Guest Post: ‘A Genius’ by Colin Dardis.

It is 2:30am when Graham spies me from across the road. Uh-oh. I said goodnight to Graham about an hour and a half ago so I could go and finish the night off in the gambling parlour, and now I needed an excuse. I decided quickly I had better take the head on this conversation, but fortunately, Graham seems too drunk to really care.

-Hey man, what’s happening, you still out?

-Yeah, it’s all good! Just walking up the road, down here in South Belfast, it’s all good. What you up to?

-I’m excellent. I just won ninety pounds.

This is a lie, almost. I made forty pounds profit, at the risk of putting in fifty quid and quickly saying goodbye to it. Anyway, ninety sounds better.

-No way, how did you do that?! I don’t believe you.

Graham snorts a little and laughs. I point in the direction of the gambling parlour and then take my wallet out and display the notes.

-Wow, you did. Well done, man.

I’m showing off now. These guys are young, and ninety pounds is a lot of dough to them. It’s a lot to me too, but I can’t let on that it is, I have to tell myself I can afford it, otherwise I wouldn’t be gambling at all, I’d have gone straight to bed like a good boy.

We’re standing at a bus stop outside Methody College, just across from the gambling room. Graham and a few others of us had been at a reading earlier on, then on to some bar. I couldn’t even remember the bar now, all I focused on was the money and the winnings.

It’s pretty busy for this time of night, but I figure it’s still pretty early, and as I get older, the night becomes younger for me.

-You’ve met Tim and Rob?

-Yeah, I think I met you before.

I nod to Tim, a ginger dreadlocked guy who I was willing to bet played in a band. Rob had an impressive beard for an eighteen year old, or he was older than I thought.

-You going to join us mate? We’re heading for a kebab.

-Aah, no thanks, I already got something earlier.

-You’re the poet, yeah? I saw you read in the Safehouse. It was pretty good.

Tim mentions something about us working together on something, and I say the same thing as always when offered projects: sure, yeah and then soon forget about the whole thing.

Graham is milling around behind us as we talk. He can’t keep still, and it’s not because of the drink. He’s exactly the same when sober, a dervish of a teenager, all rambling philosophy beautifully phrased in struck motions of physical whimsy.

-Eurgh, look at this.

Graham brings us over to the bus stop and points behind the plastic seat. There’s something sticking out the side, and as I edge closer, my nose wrinkles up with suspicion. Whatever it is smells like vodka vomit. It wouldn’t be the first time someone treated the metro stop as a toilet.

-There’s a dead cat in here! Woah. Will you look at that?

Sure enough, some sorry feline was laid out, tucked behind the seat. Its front paws stretched out in front of it, as if in prayer. The smell gets worse as I lean down, and my caution must be a sign that I’m sobering up. It smells exactly like puke, but all the vomit is the same in this city, expelled from the heart of another punter coughing up the ruins of a Friday night.

-You still feel like getting that kebab?

I say my goodbyes to Graham and his friends, explaining that they were heading one way, and I had to go the other. I can’t see out the small hours to the morning, I’m an old, tired man now and I want to go home, but Graham and friends seem to be ready to keep on going.

I walk down the road, thinking about that dead cat. I’m ready to be stretched out on the pavement, ready for the maggots and the city to come and get me. I pat my jeans pocket to check I’ve got my wallet okay, and head home, forty pounds richer, but flat broke in direction and aptitude. There is always the expectancy of tomorrow here: the sun will come out, the bins will be collected, the dream job is open. Oh, to gnaw through my ropes and reach out to it all.


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Today’s Existentialist Rant

Driving back up the road after dropping my daughter off at school, I notice a middle-aged woman wrangling a blue wheelie bin into position outside her back gate. She looks miserable, the corners of her mouth turned down into a substantial, world-hating grimace.

She lives in one of those detached, airy, red-brick houses that have extensive back gardens, and she’s wearing expensive clothes and shoes (understated and classy). Looking at her I am immediately seized by the notion that it’s all futile. Human existence is pointless – we are nothing but ants, crawling the face of the Earth, enduring the incessant grind of slavish un-nourishing activity simply to feed the Queen. And look: this particular Queen isn’t even happy. Of course, I have no idea what is going on in her life, so this is all conjecture. Maybe her cat just died. Maybe her dead cat is in the wheelie bin. That would make anyone grimace.

But the lines on her face suggest that the smile is a rare visitor here; her troubles are more enduring than the death of Tiddles the ginger tom. She doesn’t look tired, as if she was caring for a demanding aged parent, or going through the wringer of sleeplessness and depression. And it’s not as if she’s all fur coat and no knickers: the area she lives in, the expensive clothes, the new code pad-controlled gate all point to sufficient wealth. Poverty is not pinching at her well-nurtured, yet toned, frame: she uses the gym, not the food bank.

If I’m reading her expression accurately, I’d say she looks dissatisfied, as if the world isn’t functioning the way she wants it to. It’s the same look that’s thrown down sometimes from those marble balconies by our pampered, selfish, parasitical monarchs. And that’s one reason why it’s all futile. What’s the point of accumulating all this comfort – inevitably by ruthlessly exploiting those further down the food chain – if we can’t even enjoy it? And why is what we have never enough?

At some point, probably in the nearer rather than the distant future – if we haven’t destroyed life on Earth by ourselves – Mother Nature will finally succeed in spitting us out. What then? The worms and cockroaches that will gain dominion over this planet have no need for poetry or music or grand buildings or golden carriages; we have no use for dinosaur bones. Mind you, compared to the dinosaurs we’re an insignificant little smudge on Earth’s timeline. We have no chance of sticking around as long as they did. We won’t manage another thousand years, never mind a few hundred million.

Note to self: Perhaps listening to Radiohead first thing in the morning isn’t always a great idea. Or maybe it is. blue bin

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Cars, Ormeau Road, Part 2.

Black Maserati, revving; stuck in traffic.


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Guest Post: ‘A New Corner’ by Claire Savage

Royal Avenue hums with activity the further along she goes, pedestrians filtering in from side streets; dropping out of shop doorways and sliding into the throng from the Metros. The buses cut a path past Castlecourt, Tesco, McDonalds, like pink and white sloths, wheezing with exertion as they kneel at each stop.

If she closes her eyes, she could be in Russia she thinks, as a street musician colours the air with the jaunty distinctive melodies of his homeland. The notes seep into her skin, igniting within her an overwhelming desire to dance – any dance – a Russian dance she doesn’t know and couldn’t know.

She imagines stopping before the musician, lifting her imaginary skirts to just above the ankle and stamping the pavement in time to the rhythm. She would whirl and clap her hands high in the air, all the time beating out her own tune on the pavement. Passers-by would stare – she knows this and it frightens her – yet she wishes she could shock them out of their daily to-ing and fro-ing.

She moves on, past the street musician and his otherworldly playing, letting the notes bubble away from her as she loses herself in the crowd. Ahead, the City Hall sits plump and proud, gates open in welcome, but she turns away from it, warm floral air breaking over her like a wave as she enters Boots, dodging the assistants as they spritz perfumes and give Cheshire cat grins to customers in the hope they’ll stop and try, and maybe even buy.

She aims for the back entrance and gasps as the cold steals her breath, forcing her to shed the borrowed warmth from the store. She turns right and then left, to a place she has never yet been, squatting behind the parts of the city that are more familiar to her. It’s a route she may now revisit, once the trail is broken in – a corner of Belfast where artisan bakers create precision cakes topped with regimental buttercream peaks; where there are coffee shops and gift stores; shops seemingly stocked with all the flavours of the world – packets and tins and boxes stacked floor to ceiling. She doesn’t know how she could have missed it until now.

She thinks of the street musician and wonders if he comes to this pocket of the city and if so, what he does here. Does he sit with a black coffee in between shifts, or buy a taste of home from the food store stuffed with eclectic delights? Does he walk through it or by it or near it at all? This queen of streets.

She doesn’t know why it matters suddenly. Why she should wonder about the habits of a person she’s never met. Why she should care if he enjoys all the city has to offer and is welcomed into its heart. Whether he’s really even from Russia.

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The Sharp End

The pencils weren’t going to last. Even as she’d bunched them into the pot with their less-desirable, less-prestigious, workaday blue and red cousins, she knew it. They would walk when she was out of the room, borrowed never to be returned. It is a fact of life that pencils, like books, CDs, and cigarette lighters have a tendency to find their way into other people’s lives, but these pencils were off the scale in terms of their desirability. On the first day back she’d noted the furtive covetous looks from her academic colleagues, and the research students who used the project room that she shared with the other postdoc, Michael. She suspected he was the first to move on them. Either him or Prof, who spent more time in their room than his own office, gossiping and scheming away at his empire-building. Both of them had been consumed with envy after she’d returned from the research trip to Harvard; neither of them had been there, let alone spent time in the rare book room of the Houghton Library.

The Library was very generous with its pencils. As in most special collections reading rooms, ink pens of any description were barred, which meant that pencils had to be used for note-taking. On the first day there she’d heard the whirr of the mechanical pencil sharpener in the corner, and looking up had seen the box of free pencils on the table. She’d quietly stashed the propelling pencil she’d bought specially for the visit back in her bag, and gone over to investigate. Seeing her pause at the sharpener, a clean-cut library assistant had come over to her, smiled knowingly, and told her to take a few.

“They make nice souvenirs,” he said, as he inserted one into the sharpener, “It’s automatic. Like this.”

She’d reddened up briefly, then taken six. The pencils radiated class: light burgundy in colour, with the Harvard Library crest and ‘Houghton Library’ embossed in white. The eraser-holder was gold. She wondered if six was enough.

Within three days of her return to Belfast there was only one left. Michael had openly added one to his collection. It was brazenly displayed at the front of his hoard, inviting comment. How many of them had he actually paid for?  When she remarked about her pencil he simply said,

“You gave it to me. What? You want it back now? Make up your mind, would ya? Jesus. It’s just a pencil.”

She took it back. The next day it was gone again. That morning, after they left, she imagined the conversation, Michael and Prof slagging her off over coffee at Clement’s. They spent a lot of time closeted there together these days. She’d heard the script many times before in their company: bitter, dismissive, and far-ranging. No-one was exempt.

In the evening she took the last pencil home with her, jabbing it in amongst the others in a dark corner of the desk under the gable roof. It was never just a pencil.


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Guest post: ‘This Place’ by Duke Special

This is where I live

The place where the rivers run

Where we all suck the same air

Poet, punk, rag toe, heel, fucker, friend and foe

This is the place I knelt and fell all tongues and spirit

Where my sister whispers in faded voice

Where I cradle a sense of wonder


This is where I lost myself, for a time, under a waste moon

Howling and hurting and hung off the rail

H-bomb burned, breathing

This is the place where the 3 princes walk by the Connswater

And will always turn my steps

This is where I was touched new

Among the scaffold and awkward cups

On the cobbles near the big spire

This is where I will take root and bear fruit and linger

Hug the earth and keep on wondering

This place


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The Holy Trinity

Integrated primary school classroom, Belfast. The P3s are having a Religious Education class.

Teacher: “Can anyone tell me about the holy trinity?”


Girl: “Well, miss, my daddy …”


Girl: “My daddy says …”


Girl: “… My daddy says that the holy trinity is ginger, garlic, and chilli.”

Teacher: “Very good Laura. But I was looking for something about religion. You know this is RE, not home economics.”

Girl.: “But Miss, my daddy says that Ken Hom told him so.”

Teacher: “right …”

Girl: “And he’s god. Ken Hom is god.”

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Belfast, from Cave Hill

Dreamers• schemers• bathroom cleaners• pipers• snipers• windscreen-wipers• typists• rascists• papists • rapists• spankers• bankers• wankers• outflankers• peace-makers• bakers• risk-takers• orgasm-fakers• fighters• writers• pillow-biters• shite-talkers• stalkers• hill-walkers• hawkers• porkers• growlers• prowlers• full-moon howlers• petty thieves• kickers of leaves• healers• peelers• drug-dealers• arse-feelers• dog-breeders• avid readers• cheerleaders• the weird• the cloth-eared• the disappeared• community pillars• tooth-drillers• illegal distillers• gorillas• repentant killers• prods• sods• mods• yobs• nobs• slobs• runners• stunners• machine-gunners• climbers• rhymers• old-timers• portrait-painters• stuffy-room fainters• fiddlers• diddlers• back-alley piddlers• sluggers• muggers• buggers• tree-huggers• farmers• charmers• child-harmers• losers• choosers• abusers• boozers• schoolboys• toy-boys• corner-boys• rent-boys• bad boys• touts• snouts• louts• down-and-outs• pimps• wimps• gimps• parasites• gobshites• fly-by-nights• corridor-pacers• ambulance-chasers• kiddie-boy racers• quaffers• scoffers• coughers• the well-appointed• the double-jointed• huns• nuns• working mums• crackers• slackers• shelf-stackers• account-hackers• arsonists• larcenists• royalists• loyalists• fundamentalists• flat-earthers• no-mirthers• natural-birthers• string-pluckers• motherfuckers• brick-chuckers• prudes• dudes• cool nudes• cheaters• beaters• vegetable-eaters• preachers• screechers• teachers• hair-bleachers• fliers• liars• asset-buyers• lags• slags• hags• toe-rags• old bags• ballbags• twits• brits• wee shits• nitwits• hypocrites• lurkers• shirkers• construction workers• acrobats• twats• lovers of cats• employees• payees• trustees• refugees• lefties• westies• besties• crusties• culchies• orangies• fluters• looters• freebooters• seducers• juicers• film producers• thickheads• dickheads• airheads• shitheads• vicars• lickers• fruit-pickers• city slickers• witches• bitches• snitches• curtain-twitchers• beggars• fleggers• bootleggers• truckers• suckers• muckers• noisy fuckers• swingers• singers• mingers• right-wingers• dead-ringers• screwers• brewers• gum-chewers• plotters• trotters• train-spotters• copybook-blotters•  jokers• smokers• midnight bokers• runts• grunts• lazy cunts• twisters• sisters• short-listers• freaks• sneaks• fixers of leaks• jivers• skivers• taxi drivers• ‘lend-us-a-fiver’s• moaners• loners• organ-donors• whores• bores• stevedores• makers of laws• proles• arseholes• setters of goals• go-getters• elders-and-betters• bed-wetters• clinicians• musicians• mathematicians• politicians• the outraged• the under-aged• the low-waged• lodgers• bodgers• salad-dodgers• nippers• strippers• day-trippers• sticks• pricks• catholics• lunatics• junkies• flunkies• cheeky monkeys• gritters• fitters• splitters• heavy-hitters• woolly-sock knitters• semen-spitters• lords• frauds• chairmen of boards• plumbers• drummers• latecomers• designers• maligners• whiners• toe-the-liners• naysayers• bricklayers• zombie-slayers• poker-players• sinners• shinners• lottery winners• rockers• dockers• door-knockers• weavers• achievers• non-believers• thrashers• flashers• potato-mashers• bible-bashers• budget-slashers• car-crashers• gays• DJs• here-to-stays• travellers• grovellers• shovellers• dream-unravellers …

Maria McManus Cavehill 1

Photo by Maria McManus

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Cars, Ormeau Road, 1.

The roar of a high-performance engine and the squeal of tyres turns my head. A shining, beefed-up muscular mini, containing a skinny young man with short hair and wearing dark glasses, speeds down the hill towards town. The man’s tattooed right arm is hanging out of the driver’s window, juxtaposed against the shocking pink, white-striped car body.

Blue Subaru with gold trim, parked outside the Ulster Bank. Low to the ground, it is the first to be affected when the manhole covers burst open and the flash flood waters from the heavy rain start to flow into its twin exhaust pipes. The lad with spiked-up hair and acne, in his smart bank uniform, nips out to see what can be done, but he can’t leave his customers to queue for long. The car won’t budge; when 5 o’clock comes, taxi for him, low-loader for his motor.

Vernacularisms Jason O'Rourke

The flood, Ormeau Rd, 2007. Picture by J. O’Rourke.

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Guest Post: ‘Mr Gabor’s Day Out,’ by Michael Costello.

Mr Gabor had a problem. Standing in front of him was a pretty young girl waving her arms and speaking very slowly. She appeared to be saying the word ‘DOWN!’ quite loudly, as if she assumed he was hard of hearing, which he wasn’t. He definitely understood ‘Down,’ but because his English was very poor, he was unable to reply. So he just sat on his fold-up chair and smiled. Then the girl stuck her fingers in her ears and began shouting another word he didn’t understand.

Earlier, Mr Gabor had been standing opposite the City Hall at the corner of Donegall Place playing his horned violin. He was very proud of his violin. He had made it himself back in Romania, in Recea to be exact, where he had lived for fifty-six years before coming to Belfast. That was two weeks ago and today was the first time he had ventured out to play his music. His daughter Amalia had suggested it. She had been living in Belfast for three years and now had a good job working as a receptionist in an exclusive hotel. They lived together in a small house in a maze of streets near the city centre along with Amalia’s fiancé Emil, who worked as a refuse collector.

For two weeks Mr Gabor sat in the small house listening to Amalia and Emil talking about life in Belfast, how good it was, how lovely most of the people were and their trips to the mountains and the sea. They told him he must go out and play his violin because Belfast people loved traditional music.  He could also make money, so he agreed, if only to get out of the house and give Amalia and Emil some time on their own. Emil bought him a cheap mobile phone, put in their numbers and showed him how to call them. They gave him a map with walking routes marked out with X’s showing the best places for him to play then walked him down to the city centre and left him standing opposite the city hall.

“Have a good day out Papa,” Amalia said, “Just smile if anybody talks to you. And ring when you’re finished. We’ll come and get you.”

Mr Gabor had brought with him his small fold-up chair and his violin and horn packed in an old case. He propped his chair against a window, unpacked his violin, attached the horn and began playing Țăranul Fericit (‘The Happy Shepherd’) and Chase Fetele (‘Chase the Girls’). He liked playing them; both were happy songs made for dancing and this allowed him to swing from side to side and create a good wah-wah effect with the music. However, soon it became impossible to play anything. People were bumping into him and stepping over his case, sometimes kicking it. He decided to go for a walk along one of the routes marked on the map. One route in particular caught his eye, especially the X at the end that looked like a square with a church nearby. It might be quieter there. He packed everything up and began walking, frequently stopping to check the map. He couldn’t ask anybody for directions, as his English was so poor, but eventually he stopped a couple and showed them the map. The man said something to him and Mr Gabor smiled and pointed to the X. The man appeared confused. He began talking to the woman with him, then he handed the map back to Mr Gabor and pointed towards a street. Mr Gabor looked at the woman. She smiled and nodded and they walked on.

Before he reached the square, Mr Gabor stopped and showed his map a few more times; once to an old man who just stared at him, then a group of boys who sent him the wrong way and finally two women who brought him to the square. Now he sat on one side, playing Vine Noaptea (‘The Night Comes’), his favourite tune. He was right, the square was peaceful and indeed, a large church stood nearby. A few people walked through and slowed down to listen but none gave him money.

He was still playing when a small group of young people entered the square, three girls and two boys. One of the boys was bearded and carried a guitar case. They sat down opposite. The bearded boy took out his guitar and began to pluck the strings. Mr Gabor noticed they were looking at him but they weren’t smiling. Eventually, one of the girls stood up and walked towards him. She was pretty, about the same age as Amalia. She pointed to the violin and spoke. He smiled. She turned to her friends and shouted something. Another girl raced across to join her. She too was pretty and it was she who was now standing with her fingers in her ears. Mr Gabor knew they were asking him to stop playing. The violin was too loud. He smiled. The girls returned his smile and ran back to their friends. Mr Gabor leaned back in his chair, his violin resting in his lap. The sun was lower in the sky and his side of the square was becoming streaked in dark shadows. Opposite him, the bearded boy began singing a soft melancholy tune.

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