Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Cosmopolitan or not, Belfast is still no mean city

Not a fan: Michael Lombardo

So the HBO chief Michael Lombardo thinks that Belfast "is not the most cosmopolitan of cities". In an interview for US magazine Vulture, Lombardo is worried that his two colleagues – Dan Weiss and David Benioff, who actually manage the production of Game Of Thrones – find it a "personal challenge" to live here for six months of the year.

Responding to questions about a further series of GoT, Lombardo fretted: "I just hope Dan and David are still game. It's a little bit of a personal challenge I don't think they contemplated when we initially found our location in Belfast, what that meant for them personally."

Like a man determined to dig his hole deeper and deeper, when asked if Weiss and Benioff were "having a hard time" in Belfast, he blundered on: "I don't think they have a hard time, but the good news is work keeps them busy, let's just say that."

Well how dare he, as they say in Ulster comedies. You'd think, to listen to Mr Lombardo, that we in Belfast spend our time agog at neon lights and smartphones.

True, we may not be a hub of high culture like Los Angeles but Mr Lombardo, we are – to quote the well-known description of this place – no mean city.

We may not be "cosmopolitan" enough for Mr Lombardo but on the world's stage we punch more than our weight. You name any field, any field, of endeavour and Belfast has made its mark.

Shall we start with acting? Mmm, let's see, Liam Neeson (action hero, breath-taking actor of Schindler's List, ensemble actor of Woody Allen comedies) came from just up the road and perfected his craft at the Lyric Theatre.

Sir Kenneth Branagh? Stephen Rea? Ciaran Hinds? Jamie Dornan? Warren Christie? The Hunger Games' Paula Malcolmson? Stephen Boyd? Goodness, we even have a small claim to Erroll Flynn. Not bad for a place which is some kind of imaginative desert, apparently.

Music? Van Morrison – a songwriter who can stand toe-to-toe with Bob Dylan and any army of younger pretenders. Then there's the Tin Pan Alley writer Jimmy Kennedy, who penned such classics as Teddy Bears Picnic and Red Sails In The Sunset. Today's charts? Snow Patrol, DJ David Holmes (and let's not forget Katie Melua). Or, if you like your stuff to be higher of brow, please give it up for Barry Douglas, Sir James Galway and Derek Bell.

Writers? Well, if you fancy a thiller what about Shankill Road man Jack Higgins? Then there's a certain east Belfast writer, C S Lewis, creator of Narnia (to which GoT owes a certain debt). Or Brian Moore. Or Maurice Leitch. Not to mention poets like Padraic Fiacc, Ciaran Carson, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley (it would be cheeky to claim Bellaghy's Seamus Heaney, but he did live and teach in Belfast).

And this is all the soft girly stuff which is not supposed to be our natural metier. Industry? We'd one of the world's greatest shipyards Harland & Wolff, which built one of the true wonders of the 20th century, Titanic (which might stir something in the loins of the odd Hollywood executive).

Science and inventors? Thomas Andrews (who 'invented' liquid gas), Harry 'tractors' Ferguson, John Boyd Dunlop (who only invented the tyre; how fundamental is that?), astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who discovered pulsars). Even Milk of Magnesia – which I'm sure Hollywood execs down by the bucket-load – was invented by a Belfastman, Sir James Murray. Of course, I could go on mentioning the many great and good who have left their mark on this city. But why belabour the point?

Belfast has much of which to be ashamed: our violence, our ability to hate hard and long, our default position of mistrust of the new, and our dourness. At first glance, it would strike many that Belfast is not a friendly place, not an open place. Not a place where people live, rather they merely exist. But as the names above show, we are a city that is capable of encouraging dreams, of fostering the imagination.

Yet there is a strange paradox at the heart of Belfast; though proudly provincial, we keep on shaping the wider world.

Louis McNeice described Belfast as "devout and profane and hard". Van Morrison showed a different side: "Oh, the smell of the bakery from across the street/Got in my nose/As we carried our ladders down the street/With the wrought-iron gate rows/I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch-break/Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner/And went straight back to work."

Both visions are true. And, Mr Lombardo, that doesn't make us "cosmopolitan". It makes us us. And that's a much better thing to be.

Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

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