Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Notes From a Northern Ireland

A few random jottings and photographs from my recent parental visit to the home country.

Is it the London Eye?

No, it's the Belfast WHEEL!

Is it the Gherkin?

No, it's Belfast's very own Pickled Onion!

Is it just me or are tourist attractions in danger of becoming as homogenised as High Streets these days?

Though there's always Tesco's ceiling to admire in Belfast city centre.

And railway stations to marvel at in the former UK capital of terrorism flaunting LITTER BINS.

Dear readers, you'll be heartened to know I resisted temptation. Probably something to do with my ecstasy at the £6.40 return fare from Ballymena-Belfast, a journey of some 26 miles which would have cost at least three times that on the mainland. No wonder English railways don't trust we disenfranchised 'travelling public' with LITTER BINS! Oh and NI trains arrive on time and have empty seats as well.

Civilisation in railway stations goes on.
Hmm. I wonder if this would work on the Tube?

Did I mention the splendid shopping in Ballymena?

'Go Gay. Now. Before it's too late! And don't forget our big Gay giveaway on late opening Thursday.'

Where else can you buy a brand new 1980's radio alarm with no FM band on, as I did (inadvertantly) on my last visit, and see clock and watch boxes stacked up to the ceiling on all sides?
It will be a sad day when shops still selling 1970's/1980's stock are no more. Northern Ireland is pretty well the last bastion of these treasure houses to catch one before they die. But make no mistake, Donaghy's sells some pretty funky clocks and pocket radios (as long as you don't mind about the FM thing).

You will find household emporia by the dozen, so no excuses not to perfect the art of Housewifery. I guarantee you will care about the perfect tea towel weft within the space of a week and truly appreciate the difference between the good and the type water drips off. Northern Irish linen is second to none. NI bath towels even cover your whole body from neck to ankles. As a tall girl, sick of trying to dry myself on English face cloth size bath 'sheets', I salute them.

But never fear, the Northern Irish housewife likes a bit of glamour too.

Like a lot of UK towns, Ballymena has made some planning mistakes.

Demolishing this for example.

To make way for this

And plonking a brand spanking new museum to celebrate Ballymena's history (for which a row of Edwardian buildings were demolished)


Next to this! (Town Hall)

Meantime on a main street in Belfast city centre I was shocked to see
this. What a fortune a Period city centre pad would be worth in the middle of Oxford, whatever its parlous state!


Steve said...

Have to say - those handbags are horrendous... not that I'm expert in judging handbags or anything but they look "a bit granny".

KAZ said...

I see what you mean - those top pics could be Manchester.
But not those lovely retro shops - though you may see a few in Oldham.

Mrs. G. said...

What great photos! Is that the Tesco of the Tesco Cookies I see on the international shelf at the grocery?

Wisewebwoman said...

I waxed nostalgic reading your post, Laura. Seeing the shops, and seeing the desecration of the old buildings too. How much we lose.
In Skibereen a few years ago I went looking for yarn needles and was enchanted when the old woman proprietor pulled out a little drawer and found me the right size. All behind her were glass fronted drawers with colourful skeins of thread and buttons. I just about cried to be so transported into a world I thought had long gone.

Rol said...

I'm sick of those big wheels now - like you say, every town has to have one. They've even got one in York - like they needed to attract any more visitors!

moi said...

My husband has been jonesing to visit Ireland. Now, I can safely say I have a reason, too, as one of my Holy Grails is, I kid you not, the el perfecto tea towel. But that, uh, conical-shaped glass structure thingy scares me.

Old Fogey said...

Belfast is now on my holiday list. It looks real - really real - not like the London I see.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Oh my god (or OMG as they say on the wibweb) I thought I loved the Gherkin until I saw the Pickled Onion! You do on the other hand have the incandescently lovely Radcliffe Camera in oxo though.. speaking as one who grew up there.. and YES the house prices are a shocker. We once thought vaguely about relocating from stratospheric and barely-affordable West London to Oxford (my family all still live there) but took one look at the prices and fainted..

Anonymous said...

I've never been to Northern Ireland but I think I should go. Reminds me a bit of some parts of Wales from some of the photos - the retro shops in particular, although of course in Wales they would be called siop y pethe or somesuch.

Interesting that Steve is so interested in the handbags!!!

Ollie said...

So, you found my secret Belfast shop, John Wilson - my real name (it was only a matter of time!)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, Laura! Droll yet written with obvious affection.

I'm curious that lucyfishwife thinks house proces are worse in Oxford than West London - surely not...

Anonymous said...

Regarding dereliction - I realised the other day that a pocket of George Street (this is Oxford, folks), about three adjacent shops, has been derelict for what must be at least a decade - any idea why? Maybe the buildings condemned or something, but thats prime real estate surely!

Lucy Fishwife said...

Not worse, just comparably terrible.. There we were blithely thinking that for the price of a biggish flat in London we could snap up a detached North Oxford rectory... tchuh what fools.. a small shed on the Woodstock Road is more like it...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, I think the handbags are the Irish version of what's hot in London, though personally I quite like a bit of kitsch!

Kaz, I shall put Oldham on my tourism trail forthwith.

Mrs G - Tesco supermarkets do indeed sell own-brand cookies and have branches internationally, so they may well be the same cookies you refer to.

Wisewebwoman, you have just reminded me of a fantastic shop which existed when I was about 3. Dunlop & Johnston household linen where money was stuffed into little wooden pods and whizzed to the back of the shop using wires across the ceiling! If only I had owned a camera (and a presence of mind) then!

Oh no Rol, not a bloody Eye in York as well - about an inch away from Minster Cathedral, right?

Moi, Check out Lamonts factory shop in Harryville (Ballymena) for the best linen of all when you go! By the way more NI piccies coming soon - of the prettier bits.

Old Fogey, Belfast certainly still has plenty of 'characers' left if you want to meet some real people (excepting everyone reading this blog of course!)

LucyFishWife, While there's a place for everything, in my view the former centre of British Shipping, the historic Baltic Exchange was completely the wrong 'site' to plonk The Gherkin on, out of context, next to St Paul's Cathedral. Ditto a lot of nice architecture is being demolished in Belfast right now, changing the character of the city forever, but not necessarily for the better if it's merely for shopping purposes. But I agree with you that the Radcliffe Camera is lovely and also that Oxford house prices are said to rival some of the most expensive parts of London now. Scary

RB, I can certainly recommend NI for a visit!

Oliver, actually it was in Ballymena, but a wise move to keep a separate empire going - no poet can live on odes alone!

Dan, I think the problem is that shop rents are now so high in Oxford you have to be a chain store to afford it (or chain coffee shop). However getting a store redesignated to 'residential use' if no shopkeeper can afford to take it on is pretty nigh impossible in the city centre, thus units remaining empty, sometimes for years. Then there's the capping they're trying to impose on any more bars opening in our city!
It's a crazy situation and the reason so many specialist shops have been forced out of Oxford.

Crimzen Creative said...

Thanks for great pics and lovely tour. I would like to visit someday when the kids are older and it is easier to travel on a plane for more than 4 hours :)