It is July 2005, and I have just moved back to Birmingham. Convoluted Coventry forsaken for the Smallvil-lana of Bartley Green. My Coventry adventure is 99% done, but I still face one final fight. A swansong! A sequel thirty years later that ruins the legacy. Nexus is sending bands across Europe to work with local churches. I could be going anywhere! Poland! Bosnia! Ancient Rome!

I’m going to Belfast.

Flipping Belfast.

Some road called the Shankill Road. I’ve never heard of it.

The Irish are funny. They love to sing and be on Coronation Street. Also, they’re funny funny. Graham Linehan. Irish, and funny, even if he doesn’t understand how. He’s the only man ever to create the funniest series of TV in history, and then broaden it to ITV quality. Then there’s Boyzone. The group that taught me at an early age the flaws of humanity. Having said that, Denis Irwin did exactly the opposite.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

It’s a few days until we fly out. I’m visiting old Nexus neighbours and checking on my old house. It’s hollow. Lifeless. A mausoleum. I don’t like it, so head over to Neil and Lee’s. They’re eating a heap of sausages. I join in. Sausages are the perfect manly meaty snack. Whatever time of day. Lee turns to me and asks a question.

“Where are you going then, Dan?”

“Belfast.”

“You’d better be careful there, Dan. Belfast hunts down the English.”

I stare at him. And then go back to my sausage.

“Whatever. You make it sound like Final Destination.”

“Well, I warned you…”

Lee stares at me strangely, and then shows me a trout in his fridge. Which, surprisingly, is when I learn how to play sudoku.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

I am in Belfast. We’ve been here for 3 days, and so far no bus mishaps.

Lee’s such an idiot. As if a whole city is out to get me. The church is taking us on a tour of the city. It’s full of haunting murals of terrorists that make my back sweat. If any city was going to kill someone, it would definitely look like this.

An hour later we’ve finished our tour and are driving back to the church to teach guitar lessons, which is ridiculously hard with an accent that makes E and A into the same ‘air’ sound. I have noticed that lots of children here have two hearing aids. This is a city that leaves no Brit unscathed, even it’s own. I grit my teeth. As something hits the minibus. It’s a traditional Belfast skirmish and we’re being pelted with rocks! We bomb it through large gates separating the Catholic and Protestant sections of the city and into safety. I smile. Dan 1 Belfast 0.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

The next morning we arrive at the church to discover that there’s been a bombing at a church in the city. Nobody’s dead, but we were meant to perform there last night. I smile.

Dan 2 Belfast 0.

I am untouchable.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

It’s 23:00 and we arrive home. The boys are staying in a flat with two American ladies. It’s cold, with a warm orange beach mural that causes photothermal confusion. My stomach pesters my gullet to drop something into it, so I pop into the kitchen and open the freezer. I find sausages, and grab some scissors to cut open the bag. It’s late, but sausages are the perfect manly meaty snack. Whatever time of day. I pull the frozen sausages out of the bag, but they are one. A meaty and icy (or ‘micy’) sculpture. What do I do? If I defrost them all I’ll have to eat them all!

I am tempted.

But I couldn’t do that. I’m a guest! I decide to be modest. And have six. But how do I get six sausages out of this micy hedge?  

I have an idea, and look for something to jimmy the sausages apart. My head swivels. A few times. There is no cutlery. I keep looking. When something glistens. In the corner of the room is a brand-new set of knives. Chopping knives! Perfect! But hang on… brand new knives? This could be dangerous. And this is Belfast! But whatever. I’m 19! And English enough to be great at everything. There’s no way this can go wrong.

I remember the rocks and the bomb.

And pick up the smallest knife.

I hold the sausages in my left hand and position the knife so that it will nicely splice a slice of mice. I breathe, and think of Her Majesty.

Then press the knife down.

Hard.

Harder. I force the knife down with superhuman force, and feel the strength of the sausages swallowing cyanide pills as the knife slides in like a ballerina. YES! And into my finger. NO!!! And back out.

I drop the knife and watch with flaccid upper lip as blood begins to spurt in sheets from the fresh fish-gill in my finger. What the heck do I do? I think. I’ve cut myself before. What was Dad’s advice? I quickly skim-read my childhood and wash the cut to keep it clean. The blood is washed away. And doesn’t clot. It just keeps sheet-ing. And being washed down the sink.

I decide that this may not be helping, and grab my finger to pressure the wound and prevent further kitchen red-ecoration. I think of the queen, and my default action man settings are activated.

I know exactly what to do.

“Girls? Can you help me?”

They’re in the living room, wearing summery clothes and shivering. “Do any of you have any plasters?” They’re American. “Plasters?” I’m losing blood, but have enough to translate. “Band-aids?” The girls see the flow.

“Ooooooohhhhh!!!!!! You’re bleeding!?!?

They flap about like chickens in A&E and find me a plaster. “I can’t believe you’re so calm!” they exclaim, with obvious admiration in their voice. And probably desire. “I was shaken. But not stirred.” I go back into the kitchen and whack the sausages in the oven, before bleaching the bloody kitchen.

Dan 2 Belfast 1.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

The next morning I am playing a key part in the band. I pick up my Ibanez. And play a note. It canes. Oh no! The floppy finger is my main guitar-playing finger! I play badly. For the rest of the trip.

Dan 2 Belfast 2.

 ———————————————————————————————————————————————–

I take my seat on the plane home, and think of Lee. I may have been embarrassed, and came out scathed, but I survived! Belfast could only scrape a draw! It’s unsportsmanlike, but I feel this calls for a taunt. A good British taunt. I sit back, and put my UK passport up to the window as we fly away. I smile.

This is why we had an empire.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

I land in Norwich, and fly into Oasis Camp. I’m a rock star, and get stuck into rocking out with Hollywood’s Rock Dogs. My girlfriend finds me. I haven’t seen her since our tearful goodbye before I left for Belfast. We couldn’t wait to see each other again. She asks for a word. “Of course.” She takes me to one side.

And says another tearful goodbye, as she walks into my past.

I sit down, and turn my heart off and on again. A sound tickles my ears. The sound of wicked laughter. With an Irish accent.

Dan 2 Belfast 3.

I see my passport. And breathe.

And go and eat some sausages.

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