It’s been a miserable week so far, what with the news about Jim’s dad needing chemo, and the heavy snow interrupting things. I really don’t understand how one night of snowfall can bring the whole city to a standstill like that. I can look at the weather forecast; why can’t the Council? Anyway, I decide that a wee dander will help clear my head, give me some space to think, and I find myself taking a roundabout route away from the noisy streets. I start off at Maysfield, walking up beside the river past the Market and the Lower Ormeau. From there I am planning to head up to the Botanic Gardens via the Stranmillis Embankment. It is peaceful by the river; I stop for a while to watch a Cormorant, which is perched high up on the old weir; it is looking down at the grey water as it preens itself. Little remains of the snow now: only slowly shrinking snowmen on lawns, and piled-up ridges of black-flecked, dirty slush beside the roads. Passing the bottom of Rutland Street, a small, icy snowball shatters on the path in front of me; some kids are squeezing the last entertainment out of the winter. I don’t even bother to look round; it was a pathetic attack really. It is not repeated. Can’t blame them for trying to make it last, I suppose; me and Jim used to have great snowball fights when the boys were young, but the fun always faded too soon, when the inevitable thaw set in.
There is a lovely new sculpture of some wee animals playing bodhráns and tin whistles, with poetry in Irish and English, where the path meets the Ormeau Road. I wait for the Green Man, cross at the lights, and start onto the Embankment. In the distance I can see a young man and woman emerging from the bottom gates of the Botanic Gardens, exactly where I’m heading. She is wheeling a girl’s bike – my daddy would have called it a “nurse’s bike” – as they cross the road onto the same side as me. She looks amazing: emerald green cape, bright red beret and gloves; dark hair in a fringe. He has a short beard, and is dressed more inconspicuously in jeans and a battered leather coat. If he were here, no doubt Jim would tut-tut and say red and green should never be seen or some such fussy nonsense, but she is a welcome burst of colour in the dull winter landscape. After they cross, she takes her left hand off the handlebars and clasps his hand firmly, steering the bike with her right. They are chatting away, enfolded in their own wee world, not really paying much attention to where they’re going. As they come nearer to me he slows the pace and reaches his arm around her waist, pulling her close to kiss her affectionately. They keep walking slowly, looking into each other’s eyes, then gently kiss again.
Jim would have told her to hold the handlebars in the middle if she was wheeling the bike one-handed, and he’d have been right too: the moment is lost as she loses control and it careers into the railings by the riverbank. I’m only a few feet away by the time this happens, and they’re aware of my presence; they almost collapse laughing. He recovers a little, looks straight at me, smiling infectiously, but I’m already grinning. He probably thinks I’m laughing at them getting caught on, but I’m not: they’ve made my day. As soon as I get home, I’m going to hold Jim, and kiss him like that; I never stopped loving that man.
In the Botanic Gardens, the last of the snow is disappearing from the lawn. By the gate, next to a yellow Witch Hazel and the first crocuses, a Rhododendron is covered in red flowers: it is still January, far too early for these blooms. I wonder if the lovers passed this way too.
Another of your very agreeable sensory monologues Jason. It’s strange that I never associate Belfast with nature, flowers, water or waterbirds – or is it? It might take a while for the stain of stereotyping to be washed away from the imaginations of distant former observers. The cleansing snow might help – if the weather is the news of the week in NI that’s a very normal concern and normalisation in Ulster is a consummation devoutly to be wished (as Joyce would borrow without acknowledgement or embarrassment). The only bit of greenery I remember was around city hall – I wrote a reflection about that on the blog, it’s called ‘The Square’ and your feedback on it would naturally be of special interest to me (under Memoir). But to continue; the splash of colour and the laughter of young love were a delight and you successfully conveyed these as contrasts using your usual flair. For a piece that began with a downbeat it took a pleasant turn and finished with a smile. Well done.
Thanks for your kind comment, Mike. Belfast is full of green spaces. These days salmon spawn in the once-poisoned Lagan. Not really newsworthy, though, so the general perception for a lot of people is that we live in a rubble-strewn urban warzone – that’s all the world has seen of us for so long. Hopefully these negative perceptions are now being eroded (although the recent rioting by a small number of thugs has probably set us back twenty years in the public eye). I’ll check out ‘The Square’. Good to be in touch, cheers J.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.