Belfast Telegraph

You can say what you like about Belfast, but I love the city

By Nuala McKeever

Pleese to excuse mee I speak very bad the Eengleesh. I haf a Spanish girl stay weeth mee all the week an' I don remember how speek very well no more.

Okay, got that out of my system now, normal service resumed. Five days of being a tour guide in broken English has left me mentally exhausted and craving the Belfast vernacular. (Know like, how we talk an' all?) I never appreciated before how beautiful our language is, flowing easily, like the lovely Lagan River, which we can see here on our left as we cross this bridge, which was built in 1872 by – oh, sorry, I'm doing it again.... AAAArrrgggghhhh!!!!

My house guest was totally unknown to me before she arrived. She came to practise her English and I was assured I'd only have to show her around for one day and that she'd manage on her own the rest of the time.

But that's not exactly how it pans out, is it, when you combine a visitor without much English and a hostess with a compulsion to ensure everyone who sets foot on NI soil has a great time and leaves thinking we are the loveliest people on earth?

So we did the tourist thing – we went, we paid money, we saw, we took photos, we drank coffee, we hovered over public loos.

Day One was the Giant's Underwhelm, sorry Causeway. The most exciting part was parking under the No Parking sign to avoid paying a day's wages for the privilege of walking through the visitors' centre. I knew in advance it was possible to access "the stones" without paying, but boy they don't make it easy to find the route.

We asked in the shop. She said: "Go over the roof". I thought, "She must be high on the smell of 99s and cheap fridge magnets." We asked in the Visitor Information. "Walk over the roof." So, like escapees from Colditz, we found a gap in the fence and stealthed our way across the grassy roof, waiting to be caught and forced to confess to being cheapskates.

But, we made it unscathed and joined the masses of foreigners who HAD parted with money for the thrill of trekking down to the stones, where they had to take endless photos to make up for the fact that there's bugger-all else to do once you get there. "Oh", seems to be the main reaction. The day we went, the sun was shining so we natives stripped to our vests and tried to get burnt, while the fureners mostly kept their waterproofs on and gazed earnestly at the stones, willing them to be more interesting.

Being a tourist in Belfast WAS interesting. Took a bus tour with a chirpy guide who invented Belfast "sayings" that I've never heard anyone say, like, "Prince Charles said the City Hospital was really ugly, so people here call it Camilla". What????

As we set off, the Spanish audio guide sounded like Pope John Paul II. Not sure if it sounded like Edward Carson in the Prod sections of the city, since we had to retire downstairs on the bus by that point, in order to defrost my visitor, and the headphones only worked on the top deck. Welcome to Belfast – you want commentary or heat? You can't have both.

Overall but, I realised how much I love this place. Never mind the rain, the stodgy food and the preponderance of potato-like men, we have a way with words that is second to none. Aaahhhh....it's great to be home.

As we set off, my friend's Spanish audio guide sounded like Pope John Paul II

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