Posts Tagged Belfast

A street. Celebrating a multitude of stories

Last Sunday, we held our third annual Sudbourne Road Street Party. As ever it was a personal, neighbourly and community affirmation of the simple power of human connection (

Place and our association with it is a funny thing. The two places I tend to speak of most often are Belfast and Brixton. I’m always interested in how others respond to my stories of these two extraordinary places and how they (among others) shaped and continue to shape me.  The stereotype is of course of two troubled places; gritty, associated far too often (and always sadly) in the minds of others with division and decay (social, economic, political, economic). And yet, for those of us lucky enough to call either of these places home, that is just one story from among a multitude. And one which denies both them and us the glory of their true, complex, gritty, divided and yes, in parts decaying, selves. And in doing so the stereotype prevails, grows stronger, pushes out the possibility of another reality, an alternative narrative.

The danger, the limitations, the challenge of these “single stories” is articulated in this wonderful talk by Chimamanda Adichie: 

And last Sunday as I watched neighbours and friends come together in a simple celebration of shared place I was struck by the limitations and distorted reality of Brixton’s oft told “single story” and the possibility in the alternative story we – in a simple act of gathering to celebrate our physical communion in SW2 – were (and are) writing. As I watched friends and neighbours come and go I wondered at the multitude of stories that made last Sunday what it was and our street what it is and Brixton what it really is more often than it is not……and in doing so we too regain(ed) a kind of paradise.

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Alex Higgins RIP

Alex Higgins (r) at Queen's University Belfast...
Image via Wikipedia

One of the earliest memories I have is of being allowed to sit up with my Da one night in 1982 to watch Alex “The Hurricane” Higgins win his second and unbelievably his last World Snooker Title. I clearly recall my Da and I sitting on the edge of my bed rooted to the screen as the, even then, sleight figure of Higgins twitched and bewildered his way to glory.

Higgins was my hero on the green baize in the same way George Best was on the green turf. I’d spend hours playing their finest moments over and over, a running commentary in my mind for company. Studies suffered but the imagination (and for a while, my talents) prospered.

Both men came from a different religious tradition to my own. Both were products of the city, I of the rolling country around. Both were flamboyant and self assured, I was shy and uncertain. Both had an eye for a good time and a beautiful woman, I lived in hope.

I saw both play in the flesh strangely. Best in 1983, in a “pay to play” game for Tobermore United vs Ballymena United in the Irish Cup. They lost 8-1. Best was incongruous (tanned, shaggy haired, unmuddied) and anonymous throughout. It was exciting but it was never the same again for me. Higgins I saw in an exhibition series in Belfast when his decline had also already taken hold. The sparks were there but the fire had long gone out.

As someone once wrote: “Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth”.

While it is hard for us to watch our heroes unravel before our eyes, it must have been harder still for them. Both achieved so much, they each changed their sports and how we understood them to be played. Yet they must have known that they could have achieved so much more.

The long decline is something we must all come to terms with. But for some, there is much further to fall. To live out a life once the talent that defined it entirely has begun to fade must be a cruel thing. The subsequent frustrations of that decay and the ill health brought on by the addictions of high celebrity (and no doubt a particularly N Irish penchant for excessive indulgence) an added ignominy to be borne out in the public domain. This is not to excuse the worst of their behaviour – Higgins in particular left his hero status at the door when the cue was set down as far as I was concerned.

Yet still, it is a real sadness that yesterday Alex Higgins packed his cue for the green baize of the next life. The very real emotional and physical damage he had suffered of late had left him a mere shadow of the twinkle eyed genius who’d kept so many of us entertained for so long. It was hard to see that regression, to see a hero reduced by the confines of mere mortality. However, if accounts of his final days are to be believed then it may be a merciful conclusion.

Like Best, Alex Higgins was a NI working class hero. He upset a few, was reviled by some but loved and cherished by so many many more for what he did for his sport. For anyone who was alive to see Higgins in his pomp you will understand what I mean when I say that sport lost one of it’s true, unabated, unbowed and unabashed genius’ yesterday.

Higgins is once quoted as saying after one of his many career knock-backs: “I’m a realist. And me being a realist…I’ll be back”. Not this time Alex. But you’ll be missed. And never forgotten by many, not least by the young man who sat sleepy eyed with his father on the edge of his bed 28 years ago and knew he’d seen something very special; something untamed, something true, something fleeting, something flawed.

A bit like life itself.

Oíche mhaith, codladh sámh. Síochán leat.


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