Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

The outbreak of ordinary life here really is Gr8 to see

Maybe it's because the sun is out, the garden is looking lovely and my cat Gissing is purring contentedly under the summer seat but today I feel like saying, "Hurry on up, leaders of the G8, this isn't a bad wee place."

On days like this, shorn of our usual veil of rain, mist and cloud, you are reminded that we actually live in a beautiful place: while undoubtedly Obama and his chums will be charmed by the lakes of Fermanagh, we also have more breathtaking landscape than you can shake a stick at: the Glens of Antrim, the Mountains of Mourne, the majestic Bann, the unreported glories of our very own homely fjords of Carlingford and Strangford.

Goodness, I'm feeling so benevolent today that even our major towns are places of fascination: the stubborn industrial city of Belfast, its harshness surrounded by a ring of blue-green hills, Derry-Londonderry's historic gems, Armagh's Georgian architecture.

There is part of our psyche that revels in the idea of our being unlovely and unloveable – nobody likes us and we don't care.

Where Dubliners bask in their image as a people with the gift of the gab, we ramp up the dour northerner stereotype where everyone is betrayed, by the southerners or the English or both.

Sure, we like yarns and enjoying a bit of craic but enjoying words for their own sake? No, we consider ourselves unflowery, bluntly-spoken, plain and direct, spiky, combative, not suffering fools gladly. Regardless of our actual individual political allegiances, the world sees us as always on the march, harbouring our grievances, living in the past – and enjoying it. "It's who we are!"

As for what the rest of the world considers 'fun', it's something we are naturally suspicious of, knowing in our heart that no good will come of it. "You may laugh when you have the chance." Enjoying yourself? Sounds fishy to us.

Quite why we like to hold on to those old stereotypes is a bit of a mystery but this isn't the Northern Ireland that most of us live in.

Suspicious of the arts? Hard to believe that when you can't go down Royal Avenue without falling over a mime artist or a theatre troupe looking for a performance space. These days we must be the world centre for arts festivals; no village can go a year without celebrating the local arts in care homes, nurseries and abandoned police stations.

Not demonstrative? Look at all the hand flapping outside the cafés, the snatches of – let's face it – witty conversation, notebooks and iPads glinting in the sun, as mocha quaffers and cappuccino addicts await their next hit. Pull up an aluminium chair and you'll hear more pretentious opinions than on the left bank of the Seine.

Frightened of expressing emotion? Look at the young men and women, not necessarily in that order, wrapped round each other on the grass outside City Hall.

Where exactly has the pleasure-denying Northern Ireland of legend gone?

The peace process has changed us. Maybe we were always like this, really, but the best spirits got siphoned off into tribal roles. Whatever. Something is definitely changing here and for the better.

Of course we still have our little 'eccentricities'. Like our unhealthy diet (we're the only people apart from the Scots who count the lettuce and tomato in our doner kebab as two of our five a day). We enjoy a popular cuisine based around the Ulster Fry and Tayto Cheese 'n' Onion. Allied to that we still have a pub culture straight from the 19th century.

And then there's our willingness to take the hump at perceived slights. Add to that our gruff gutteral accents – is it any wonder the world misunderstands us when we're the only people who can make "Good morning" sound like an invitation to a bareknuckle fistfight?

Also, we have our own way of doing things. Not thinking that Country 'n' Western is sentimental enough, we invented Country 'n' Irish, which is so maudlin it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

Continuing the melodrama, no one does sporting heroes like us, either. Take George Best and Alex Higgins. Mercurial geniuses, edgy, dark, driven, haunted and prone to flashes of mesmerising brilliance, in many ways their characters were an extension of the place they came from.

And we're the only people who think a TV drama about a psychosexual killer running around Belfast is a welcome PR shot in the arm for our tourist trade.

But change is all around us. That's what the G8 leaders should get out and see.

Boring, mundane change, living the way the rest of the world has always taken for granted. But for us it's a very exciting kind of ordinariness.

We are becoming the people we always wanted to be.

Surely we can raise our skinnycinos to that.

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