keresaspa: (Cartman)
For several years since his shady, drug-related death in 2000 UDA killer Stephen "Top Gun" McKeag has been commemorated by various murals in the Lower Shankill area that was formerly his home. Rather than give you the full details of his sordid life I'll just point you in the direction of his Wikipedia article which is in this case both reliable and readable, a true classic of the website (yes, I did write the vast majority of it).

A recent bout of redevelopment saw the most recent version removed and a sigh of relief breathed by the relatives of the victims of one of the most prolific sectarian killers of the later years of the Troubles. However a couple of weeks ago a new version went up in the same vicinity (albeit not the exact location) leading to an outcry as well as the inevitable Housing Executive response of "we've no immediate plans to remove it". Well, the UDA's backs are up since Boreland and the Exec have never been the bravest of agencies at the best of times.

Leaving aside any outrage, the mural itself is one of those photo-based, screen-printed efforts that have become the norm on the Shankill in recent years where the sudden surge of ultra-nationalism that followed the horrendous flag protests and culminated in the loyalist support for the extreme right "leave" option at the last referendum (despite the EU having effectively been propping Northern Ireland up since the economic collapse, but hey - foreigners) has apparently killed off any notion of murals as an art form. Be that as it may, this is the result of their efforts:



Just take a moment to drink that in and realise that that is on the side of somebody's house, twenty odd feet high for the whole world to see. I didn't know McKeag personally (not one of the biggest regrets of my life, I must confess) but I've seen the odd picture and I'm pretty sure he had a complete head throughout his life. It does rather beg the question as to why, in that case, his photo-mural tribute has a head that stops immediately above the eyes with a little beret plonked on top, presumably to stop the world seeing his exposed, pulsating brain matter. I mean, was it really that big a rush job that the designer couldn't take a little time to actually make it look vaguely realistic? Or did they accidentally hire a Fenian who decided to have a bit of fun with it? Whatever the rights and wrongs of commemorating a piece of scum like McKeag if you're going to do it at least do it right. Whatever that is supposed to be it is an absolute laughing stock and frankly the UDA themselves, never mind the Housing Executive, should be removing that with their faces beetroot-red whilst doing so. He may have been "Top Gun" but my breath was certainly taken away by that travesty.
keresaspa: (Heckle and Jeckle)
During the Troubles the Provies looked around for international comparisons for their struggle and the two groups they seized on for parallels were the ANC and the PLO. Before long images of Mandela and the Palestinian struggle were appearing on walls and in Sinn Fein literature and that continues to this day. In part as a reaction to this and also because of their own similarities the loyalists latched on to South Africa and Israel as their models and articles in support of the two states appeared in UDA and UVF magazines from the mid 70s onwards. Direct contact was even established by Ulster Resistance, who got their arms from both countries.

Eventually the South Africa links were sidelined a bit as it's hard t get any positive press out of backing an apartheid regime but the Israeli motif has continued. In the last few years, with Netnayahu's regime unleashing swathes of destruction, the public displays of support have, if anything, got even stronger as it is a fine way to wind up the Fenians. This reached a crescendo in the last few weeks with the appearance of this on the Shankill end of Northumberland Street, close to the peaceline gate.



Ostensibly a tribute to John Henry Patterson, the mural has inevitably raised the hackles of some republicans, not least because the aforementioned Netanyahu is quoted at the far end.

Oddly though, this has also had an angry reaction from a lot of Unionists. The other big thing that Unionism and Loyalism hammer home now is how great the British Army is and how everything it has ever done is to be celebrated (something Sinn Fein seem to agree with now, although complaining about that now seems rather pointless). Yet here stands a mural endorsing the IDF, a group that has its origins in the insurgents who fought against the British Mandate of Palestine and sent several members of the selfsame British Army to their graves. And so as part of the points scoring exercises that now seem de rigeur since the whole flag protests nonsense the muralists have not only managed to annoy the Taigs but also to upset a bunch of their militarists into the bargain. Job well done there, boys. Not only that but yet again it is a bunch of photos screen-printed and bolted to the wall with no artistic merit whatsoever. Can nobody on the Shankill paint any more?!

Overall typical of the embarrassing pettiness that characterises this place nowadays. These sort of "let's wind the other lot up" things have been going on for a while but this has to be the first that has backfired so spectacularly.
keresaspa: (Jimmy Edwards)
There is an unwritten law regarding me and the wearing of boots. Obviously it is an unwritten law as I still don't think we have reached the point where the government passes laws relating to one individual's feet, but I digress. If I buy a new pair of boots (as I did around a month ago) I will wear them for a while with two pairs of socks just to let them get the feel and shape of my feet. After a couple of weeks of that the extra pair is discarded and I tramp around happy as a sandboy with the boots officially broken in. Then it happens. About a month in the boots suddenly decide "this smug faced crow with kindling eye needs taught a lesson" and the pain arrives. Suddenly the boots become tighter than a polar bear's arse in a snowstorm then by and by they are looser than Shar Pei's sack and I'm left with more blisters than Alan Sugar has ill-gotten gains, all the while wondering who boots can be simultaneously too big and too small. Were they brand new I would get it but it's always after a month when they should more or less have moulded themselves to the shape of my flippers so what gives? A pox on footwear I say.

Not that I was merely walking round the corner admittedly but rather took my favoured route along the previously discussed Shore Road. One thing caught my eye as I passed the also previously discussed Mount Vernon estate, to wit the UVF murals that decorate the sides of the lovely Ross House, a tenement block with delightful views of the M2 Fortwilliam junction.

Mount Vernon paint job


Nice paint job there, lads. I must confess to not being a huge fan of such examples of wanton vandalism, despite my personal distaste for the UVF, as the paramilitary murals are one of the few things to actually give Belfast any individual character and these days there seems to be any excuse to cover them with those hideous "community murals" in which some old rubbish in a contrived childish style purports to show some grim hellhole like Tiger's Bay or the Bone to be a diverse, all-inclusive paradise rather than the grotty, sectarian concentration camp for the poor that it actually is. I can't say I know who or what was behind this particular attack on an innocent drawing but were I to lay odds on it my money would be on a crowd of yahoos with links to Tommy English from the South-East Antrim Brigade of the UDA reacting in a fit of pique to the inevitable collapse of the Supergrass trial. OK, the world and his wife knows that Mark Haddock has been a bad bastard for years but when a case is built on the testimony of a couple of booze-sodden junkies who by rights should be in the dock alongside Haddock it is hardly a surprise when said case stands up about as well as the chief witnesses themselves do on a Friday night. The big fear now is that, assuming SEA is behind the paint attack, it could usher in the dreaded loyalist feud based on tit for tat attacks. Put it this way, if a group of YCV hoods turn up in Bencrom Park hurling tins of Farrow & Ball at the wall art then it will be bad news for everybody, with the probable exception of Harry Noblett. A matt vinyl slick of a level not seen since the dark (or magnolia) days of ought four could engulf this whole city.

Around the same time I chanced upon a car wash that lay nearby. Of course it is the cliché of commercial rap video producers that hand car washes are by definition highly charged erotic fayre, featuring as they do impossibly shiny muscle cars being suggestively rubbed down by impossibly bottomed bikini clad ladies of dubious repute. Now inevitably the reality is nothing like that as you end up with some old Belfast boilers, bundled up against the cold (what cold?) hurling buckets of water over crappy little Renaults and the like and so it proved as I passed one such establishment on the Shore Road. Except the tableau vivant that was unfolding before my eyes was, to be frank, every bit as enjoyable as anything the makers of naff teenage boy films could come up. So three cheers for the Shore Road boilers who are welcome to buff up my hood any day of the week! Yes, I am a dreadful excuse for a human being.

And to return to my initial point about unwritten laws that need to be written (yes, this is all terribly disjointed but I've been out of practice recently) there really needs to be a rule that anybody ostensibly speaking the English language who uses the word "tranche" should be immediately sentenced to the ramming of a closed fist into their face repeatedly. Using bits of French whilst speaking English in an attempt to look somehow impressive was killed off by Del-Boy in the 80s and the fact that there are still people attempting it (invariably the sort who use several tranches of management-speak as part of their inconsequential babbling) is as good a reason for a bloody good hiding as I've ever heard. And "tableau vivant" doesn't count as the phrase "living table" would make no sense outside of a psychedelic nightmare.

Fin.
keresaspa: (Seagull)
Were Belfast a normal city the neighbouring Falls and Shankill roads would link directly at a minimum of eight locations i.e. Clonard Street/Lawnbrook Avenue, Waterville Street/Canmore Street, Conway Street, North Howard Street, Northumberland Street, Percy Street, Boundary Street and Townsend Street. However a history of rioting, burning houses and killing each other means that of these links only one remains and that is Northumberland Street. Even then both the road and each side of the pavement has two sets of gates that can be locked from either side with an eerie stretch of no man's land in between. There are other links between the Shankill and its republican neighbours, namely Lanark Way, the West Circular Road and Springmartin Road, all of which lead to the Springfield Road, and the junction of Ballygomartin Road and Whiterock Road (although this is in the mountains and only one nutjob lives there), but for those seeking a direct route from Shankill to Falls Northumberland Street is the only game in town.

There exists within the Catholic Church in Ireland (and perhaps further afield for all I know) a tradition for November dead lists where during the month of November people can submit lists of dead people they know to be prayed for at a specific church. As a favour to my auld doll I volunteered to deposit copies of said lists at any such church I passed in Belfast and to date I had managed five viz. the Good Shepherd round the corner, St. Mary's and St Patrick's in the town, St. Paul's on the Falls and the Holy Cross on the Crumlin Road. Today I endeavoured to add St. Peter's Cathedral on the lower Falls and the Holy Family on the Limestone Road to that list. St. Peter's was easy enough but the issue then came of how to get to the Holy Family, which is in north Belfast. The wishy-washy route would involve going back down the Falls, crossing past the front of Carrick Hill, going up Clifton Street to Carlisle Circus then the Antrim Road up as far as the Water Works and so onto the Limestone. Such a route however is over two miles and is designed with the motorist rather than the pedestrian in mind and with rain clouds a-gathering I knew I could save time with a straight run down Northumberland Street, Agnes Street and Clifton Park Avenue (a continuous route despite the name changes) before cutting down Brucevale Park onto the Antrim Road. As such for the first time in my life I made the journey from one end of Northumberland Street to the other, completing a rite of passage in Belfast life taken by only few. This being Belfast murals loom large and the end/beginning of each side is marked by wall painting, each of which provided an interesting insight into the ideologies driving republicanism and loyalism respectively. The final republican mural on Northumberland Street shows Frederick Douglass surrounded by other images relating to civil rights, the struggle against apartheid and even feminism. The first loyalist mural I encountered bade me welcome to the Shankill Road but showed me images of the Orange Order, poppies, King Billy, Linfield and fists just in case I took the welcome too literally. So on the one side it is equal human rights on the other it is militant Protestantism and a dig in the bake. I believe I have demonstrated that, despite my partial commitment to republicanism, I have no problem with the Shankill Road but this time the Falls well and truly has them licked and it is another sad reflection on the faults of loyalism that it responds to genuinely admirable people with the same old tired unionist clichés. If you look to the examples of Douglass and Rosa Parks barriers will come down if you look to the Orange Order and tired old symbolism then the gates will be there forever.

And having just consulted the ever reliable (aye right) Google Maps I have now learnt that my "short cut" is actually about the same distance as the wishy-washy route and, inevitably, the rain clouds caught up to me as I made my way down Duncairn Gardens and I got the inevitable soaking I deserve. Still going down Northumberland Street makes one dead hard so there.
keresaspa: (Maurice Bishop)
The leaders of the four main churches in Northern Ireland have attacked proposed benefits cuts for the waves of poverty they will unleash on an already depressed area. The response of the Minister for Social Development, former Ulster Independence Committee member, Catholic hater, National Front associate and, if we believe Sean McPhilemy, former member of the Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee and associate of UVF uber-psychopath Robin Jackson, is that getting a bunch of people off benefits is far more important than keeping people out of poverty. My hope? That the loyalists of the Crumlin Road, Ballysillan and the Westland estate who find their DLA gone for a burton and find themselves forced into looking for non-existent employment despite their diabetes/heart attacks/schizophrenia will remember this next time and give McCausland and his whole cuts happy party the short shrift they deserve. The likely outcome? Nothing. When Glen Barr said that they could send a donkey up the Shankill with a Union Jack attached and the loyalists would vote of it he might as well have said all of Northern Ireland and I have no doubt that the penniless hordes of North Belfast (or whatever it will be called by then) will return McCausland in 2015 despite him swiping their money to spend on more important things like his own Ulster Scots set-up. My previous rants about the stupid deference that forever hamstrings loyalism remain as cromulent as ever. Where's the IPLO when you need them?



In Nelson's brave new Ulster I rather suspect you would be better off inside, lads.

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