Some other writing

Travelling to Belfast

What is there to say about Belfast as a holiday destination?  In 2003 I came across a Liverpudlian family in Botanic Gardens.  They were squinting up from their tourist literature to the surrounding area in a way which suggested they couldn’t help circling, mentally, the various differences they has spotted between page and park. More

Essay for BBC Radio 3

When the Victoria Centre, a symbol of Belfast’s confident new future, was opened last year, I heard a young woman in a shop tell her friend: ‘Go. It’s brilliant. It’s not like being in Belfast at all!’. And this is true. On a recent visit I stood in one of the shops that radiates out from the main building, with its elaborate dome, into the nearby streets of the town’s older commercial district, and watched my fellow shoppers. More

Poetry Readings

There are few things in this world I hate more than poetry readings. On the frequent occasions I have to endure them, I sit with a polite smile fixed to my face and my mind wandering like a gap-year student with an American Express card. In between wondering when it will all end and remembering, periodically, to renew my facial expression, a few thoughts repeat themselves with the regularity of on an old record: What is everyone else doing here? More

Fear of the Unknown: The World’s Greatest Mysteries

In , for either Christmas or my birthday – the two being close together – my mother gave me a book which meant that I began the New Year in a state of despair and remained that way, more or less, until the end of the millennium. It wasn’t The Outsider – I didn’t read that till recently. It was called either The World’s Greatest Mysteries or (tautologically surely?) The World’s Greatest Unsolved MysteriesMore

Health Scares and Hypochondria

With their dramatic announcements and projection of the worst-case-scenario, contemporary international health scares – like bird flu – have more in common with hypochondria than reasoned diagnosis.  Hypochondria is the rolling banner at the bottom of your private 24 hour news channel, continually broadcasting urgent threats to your population of one. More

The Stendhal syndrome

A young woman in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence is so overwhelmed by the beauty of the renaissance art on view that she faints. In her swoon, she dreams she is swimming in clear water, where a giant, pre-historic-looking fish with a human face kisses her. Later in the film she tries to describe the experience to a severe and bespectacled psychiatrist. More

Swimming pools of Belfast

The swimming pool in the Olympia Leisure Centre on the Boucher Road is a 25 m pool with, if memory serves me right, two shallow ends and a deeper middle section. The changing rooms are airy and pretty well looked after, … More

Poetry and Personal History

One of the first poems I wrote that I liked and I kept, ‘Naming It’ was written, or rather made up, partly in a flat above a chip shop on Broughton Street in Edinburgh, where I was sleeping on the couch, and partly the following night – at about four or five in the morning – in a car, going to the airport to Newcastle-on-Tyne, to pick up a friend. More

I saw Bob Dylan play The Odyssey on Saturday 26th June 2004 – or did I?

Apparently J. G. Ballard once responded to a request to come to Belfast to read from his work with the reasonable excuse that he was ‘so very old’, and Belfast was ‘so very far away’.  Neither of these factors seem to have bothered Bob Dylan much – if indeed it was Bob Dylan who played The Odyssey on Saturday 26th of June. More

Bad Student Essay’s

Bad student essays, in my very brief experience, can be bad in an almost limitless variety of ways.  As observed in the weirdly popular book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the apostrophe is in free-fall, with ‘the greengrocer’s apostrophe’ (as in … More