. Lol! I also lived in Islington before moving out of England - though for me, it to Wales. I'm a Londoner born and bred, but now detest the place. It's only three years since I left, but feels like a lifetime - a very welcome lifetime.

    I like your blog, am enjoying reading it.

  8. Val - Wow, congratulations on getting this far back! Like you, I no longer have much interest in London. There are some tempting art exhibitions but I wouldn't fly over just for those. I'm more than happy in my newly-adopted city.