Tag Archives: tourism

Titanic Town fever

It must be catching, this Titanic fever. There’s no escaping it on telly or in the news. Here’s my contribution…

In other words – enough already. We built it. It crashed. It sank. Continue reading

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There’s more to Belfast than peace walls

Arthur Magee - Ambassador of the humane to humanity

How could you not love a face like that? It’s playwright and tour guide Arthur Magee. He has a bee in his bonnet about the type of tourism that goes on in Belfast – sometimes called “terror tours”. You know the sort of thing – here’s the Falls Road, here’s the Shankill, here’s where he was shot and she was blown up.

Anything wrong with it? Maybe not. Can be educational, even respectful. And it’s clearly part of the history and undeniably internationally known. I’ve even done it myself in an informal way for foreign mates who, to my surprise, had studied Northern Ireland at college. Odd to think of yourself as a laboratory specimen.

But though Norn Irn’ers have been known to revel in their notoriety and believe – or demand – that the world revolves round them (“Never mind the fall of the Berlin Wall – what about the Apprentice Boys wanting to march across the Ormeau Bridge!?!) – you can imagine that it can become tiresome to feel that visitors see you solely in the context of the Troubles. A bit like being in a zoo too. In the cage.

Brendan Deeds - writer

Which is why Arthur Magee has come up with an alternative Continue reading

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Things you don’t expect to see in Harlem

So I was wandering through Harlem (New York) when I saw this sign. I did a double take. Checked my surroundings. Re-checked. Yup, still in Harlem.

No – the letters on the sign haven’t been mischievously rearranged Continue reading

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Don’t mention the handbag

I have discovered the origin of the handbag. And there’s a shock in store for all you fashionistas out there. Two actually.

I made the surprising discovery in Berlin. But the trail goes back far at further – to ancient Babylon.

Unexpected discovery no.1

It wasn’t just you ladies who felt bereft without something gripped in your fist.

Here’s a full length picture of what could be the original bag man himself, showing off his latest to-die-for acquisition. Continue reading

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I need this: How to control your local weather.

We’ve all been there. You leave home – where it’s dry, bright, pleasant, a bit warm even.

You travel thousands of miles to end up somewhere damp, drear, dank and drizzly. In my case New York.

Oi! Sort it out Bloomberg. You need to get your hands on this Qatari weather technology Continue reading

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Is this racist?

Is this racist? Or sectarian? Or more simply – just bullying?

Or perhaps it’s somewhere on the spectrum between fair comment and edgy political satire?

That’s one side of a lantern at what some call the world’s biggest moving outdoor art display – the Basel Fasnacht. The other side – the more offensive side is Continue reading

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That gorilla has stolen my coat hanger…

David Mach's Silver Streak (coat hangers)

It’s step back, jaw-droppingly, massively impressive. It makes your twisty metal art mobiles and car aerial replacements seem, frankly, pathetic. Continue reading

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Come fly with me

Well, they probably laughed at the Wright Brothers when they first started too.

Ever wanted to build your own plane? If you’re sick of Ryanair, Easyjet and all those budget airlines, it may be time to consider a more do-it-yourself approach. And anyone travelling to South Africa for this summer’s World Cup Finals should check out this unique, home-made multi-purpose South African aircraft from Independent Airways.

As the sign says - it's independent.

The plane – the one plane – may look a bit ramshackle. That’s because Continue reading

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13 gifts from Basel to the world

  1. Barca or Basel?

    Basel or Barca?

    BARCA. FC Barcelona comes from Basel. Barca was co-founded by a Swiss guy, Johann (who became Joan) Gamper who was allegedly inspired by FC Basel. Both teams play in red and blue. Both are FCB. Both have the same football.

  2. BABIES. All babies come from Basel. You just need to look at all the storks pootling around the fields.
  3. LSD. LSD comes from Basel. It was made by local chemist Albert Hoffman in 1938, though he didn’t realise until 1943 when he accidentally absorbed some through his fingertips. He described the sensation:  “I sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”
  4. ISRAEL. Israel comes from Basel. Continue reading

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The Charming Men of Ireland

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins (see below)

I had a problem. It had been on my mind for a while. Something had to be done. I needed help from the Charming Men of Ireland. I’ll introduce you to them in a moment. But first the problem…

The thing is, my wife’s English. (OK, half English. The other half’s Manx. But let’s not quibble.) So she’s English. I’m not saying that’s bad. I like English people. I like England. I even live there. Some of my best friends are English – to quote the classic defence against accusations of racism.

Actually, her Englishness isn’t the problem. That’s fine. It’s what it has led to. And that is, our children are half English. That’s the thing.

Actually, that’s not really it either. If they were only half English that would be fine. Half and half. Who could argue with that? Irish blood English heart is good enough for Morrissey.Ah yes, if only they were merely half English. But when you consider that:

  1. They were born in England.
  2. They live in England.
  3. They have (not surprisingly) English accents.
  4. My son supports an English football team. (OK, that could go for being Irish too.)
  5. They were baptised into the Church of England. (Long story. Another time.)
  6. My son is cricket mad.
  7. He supports the England national football team.

It’s clear I’ve been letting things slip. Thank goodness Ireland has been holding its own in rugby, and that my daughter remains stalwart in declaring her half-Irishness. (I fear though that she could be humouring me because she’s lovely.)

So there’s the problem. No, let’s call it a challenge. To somehow reassert the Irish half, as the English side seems to be doing well enough as it is thank you very much. But I needed help. And I had to go to Ireland to get it. I sought out The Charming Men of Ireland. And here they are:

  • The Latvian/Polish guy at Newgrange – He’s fun. He’s enlightening. (But seemingly not Irish.) He took us through the tunnel into the central chamber of  the prehistoric Newgrange passage grave. The subterranean refuge is  illuminated by the sun for five days in late December. It’s in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. Turn off the main road near Drogheda and head for Donore. Or if you’re an Orangeman, head for you-know-where and  keep going upriver a couple of miles.

    newgrange

    Newgrange

If you overcome your claustrophobia and make it into the centre of the mound, look out for the Mickey Mouse logos. (Archaeologists call them tri-spirals or something dull.) And the hundred year old graffiti, including the word Disney. You see? You see? Mickey Mouse suggestion not so silly after all.

And for any Egyptians reading this. Newgrange is about 5,000 years old. That’s older than the pyramids at Giza. By 500 years matey. (Fair enough, I’m not saying Newgrange is better, but you had an extra 500 years to tart up the pyramids. You could have at least invented electricity to light them. I mean, c’mon! Make an effort.)

  • Donal at Kilmainham Gaol – Yes, I took my children to a prison for their short visit to Dublin. I know. I spoil them. Me: “Look, another plaque.” Them: “Does that mean…” Me: Yes, yet another person was shot there.” The prison feels like a real prison – which it was – rather than a film set – which it is – The Italian Job, The Escapist, Michael Collins.

     

    Kilmainham Gaol

    Kilmainham Gaol, new wing

    There’s obvious enjoyment to be had shutting each other in small prison cells and holding the door shut. But what made the big grey forbidding jail and its litany of rebellions and executions FUN, was… Yes, it was another Charming Man of Ireland. Donal. The handsome, friendly, accessible communicator who led us around. To be precise, he let my daughter lead us around. So everyone was happy. (A word to Unionists. Don’t expect your existence to be acknowledged till the very last moment of the tour, when the significance of the orange in the green, white and orange of the Irish flag is explained.)

  • The twinklies in the Palace – The three of us dropped in to the Palace bar on Fleet Street in Dublin. I used to drink there when I lived in Dublin. As often happens, the kids were finding it difficult to understand what a group of men were talking about amongst themselves. “Dad, are they talking Irish?” And, for once, the answer was yes. We weren’t in Belfast. It wasn’t just the accents. It was a genuine foreign language that was being spoken. But more importantly, the group of Irish speakers were friendly and twinkly-eyed, and also willing to discuss techniques for using chopsticks in English. So more good vibes.
  • Vincent Higgins – Vincent (see picture at the top) and fellow actor Abby McGibbon were acting in Strike!, the play Vincent wrote to mark the dedication of a stained glass window in Belfast City Hall celebrating the 1907 Dock Strike in the city. The play was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). It was funny and clever, and short enough to fit into a weekday lunch hour – about 30 minutes long. The plan was to take it on tour round factories, but as Vincent told me, they couldn’t find enough factories, so they’ve branched out. Apart from his playwriting prowess, acting skill and general geniality, the most charming things about Vincent are his irresistible smile and very fine singing voice.
  • That bloke at the bar in Maddens – My sister was finding it difficult to get a pint at the bar of my favourite pub in Belfast. No barman was there to be seen. Not upstairs. Not in the basement. Not outside having a fag. But no problem. Another customer nipped round to pour her a Guinness. Isn’t that charming? I thought so. Especially as the Guinness was for me. (Oh, it turned out he was in the toilet. Seems reasonable.)
  • David at No Alibis bookshop in Belfast – Botanic Avenue is a great place for books. War on Want has an excellent Irish section. The cancer shop and an Oxfam also sell books. But there’s an excellent specialist crime bookstore called No Alibis – as often mentioned on CrimeScene NI. Good atmosphere. Good range of imports not usually available in the UK. And wandering the aisles is David, whose charming welcome almost had me accepting a cup of tea before I caught a grip on myself. A narrow escape. (See previous post.) Another Charming Man of Ireland.

So to all you Charming Men of Ireland, thanks for the timely boost.

My children will now be returning to England wearing green sports tops that are nothing to do with England or anything English. That’s thanks to my sister. (Admittedly the sports tops have nothing to do with Ireland either. They’re Canadian. But one step at a time, right?)

PS: To any charming men in Ireland who feel passed over, ignored, snubbed or forgotten, I have two responses. One: Maybe you’re not quite as charming as you think you are. Better work a bit harder at it, mate. Two: A charming man like yourself is too good to share. I have to keep back some information for my personal benefit. Choose whichever response is most appropriate to your own case.

PPS: To any charming women in Ireland feeling aggrieved, passed over, ignored, etc, etc. Yes, of course there are charming women in Ireland. The whole place is coming down with them. But keep in mind that I’m over in Ireland with the children on my own. Wife back in England. So naturally I haven’t been meeting, encountering, palavering or otherwise hobnobbing with any women. Apart from my Mum and other relations.

PPPS: The Latvian/Polish guy. He had an Irish accent, but was obviously foreign. Latvia, Poland, somewhere like that. As it turned out, when I asked him, the somewhere like that was Kerry. He just had a cold.

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