Some other writing

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

Imagine Belfasts: The Cities of Belfast ed Nicholas Allen and Aaron Kelly

Why the cities of Belfast when Belfast itself is so commonly considered in the media, literature and the arts?  This is the question Aaron Kelly and Nicolas Allen pose in the introduction to this timely collection of critical essays – a collection arising, they suggest, from the perceived distance between the city of their lived experience and that of their of their reading. Belfast, as Gerald Dawe puts it here, ‘has been stereotyped to death; a complex history in permafrost; its geocultural life as a port, haven, hellhole, dumbed down before the term was invented’. More

The Darwin Awards

As yet there are not many contenders for the 2003 Darwin Award.  In the running are a ‘cock owner’ from the Philippines who bled to death in January when the bird he had fitted out for a fight turned round and slashed two of his major arteries, and the Spanish robbers who tried to shoot past the police surrounding their Madrid brothel using blanks, probably because they spent the night getting drunk at the bar. More


For the purposes of writing this I had intended to walk all the way downstairs, knock on his door, and ask the gentleman who lives in the flat below mine what he was doing in Belfast. ‘What are you doing in Belfast?’ I was going to demand. And then, such is my commitment to research, I was going to listen to his answer. More