Why pouring money down the drain could help save smelly Belfast
I feel as much affection for the city of Belfast as for a dear old friend. So bearing in mind that line about the things a good friend really should tell you, here goes... Belfast, old girl, you smell a bit. In fact you smell a lot. Has anyone else noticed how vile the whiff now is in various parts of the city centre?
It's not just the usual inner city smell. That familiar, pungent urban mix with back notes of pigeon dropping, fried onion and idling bus-engine fume.
No. This is so much worse. It's coming up from down under. The old girl is having problems with her pipes.
Walking close to Ann Street on Sunday I got a serious blast of it. As, unfortunately, did a passing group of tourists who made clear their disgust. I don't know which language they were speaking. But yeuuugh, is yeuuugh, in any language.
The worrying thing is that the wind at the time was coming straight down from Siberia. But the smell was something you might associate with a Costa del Sol pub toilet during a Mediterranean heatwave. (Sorry, Costa del Sol.)
It was gross. If the city streets pong like this on a cold spring day what on earth will they be like when/if the weather warms up a bit?
There is nothing new about any of this. Belfast as we all know has a definite problem with drainage. There may now be moves afoot - or underfoot - to tackle this.
But as recently as Christmas past, a report was warning that somewhere in the region of £1bn could be needed to address the city's drainage woes.
MLA David McNarry described the situation as "a horrible mess of neglect and incompetence".
There were dire warnings about housing construction and business being curtailed with obvious impact on local revenue should something not be done. Belfast's Victorian drainage system needs a serious and expensive update. And if the odour rising from the street gratings is anything to go by, it needs it fast.
Adding to this pressure is, ironically, good news on the tourism front. The city has never been more popular with visitors. Just this week it landed yet another travel awards gong - this time the impressive 'Best UK City' title. This place has so much to offer.
But turning a blind eye - or nose - to the problem down below would be madness.
Bar owners and restaurateurs have done so much to put Belfast on the visitor map. The city has been going all continental with pavement seating and outdoor eating areas (blankets sometimes provided).
But pity the visiting gourmand who gets a lungful of Belfast underground just as they're about to tuck into their lunchtime special. Pity the poor food outlets having to work with this on their doorstep.
We all know there is a limit to resources these days and countless worthy causes are competing for finance. But it's hard to ignore the evidence that Belfast's street level success is masking (just about) a massive, mouldering problem below ground.
The answer is literally to pour vast sums of money down drains. The alternative is to sit back and do nothing and see the city's hard won reputation as an attractive place to visit, head down the subterranean Swanee.
True, it really isn't a pleasant subject to talk about.
But it isn't going to go away unless it's tackled.
On the surface Belfast now looks what it is, an amazing, friendly, welcoming city.
The real horror picture we can't afford to go on ignoring...
What lies beneath.
Driving home a senseless slogan
Coming into town down the Ormeau Road there’s now a large advertising hoarding strategically placed at a rush-hour sore spot, snippily advising commuters: “You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.”
Since the ad has been placed there by Translink, the message is obvious. You should have taken the bus. Which is also, to be pedantic, traffic.
And, at that particular spot on the roadway, it has to be said, would also be stuck in traffic.
City is enjoying a real purple patch
Saturday in Writers’ Square saw a celebration of International Women’s Day, with many sisters dressed in symbolic purple.
It was very jolly, with lots of drumming — the soundtrack to most civic celebrations these days. Just a bit further along I noticed a large group of men also in symbolic purple, heading for the pub. This is what a feminist looks like? As it turned out, no.
Braehead Clan supporters in their team’s colours. In town for a clash with the ice-hockey Giants.