Belfast Telegraph

Farewell, dear Belfast, it was great getting to know you

By Mike Gilson

Farewell then Northern Ireland. After five-and-a-half sublime, occasionally tempestuous, always intoxicating years we are going our separate ways.

Even though I'm going back to England, a country that never really understood you, there'll always be a sight, sound or memory to remind me.

A rare snippet of news on the radio maybe which will bring a smile that says our leaders' faces may be beginning to change but the kneejerk issues that detain them have yet to work out of the system. More likely it will be a memory of the beauty of the coast road, the waves rolling in from the unheralded Neagh, the ever-changing blooms of the Botanic glasshouse, the walk across the Peace Bridge on a balmy summer's night, three-hour pool sessions at Laverys. Stuff like that.

It might also still be there in the way I start many sentences now with "See". As in "See that man over there… he's" etc. Unnecessary but poetic.

I've been all over these isles in the last 20 years, my Thames Estuary accent unmoved until that little incursion. I haven't gone as far as Dead On though.

Certainly the welcome, the thirst to grab the moment, talk the hind legs off the issue, will never be forgotten. Neither will the people here at Royal Avenue who work for an institution on which everyone has an opinion, good or bad, but who continually, day in day out, set the agenda in a way nobody else can in this country. Imagine being without them. Unthinkable. Except I'm having to think it now.

The Story Gods have been good to me. They have continued to keep giving in a way that leaves no pause for breath. Sure there's been plenty of darkness but equally some stunning shafts of light too.

Maybe a few more of the Great and the Good prepared to put their heads above the parapet and outline visions for our future might have helped. We can't really complain if the only voices we hear are the often incoherent, playing-to-the-gallery, backwoodsman of the political forest, can we?

Sport of course has been always there as a balm for our ills with too many triumphs to contemplate here. But amid it all the story of Carl Frampton and his wife Christine will stay with me. A script written in Hollywood starring modest but inspiring people. Talking of which is there a sportsman who combines charm with talent to such devastating effect as Tommy Bowe, almost a man from another age? Of course it is the little things that have a habit of sticking.

So thanks Natalie (James Hairdressing) for the super-quick, expert cuts minutes before my meetings. You did your best with what you had.

And in no particular order the Black Box, Limelight and McHughs Basement (the magnificent Jeffrey Lewis in the latter in front of 100 Hipsters and me last summer just one of many, many highlights), those vital venues for feeding me a constant fix of excellent bands to see almost every week. What would Belfast be without you? The excellent theatres, (thank you GOH for Jacobi's Lear) the cultural entrepreneurs (big shout for Jim Heaney of the Real Music Club) and all those in the arts who bring such vibrancy to this place.

Keep up your fight because too many do not understand just how good you are. To Lisburn Distillery, my adopted footie team; our time will come again.

To the Barking Dog restaurant for the best fish pie anywhere and for being so hip that you played the whole of Talking Heads 77 over the speakers on my first visit.

To the taxi drivers either super miserable or instant best friends (there's no in-between in Belfast); a constant source of stories and opinion. And finally to you the readers of course. You've let me know when we got it wrong but you've been generous in praise and support too. You've been invaluable guides. Fragments of all of this and more I will take with me on that melancholic ferry journey next week.

Mike Gilson is editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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