We’ve had visitors to stay of late — from the south, from America and from England. Not all at the same time. So it has been enlightening to have had a few weeks of viewing this place through the eyes of outsiders.
On the Belfast Telegraph website there’s a light-hearted and popular feature called ‘You know you’re from Belfast when ’
There may be room for a follow-on version. ‘You know you’re in Belfast when ’
For a start, always much commented upon, our litter problem.
It just gets worse. And visitors do notice.
Take the latest trend for owners to scoop their dog’s poo, deposit it tidily in a specially designed opaque plastic bag (usually garishly coloured) and then, when no one’s around, to dump it in the hedge.
Tourists must surely be struck by the fact that in Northern Ireland it is now seemingly traditional to deck the hedgerows in designated areas of outstanding beauty with fluorescent bags of dog excrement.
Never mind. Stepping over the abandoned nappies (used) in the car park of the same beauty spot and trying desperately to avoid the discarded condoms (again, used) let us take to the roads to continue our journey.
Is there a road in Northern Ireland not currently being dug up? Again.
This ongoing digging leads inevitably to that staple of the driver’s life in Northern Ireland — the diversion. Or as they say on the electronic road signs — DVRSN.
To follow this diversion you must follow small yellow markers which, late at night when it’s raining and there’s another vehicle up your bumper is possibly trickier than the folks at Roads Service have calculated.
God help the stranger to our shores trying to find his way around, as I was recently, the coned-off nightmare that is Sandyknowes roundabout.
Finding the yellow diversion signs is a bit like trying to spot Where’s Wally. Could they make them any smaller?
Look there’s one! No it’s an abandoned Lucozade bottle. Is that one? No, that‘s the sign for an urban clearway. That fluorescent yellow thing in the hedge? Sorry, we’re back to the dog poo ...
The irony is that we have no shortage of outsize signs providing us with all sorts of superfluous information.
There’s an ad on TV at the moment about how motorists should ‘read the road’. If they were to attempt to read all the road signs they’d never get anywhere.
A bit of a clean up needed there, too? And speaking of clean ups... outside one of our premier city tourist attractions, Custom House Square, someone recently parked a ricketedy old van plastered in peeling entertainment ads. How come that hasn't been clamped? If you or I parked on the same bit of grass we'd have the traffic wardens on us in minutes. Somebody parks what looks like one of Zac Dingle's cast-offs outside an historic property upon which millions has been spent in refurbishment and it's just allowed to sit there mouldering. How come?
Overall our American visitor felt a highpoint was the wildness of Co Antrim (the road coming out of Larne.) Our English visitors loved the Giant’s Causeway — and the wee ones, Portrush.
And our southern visitor continues to extol the joys of Belfast city centre hostelries.
Everywhere we took them, the local people they met were friendly and courteous. Our people are our saving grace.
But this does not hide the crucial point.
This place is still a dirty tip.