I saw this ad on the back of a broadsheet newspaper several years ago, a Sunday paper I think. It was huge- the entire back page in fact. I couldn’t do much but stare at it for a few minutes, mouth agape. It’s Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones, in an ad for Louis Vuitton. ‘Some journeys cannot be put into words’ the tagline reads. You’d laugh to hear that said out loud, but in the context of the ad it’s convincing on some level. They’re flashing such intimidating credentials you’re in no position to argue. The ad is transparently an effort to lord it up over the viewer, and not much besides. Pretty joyless affair. Ok ok, Louis Vuitton, you win, I surrender. Pricks.
I was in Birmingham, England yesterday, for no important reason. This is the polished bit of their city center, where the nice shops and the good shopping center are. Isn’t it nice. It was a 20 degree day as well, with a warm breeze. I sat at that cafe and drank two beers. Two icy cold Stella’s, in those classy rounded pint glasses with a stem. It was lush. My walk to the museum afterwards took me past all the heavyweight Victorian-era monolithic stone buildings, with their carvings and engravings. Belfast city center has ’em too, like Birmingham it was also a player in the industrial revolution. But Birmingham is more impressive in that regard I’d say. The museum was a washout for me. I was pretty tired, didn’t really didn’t have the energy. But it was a good one, I’d go again. A series of rooms took you past a real bounty of stuff on the walls, mostly religious, as is the way of it it seems, moving backwards through the centuries- the last room being chock-full of 14th century Church ‘triptychs’ and ‘diptychs’ produced by individuals who were probably certifiably insane by modern standards. I exited the museum and immediately slumped down on the steps outside, basking in the full glare of the sun for a few minutes. In my knackered state I had the less than inspired idea to tilt my phone when taking this picture of the town hall to my left:
It looks like a snap in a cheesy language-learning school textbook: ‘Marta and Elena took a bus to the city center. Marta loved the town hall, but Elena wasn’t so keen!’
I went out shopping for shoes yesterday. It was a bank holiday so town was packed. A while ago I discovered a new parking space bang in the center by all the shops, just up a backstreet off the main street. I was up and out and in the car for 9.30am, like a legend, and got the spot when I arrived. It’s funny, I’ve known this row I parked the car on my whole life. I think most city centers probably have a version of the district it sits within. A dilapidated shoppping ‘arcade’, head shop, military surplus store, the work of accomplished graffiti people on run down facades, tiny art place behind glass shop front with an installation on display, comic book store, sex shops, gambling machine place. There was even a vinyl record store near my car. Manchester has a huge one of these- the Northern Quarter they call it. Belfast’s is just a few streets, which then extends into the still artsy but yuppified ‘Cathedral Quarter’. I’ve always felt like an imposter in these areas. I’m not mean enough for the mean streets. Debenhams is where I belong, trying on polo shirts like the sleepwalking capitalist slave I am.
But with all the positivity being up and out so early brought me I did spent some time around there, sticking another £1.20 in the meter on the street for an hour. The main thing I wanted to check out was the book shop. The inside of it took me by surprise. It extended back and back and back. It had a great ‘bowels of the earth’ feel, like what you want from a second-hand bookstore- the feeling you could discover something rare and precious. Having a wee adventure is always nice. Here’s a photo of the place:
The last time I was moved to tears by something beautiful was during a visit to a photography exhibition in an art gallery in the center of Belfast on a Sunday. I had been out the night before and was still in the same clothes and hung-over. I was feeling reckless, sort of mad fer it, which made for an unusually eventful day by my standards. It helped that I loved the outfit I was wearing. Before walking to the gallery I stopped at a cheap chain pub for a pint of lager. I sat by the windows onto the street and drank it while fiddling with my phone. In a wilfully dreamy, gawky way I became fixed on a man standing on the street a few feet from me. He was a wholesome well fed looking guy wearing an outdoor jacket and hiking shoes. He had thick freshly washed hair and a bit of a tan. He was leaning against a post and chewing gum with a reflective look on his face. He looked like he was waiting for something.
I spoke to him outside and it turned out he was waiting for a tour group. He was driving their coach and possibly also conducting the tour. I liked his functional look and tried to tell him so. “You’re so… unhip, I love it” was more or less what I said. I had meant something more like ‘you seem so resolutely unhip’, but I couldn’t find the words in the heat of the moment. “OK, that’s quite offensive” was his reply. He explained that they were his work clothes. The rest of the exchange was tense after that and I was also disappointed that he wasn’t who I imagined. I tried to back-peddle and talk to him about something else but it was a losing battle and he was soon replying to me with his head turned away, at which point I departed with a ‘Well, nice talking to you’.
I had decided on visiting the gallery not knowing what would be on. When I arrived I was happy to see that it was a photography exhibition- Northern Ireland: 30 years of photography. Typically, the photos were mostly of urban decay, violence and disadvantaged people looking miserable. Something had been done right though as I found myself in a trance in front of photo after photo. I hadn’t seen Northern Ireland in an ‘art photography’ light before. Here are some I managed to find online:
There was an impressive couple, in their early 40’s I’d say, wandering about. The man was a big tall formidable looking guy with a bald head and stubble, a bomber jacket… and wire framed spectacles. The woman had red in her hair and was wearing an overcoat and colourful Nike trainers. They were snorting and giggling at everything and I started to worry that I was one of the objects of their piss-taking. I was sure I heard them pass remark of some kind behind me. I became conscious of my outfit- my perfect little jeans and impractical green plimsolls. I entered another room and stopped in front of the first photo. The couple entered after me and the woman said ‘oh, I like that one’ as they passed.
The whole thing, real or imagined, started to piss me off. My buzz had been killed. I moved further into the room and on a walk from one wall to another I aimed myself directly at them. I kept my gaze on the floor and walked towards them with one foot in front of the other, as if I was walking along a plank leading to them. ‘Don’t fuck with me, I might surprise you’ was the message I hoped to convey. I raised my head when I’d reached a point pretty close to them, just before I changed direction. It wasn’t them but rather a different couple, with the woman wearing a similar dark coat. She looked puzzled. I wasn’t too embarrassed- I thought there was the possibility she had taken me for some free spirit and was impressed!
The tears, or welling up anyway, occurred just before all this, while I was still completely engrossed by the stuff on the walls. It was in front of this photo:
I was willing it a little bit. Full blown crying would have been a great release, but it didn’t come to that. I’m not sure how much credit I should give the photographer (Hannah Starkey) or myself as I welled up several times in front of Titanic on a hangover a month before!