The Blanket

I See Dead People

Anthony McIntyre

Every Saturday myself and my baby daughter Fírinne ‘do the buses’. We go out, she in a pram or in harness, and walk down to the Falls Road to catch a bus into town. From there we head off to wherever our fancy takes us. She loves being on buses, and while public transport in Belfast compares poorly against a metropolis like Amsterdam, the city is small enough to make the journeys involved relatively short. That is until some group, as on Friday, decide otherwise and ensure through bomb scares that we should sit on buses for hours as part of their liberation struggle against the imperialist commuters of Belfast.

Before we had even managed to set foot on our first bus of the day, we caught a glimpse of an island of tricolours at the junction of the Falls and Whiterock Roads. The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association were flagging up the situation of republican prisoners. I worked to quell the cynic within me which was saying ‘still holding up traffic’. While supporting the demands of such prisoners for segregation I wish they would desist from whatever it is that causes them to go to prison to begin with.

Safely on our public transport and having reached the town centre it wasn’t long before we ran into a picket staged by the Socialist Workers Party. Our bus had taken us from flag waving republicans to paper selling socialists in a matter of minutes. The omnipresent Davy Carlin was there, as was his colleague Mark. Their objective was to generate opposition to the probable war on Iraq. As much a part of Saturday’s Belfast city centre landscape as buskers, they are loud and assertive, never aggressive, while they howl or sell papers. Their gruff attitude invariably mellows and their tone softens however when they see Fírinne. War or not they always make the effort to chat for a few minutes. Agree with them or dissent from them, like them or loathe them, it cannot be disputed that they put the work in on the issues they feel passionate about. You certainly won’t find them in the boozer on a Saturday afternoon downing more pints for socialism. I suppose if I were to give up my stance of using my vote wisely by refusing to cast it I would throw it their way.

Leaving them we walked across the street to the Post Office. The Socialist Party were outside but I had enough for one day and decided on something different. I pushed the pram a few yards to a second hand bookshop in North Street, probably the best in the city, where I picked up a book on Soviet Russia by EH Carr. Which probably makes me a pseudo intellectual agent of the Ideological State Apparatuses in the eyes of the dafter on the Left.

Upon leaving, only £3 poorer - not bad for a book in mint condition - we came across the Goths - certainly the most eye-catching manifestation of Belfast youth culture. I was immediately struck by the line from the film Sixth Sense when young Cole Sear told his psychologist Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) ‘I see dead people’. That’s what these young people looked like to me. Hoards of them gather in the town every Saturday with their dark clothing, blanched faces and darkened hair. Whatever they pursue elsewhere, in their Gothic world music and clothes seem to dominate their interest. Although an expression of non-conformist youth culture the Goths nevertheless seem to surrender their own sense of individuality through the sameness of their dress - a black modern day shroud; a uniform type culture so disapproved of by that notorious arch non-conformist Johnny Rotten. In any event they always manage to outnumber whatever bodies the Left are able to put on the street at the same time. Hopefully not a sign that more people seem interested in looking dead than in taking steps to prevent a war that will produce real dead.

From there we caught our second bus of the day and travelled to the Ravenhill Road where I intended dropping in unannounced on a relative I hadn‘t seen in a few months. We seemed to wait for ages at the bus stop making me long for Amsterdam and its trams every four minutes. I grew so impatient I phoned Translink and gave off to ‘Anne’ about no bus having arrived at 15:44 as stated on the timetable, underlining my point with ‘it states quite clearly that this service runs at this time every Saturday from the 1st of September.‘ To which Anne replied ‘but sir, this is still August’. I laughed, thanked her and waited on my bus half suspecting that my would-be fellow passengers standing in the queue were snickering at their self appointed champion.

On the 78 bus and passing the Short Strand it struck me on seeing the large number of RUC jeeps driving out of the small nationalist area and up to the Ravenhill Road that opposites are never that far apart in this city. From the good natured hustle bustle of the town to the tension and violence of East Belfast - worlds apart, separated by a mere few hundred yards. The RUC jeeps had pulled into a car park on the Ravenhill Road and it was clear that the occupants were geared up for battle. In their dark fatigues they looked a bit like the Goths only with a lot more menace.

The relative we had hoped to see was not at home so we walked very leisurely through the Ormeau Park. Fírinne walked the full length from the Ravenhill Road to the front gates at the Ormeau Road. Long before she was born, Bill ‘shoot to kill’ Craig was gathering his legions of fascists in the same park under the Vanguard rubric to listen to ‘the leader’ rant and rave and incite animosity if not hatred towards Catholics. I was pleased my daughter was oblivious to all that. I hope her only experience of such things will come from history books. Hoping for it and believing it do not, however, amount to the same thing.

Walking down the Ormeau Road I met one of the locals outside the Sinn Fein office. Passing the party’s premises I invariably half anticipate to see a poster proclaiming ‘No Thinking Here’ on the window. We felt like two black men standing outside a Ku Klux Klan building, daring to defy the grand imperial wizards of the thought police by attempting something as audacious as having our own thoughts. If we were to get on the Sinn Fein bus would we be told to leave the section reserved for non thinkers? Where would those who want to think sit? Hop on the back perhaps? Unlike Rosa Parks in the American deep south, we couldn’t really protest the segregation and demand to be put in the non-thinking section.

As for the guy I met, many of his friends feel he has done well to survive this far, having anticipated the worst for him as a consequence of an alcohol induced illness. He looked gaunt and again the words ‘I see dead people’ flashed across my mind. He soon came to life when inquiring if I had read the Irish News. Upon telling him that I wouldn’t get the chance until I reached home he told me that it had carried a report of a Sinn Fein councillor condemning the Real IRA for extortion. Bursting into laughter he said ‘Can you believe it - they have been extorting us all our lives and now they are getting all high and mighty about it because somebody else has muscled in on the act’. And off he went laughing as he moved his head from side to side to accentuate his sense of disbelief. It was nice to see that Sinn Fein had made someone laugh even if that was not the intention.

After that we trudged our way to Botanic Avenue as I had decided to buy some wine for later in the evening. I was not simply being contrary, running against the grain of Sir Liealot who has been informing the world recently of his conversion to red wine, by buying white. I just prefer 'the vino blanc'. Then, with Fírinne secure in her pram and making sense of the world in the way that an eighteen month old does, we set off for Queen Street to catch our bus home. We had barely covered thirty yards before coming across a child on the road with two RUC members leaning over him holding him down. The Sinn Fein residue in me was immediately tempted to craft an article in my mind which would run something like ‘young boy pinned to ground by two RUC thugs‘. The reality was somewhat different - the child had been knocked down and the two cops were preventing him from jumping up and running before the ambulance arrived while they carefully went over his body inch by inch checking for injuries. Fortunately the damage seemed not to be too serious but it did make me realise just how close I came to saying for real, ‘I see dead people’.

At last, pram blazing full steam ahead, we were on our way, thinking we had seen all that would stop us in our tracks that day. But the Orange band turning up onto Sandy Row from Great Victoria Street - which we could hear better than we could see from where we walked on Dublin Road - captured the attention of Fírinne. The loyal sons and daughters were banging out a particular message on their drums to which Fírinne was indifferent, attracted only to the noise and blissfully unaware of the meaning. They were still telling us they were a superior people to whom we must tip the forelock. The strange things that people believe.

After that, and by now pushed for time, we broke with our Saturday convention and took a taxi back home to dreary Springhill where equally strange beliefs hold sway. Here they still believe that Ireland will be united in 2016 and that decommissioning never happened. Not all that surprising in a country where some believe that statues move. The ‘weirdness’ of the Goths seems to be much less mythical than such sentiment. Still, fantasies are hardly something to be outlawed.

The geographical mosaic of Belfast is as bland as the intellectual mosaic is boring, the latter differing only in pigment from square to square as new ways are found to hate one another through the application of vocabulary denying any such thing.

Fortunately, for an eighteen month old girl none of that is visible in a city seemingly open to endless exploration. She doesn’t know about the parts of it where she cannot go because of the risk to her parents. Subjected to a mob of howling republicans while still in her mother’s womb, she has about 30 months left before loyalists call her a ‘fenian bastard’ for trying to walk to school.

Welcome to Belfast - City of Hate.





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The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and pointed stick conducts his business.
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Index: Current Articles

2 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


I See Dead People

Anthony McIntyre


Faith & Politics
Billy Mitchell


Rose Tinted Culture
Sean Smyth

30 August 2002


Four Women Political Prisoners Die On Hunger Strike
Mags Glennon


A State In A Sectarian Society
Anthony McIntyre


Derry Homily
Brian Mór


The Violence of Curfew
Sam Bahour


Colombian Solidarity
Sean Smyth


The Oldest Profession
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain




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