Friday, January 12, 2007


I did a West Belfast bus tour at the beginning of the week. You pay a tenner and they take you around like a numpty on an open-top double decker. It was pretty cold, only me and a group of mental Taiwanese kids went for the ride. I only jumped on this jaunt cos I wanted to see the paramilitary murals close up, but far be it from me to withhold information from the masses, so here are some intriguing Belfast facts I picked up from the bloke with burst bloodvessels who was delivering the tour spiel;

* 60s singer Ruby Murray grew up on the same estate as binge drinking snooker star Alex Higgins

* The rubbish blue ceramic fish behind the Albert Clock is called 'the Salmon of Knowledge'. Apparently, like the accursed 'Blarney Stone', idiot tourists sometimes kiss the fish

* The first office to ever install air conditioning - like, ever, in the whole world - was located in Belfast

* The Europa is the most bombed hotel in Europe (38 times, apparently)

By the time we got to the Shankill Road, the Taiwanese kids were getting over-excited and yapping at each other. I was trying to make out the writing on one of the Ulster Young Militants murals, when the tour guide flicked his thumb at my fellow passengers and muttered to me, "I don't know why I bother sometimes. I really don't." I think he was a Catholic; he made some quip about the mural of the queen mother; "Look at the wonky eyes," he said gleefully "Either she's been on the gin...or the artist has!" Loyalists NEVER take the piss out of the royal parasites.

There's not a great deal of hardcore IRA graffitti on the Falls Road, funnily enough; more anti-Bush stuff, Free Palestine, Don't Attack Iran, Malcolm X and Ghandi. Plenty of hunger strikers stuff, though the Prods seemed way more into their guns and balaclavas and blood-drenched roses and clenched fists. The Taiwanese kids started kicking off again when we passed a former British army spy post. "We had 2 Spanish on board yesterday, and they wouldn't shut up", the bloke moaned at me. "It's the bane of a tour guide's life. I didn't know 2 people could make so much noise". I nearly jumped off the bus at the Sinn Fein office, there was a pub nearby. The Peace Line Pub Crawl - there's an idea for a night out. We could keep crossing over the Peace Line, til we've drunk in every single bar on each side. I doubt there'd be any trouble. The Prods would bang on about how English people don't support them enough and how Blair's a stooge of the Marxist IRA, and the nationalists would just ask you 5,000 questions about which part of your Ireland your fictional great great grandmaw came from.

So, time for an assessment - who's better? The mutoid sons of King Billy or the bastard children of the Pope?

OK, leaving the politics aside and concentrating on drawing skills; the Fenians are technically a lot better skilled at drawing faces and hands. There's a very impressive pic of Bush guzzling blood from a Palestinian camp, that looked a bit like a Steve Bell cartoon, and the famous Bobby Sands one is a joy to behold close-up. The Prods strive for slightly more highbrow art, and go more for that 70s cheap commemorative mug effect. A lot of the Falls Road looks like it could be a good backdrop to an anti-capitalism carnival. However, in terms of generating an atmosphere of suppressed violence, the UDA/ UVF artists clearly know what they're doing, and so the Protestants win! I didn't take any pictures, I didn't want to hang off the edge of the bus with a camera and have kids shouting "G'AWAY, YE BIG AMERICAN GOBSHITE" at me.

Next week - Sunni vs Shia
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