Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: Keeping up appearances? It's the stuff of nightmares!

Welcome to the sideways wold of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

Belfast: Future City sounds like the bee's knees. The aim, it says here, is to "transform the city centre from concrete jungle with low residency to a greened-up vibrant community".

There are teething problems. Dental difficulties are inevitable in any major project, and I'm sure doubts about certain areas being left out will be sorted ere the mountains melt into the sun.

Here are some of the positive ideas from Canadian planning expert Joe Berridge: using derelict buildings to house students; using the Lagan for floating arts festivals; putting in five-a-side football pitches.

A couple of factors to clear up: the buildings will not still be derelict when the students move in; and the five-a-side football will only be compulsory for those aged 18 to 55.

I like the idea of "softening" Shaftesbury Square with landscaping and trees. Also, using light and public art creatively means establishing a city in which elves would be happy to live. Always a prime consideration.

The project, furthermore, is bound to be preceded by my favourite art: architects' drawings. I have a thing for these idealistic images of folk tootling about on their everyday business amidst shiny buildings in a peaceful future.

I suppose it's because, where much proper art is borne of despair, this stuff is full of hope and vision (even if it is commercially driven). It doesn't have anything to say about existentialist angst and, for that, we must give thanks.

However, what we will not give thanks for is the campaign to bring a John Lewis to the city. This is misplaced and could lead to serious moral decay.

Masquerading as a quasi-communist collective owned by its workers, John Lewis is in fact an expensive, up-market-and-itself store aimed at aspirational gilet-wearers.

It will fuel class tensions and unleash a thousand Hyacinth Buckets on the city.

Mention has also been made of Satan's transport, the bicycle, bringing danger to innocent pedestrians and encouraging macho displays of Lycra-clad lard.

This, like the John Lewis threat, is grossly irresponsible, and must place the plans for Belfast: Future City in serious jeopardy.

Indeed, I have convinced myself in the course of writing this column that Belfast: Future City must be binned for the good of all. Produce pleasant architectural drawings, by all means. But it would be irresponsible to take matters any further than that.

Tuesday: The height of fear?

Wow. Congratulations to Castledawson mother and daughter Mavis and Jacqueline Garvin for growing a 12ft 6in sunflower. I salute their bravery. I'm a little bit scared of sunflowers, truth to tell. Reader: "You're scared of everything." That's technically correct, but I'm particularly scared of sunflowers. They've almost got faces, and there's something of The Day of the Triffids about them. I don't like anything taller than me either and, while I'm glad that they can't run, I wouldn't like to get involved in a wrestling match with one. What were the Garvins feeding it thing on? Steaks?

Wednesday: Write or wrong, prescriptions can kill you

The main reason that I didn't go into the medical profession was squeamishness.

The second reason was clumsiness.

The third was that I'd no interest in the work.

The fourth was my appalling handwriting.

One day, back at primary school, the teacher examined our writing.

She praised here and advised there, suggesting perhaps more attention to stroking the t's and so forth.

On seeing mine, she merely administered an almighty slap to the cranium.

Clearly she thought I was having a laugh.

Not true. I'd given it my best shot.

It's laughable that the medical profession is so wedded still to scribbling, though that may change after a study implied patients were dying because of bad handwriting of crucial information by nurses.

The death rate at hospitals in Portsmouth and Coventry fell 15% after staff were given hand-held devices.

At least with these there's no excuse for not dotting the i's in medicine.

Friday: Welcome to deal-on-wheels, Nichola...

Part of me is shocked that £70,000 might be spent on a new car for Belfast's Lord Mayor, Nichola Mallon. But part of me is not appalled at all.

Argument (a): Public money should be spent willy-nilly – that's what it's for – and top people need to be kitted out in the best automotive bling that the ratepayers can buy.

Argument (b): £70,000! It'll be one of these big black things that speak of power, authority, the politburo. But there must be alternatives.

Nothing daft, like one of these wee squashed efforts that are good for getting into parking spaces but would look way too peculiar for a person in a public position.

However, I can recommend a 01-registered Ford Focus, with turbo diesel zing doofer technology, bit of rust on the doors, and a dent in the back. Only has one owner at the moment – me. Yours for £60,000.

Saturday: I smell trouble for the PC brigade

This column is on record as wanting most things banned. It is the hallmark of a free society. We salute, therefore, the small town of Burien, in Washington, USA, which has banned from public spaces anyone who pongs and is inadequately dressed.

Obscene language is also out. Thus does civilisation march forward. Civil libertarians have complained the new rules demonise the homeless. In other words, they believe the homeless pong, swear and don't wear enough clothing. Outrageous.

One councillor has asked where smelly people are to go. I should have thought the answer obvious: into the shower.

Sunday: Crave a cuddle? There's an app for that

A new app helps set you up for a cuddle with a stranger. Cuddlr is said to be a sex-free alternative for those who want some human contact.

I love a cuddle as much as the next humanoid. But preferably with someone I know well.

Doesn't matter so much when it comes to sex.

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