Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Wouldn’t it be great if the only shots were in our coffee not knees?

Only in Northern Ireland would you hear a line like this on the television — “And later we ask, is it ever right for parents to bring their children to be shot by paramilitaries?”

I heard that out of the corner of my ear the other night and nearly choked on my sundried tomato pesto on ciabatta toast!

What century is it?

What’s the NI Tourist Board’s slogan for this year again? Our Time, Our Place, Their Kneecaps?

It’s just been announced that we are to have our pavement cafes legalised for the first time, to bring us into line with the rest of Europe. So we can enjoy our egg sodas al fresco, without breaking any laws from now on. Great. Another sign of progress in OWP (Our Wee Province).

And in east Belfast, the Skainos building is causing a stir because it’s been planted with a vertical garden — all the walls are covered in blooming flora. That funky idea was inspired by places in Europe and has been put in by a Dutch company. Y’see, it’s almost like a normal city here.

We’ve had a Bank Holiday weekend with lots of street theatre and circus, for free, in the centre of Belfast. We’ve got festivals coming out our ears. We’ve got our heads held high, looking hopefully, towards a bright future.

But behind the semi-skimmed, double chocolate chip, two shot soy latte with extra foam, there’s such an ugly sore festering, that all the pleasantly perfumed out of town visitors can’t completely cover up the stink.

The Past, as played out in “punishment shootings” and bombs under cars and endless harping on about commemmorations, lurks either just under or actually on the surface. Depends on your take on things.

Problem is, it seems as if there are only two takes allowed. Two points of view. Two polar positions from which to make your pronouncements. And the divide between them is widening.

So, you’re either a cappucino-carrying snob who wants to pretend there’s nothing wrong or you’re a feg-smokin’ dour bake, who can’t admit there’s anything right.

I don’t know which extreme annoys me more, the Let’s-all-cheer-the-rugby-and-the-Golf-Open-and-isn’t-it-all-absolutely-SUPER-for-the-Province! Brigade or the Aye-but-what-about-1916/1690-and-what’s-the-Good-Friday-Agreement-ever-done-for-us? lot.

I’m not a huge fan of the cappucino — it’s often all froth and no trousers — and I’m not begrudging the sporting successes of our local men and women. But neither do I want to keep passing on last century’s anger to new generations. Surely there’s a middle line between ignoring and wallowing?

I was chilled last week to hear a government minister talking about training for local people and saying: “It’s great the teachers are local too because we don’t want people coming here trying to teach us who don’t understand who we are and where we’ve come from.”

Do we not?

Isn’t input from people from outside OWP exactly what we need here?

We’re fast becoming a society divided not by sectarianism but “classism”. The “working class” on their perch, gazing inwards, the “middle class” on their perch, gazing off somewhere into the middle distance, each quick to bolster their own position by putting down the other’s. It’s nonsense.

We all belong here. Everyone. We have different stories to tell and the validity of someone else’s story doesn’t depend on how like our own it is. Can we learn that reaching out to someone else doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself?

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