Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Despair has never really gone away either, you know

The driving constant mizzle. Leaden skies. A harsh wind blowing that straggly weed growing from one of the walls of the disused buildings opposite. As if put through some kind of a digital camera gizmo, it is a day drained totally of colour.

But, really, it's not about the weather. It's just an apt visual metaphor for how I feel, how many of us are feeling today.

Despair. Another night of rioting. Another few inches closer to the bad old days of the Troubles.

How many of us are thinking - or life being too complicated, just yearning - about getting out of this benighted place? The flags crisis. The looming dissidents. Our high streets are in meltdown. Thousands of families - not just the inner city disadvantaged - can't see a way out of the financial crisis. Jobs, mortgages and futures are on the line.

But who cares about that?

Not our politicians, beyond the usual lip service. The latest crisis has vividly illustrated one thing. The complete and utter disjunct between our political class and the people. Until December, how many people knew or cared the Union flag flew outside City Hall everyday. I didn't. Did you? Honestly? Suddenly a woman is ringing Nolan to say its presence ruined her dog walk for years. Another woman, protesting at City Hall, is a YouTube sensation.

Ah yes. With councils (quite rightly when you consider the quality of those filling our chambers) stripped of practically every power apart from bin collection and burying the dead, our local politicians generate a crisis which now threatens each of us.

Nobody cared until they wound up the clock only to now pretend that ringing sound has nothing to do with them. From the cynical nationalists who suggested it, to the unionists cackhanded response - all of it was political posturing. And we all know where posturing gets us: a poke in the eye, a brick, a petrol bomb, a 'home made' device, a box of Kalashnikovs.

Flags. The most cliched Hole in the Wall Gang gag. Every single person here could have predicted this would end in tears. In our real lives, we make compromises, avoid conversations, get round awkward situations with a bit of wry badinage.

But not our political class. Blind to the lives of the people they claim to represent they blunder on, inept and embarrassing.

Ok, hands up. I don't like the council decision. There was something needlessly inflammatory about the vote and its chicanery. But right now I don't like it mainly because I'm being forced to confront all the uneasiness, as the fear hardwired in comes back. Have our politicians forgotten their job is to keep the show on the road? That sometimes common sense should overrule principle in the meantime - that there are smarter, more effective and, ultimately, easier ways of managing crisis? Where, in the name of all that's decent, is the good political solution?

Since the crisis broke we've been inundated with articles about 'loyalist' disenfranchisement. Just as we were inundated by 'nationalist' disenfranchisement many years ago. But what about my disenfranchisement? Your disenfranchisement? Reduced to yes/no politics created by the boys at City Hall and Stormont, who speaks about your multi-layered, contradictory, kaleidescopic life?

Memories of dark times return. Talking to friends recently, I was recalling being back at school, getting the train to Portadown to buy Kate Bush's Hounds of Love LP. Suddenly the shop shutters started rattling down. A bomb scare? A protest? No, the funerals of two murdered policemen. Rain, leaden skies, fear.

Our childhoods weren't normal for all our parents' best efforts. Yeah, there was the fleeting glamour of the Spands' Through the Barricades, Simple Mind's Belfast Child or the Police's Invisible Sun, but those bands didn't have to live here. Despite the ersatz nostalgia of BBC NI and UTV, the reality was control zones, civilian searches and Julian "interrupting this programme to ask keyholders in Ballymena to return to their premises". Or friends who eventually came back to school after murder came to their doorstep. Nope, not golden memories.

Are we returning to those days? We can feel it in our bones. The anger, fear, bitterness. I've been listening to the same news bulletin all my life...in some cases still being read by the same people!

Maybe we can't escape. Maybe we're the playthings of politicians. Or the playthings of uncaring fate.

Right now, I'm too weary to solve such conundrums. Right now, I'm going to stare at the rain, the weeds and that man with the Poundland bag scuttling for cover under the grey skies over Belfast.

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