It is Thursday and I am not working. I am walking back from a class at the PEC. LSB had dropped me down earlier and I met a friend for coffee. I bought some books for summer reading and sauntered a bit, before a gruelling 25 minute class. I cannot cope with hour long classes at the moment, preferring short bursts of horror to get it over quickly. Many of the exercises at a ‘HITT’ (High Intensity Interval Training) class are burpee related, with much reaching over my portly tum. And lunging. There is an emphasis on lunging and squatting. These classes are not to be recommended after a latte and a peanut butter ball, a fact that I know well, yet am loathe to note. I thank the teacher and leave. I am keen to have a walk to disperse the lactic acid after my exertions.
As I walk along the embankment towards Ormeau Bridge I hear much shouting. I assume it is the the coxes in the rowing boats on the Lagan. I hate how they gulder. It is loud and aggressive. I do not need loud and aggressive voices right now. My thoughts can be loud and aggressive enough.
But it is not a cox shouting at his rowing eight. It is a crowd of men clad only in their pants, hopping on one leg as they tug on their jeans. They are barefooted. One wears a red felt hat, with yellow writing embroidered on the front. His chest hair, of which there is an abundance, glistens with sweat and booze. He guffaws loudly as I pass. I feel his spit on my face. ‘Ha, look at this one!’ shouts another. There are bottles of Buckfast and the stench of alcohol closes in on me. Several runners have jogged past already unmolested, and I refuse to cross the road. It is 12.43 in the afternoon. I will not be intimidated at 12.43 in the afternoon in my local environs. There are two girls also in the group, one of whom is shrieking and cackling at a pitch which is most offensive to the ear. Another is small and fine featured with chestnut hair, pulled into sleek pony tail. She has a sweet face and huge brown liquid eyes. Her expression, however, is not sweet. She seeks out and tries to hold my gaze as though to provoke a response. The menace from her is almost more unsettling than the larger men, in a state of undress. I refuse to meet her eye and walk on, but I do not alter my pace. They do not follow me or touch me or verbally abuse me. But their intention is clear, to create a disturbance and ruin a peaceful afternoon.
This is the third time I have felt threatened recently on the Ormeau; my favourite part of Belfast and the place I call home. This time it was older teens, or perhaps students. The previous occasions have been by young, drunk teenagers. They occurred in the early evening, further up the road, near the Vineyard. Stevey challenged one boy, who was flanked by two larger teenage girls. He insulted an elderly man who had remonstrated with him for repeatedly thumping a sign. Alliance, I think it was. I recall it was yellow.
‘Could you not leave it alone?’ said the man.
‘Could you not fuck off?’ said the boy.
‘Here’ said LSB. ‘No need for that.’
The girls jeered and the young fella wanted to show off and retorted with another obscenity. We had been to Greens for pizza with the girls.
‘That’s enough,’ I said, gesturing towards the children.
‘You shut up, you’re nothing but a hoor,’ shouted the boy.
Well that was LSB off after him while I pulled the girls close. They were shaken and bewildered.
‘LEAVE IT!’ I yelled. The trio ran off and Stevey let them. He was furious. (Stevey has a bit of a superman complex and is often referred to as ‘Stevey Garland, Urban Warrior’ by his friends. Once he saved a couple of Emo kids getting their heads kicked in, in the McDonalds in town. He has, though, also been set upon in the past, and had a kicking himself. Warrior behaviour is therefore not something I actively encourage. He couldn’t possibly put a wash on or get the children breakfast with head injuries. It would be a great imposition on my life. Anyway, it wasn’t even eight o’clock. Our evening had been soured, any bonhomie shattered.
So there we are. Marching season is not even upon us and the air is thick and turbulent, making me feel the need to keep sharp and alert. This is the time when we should be able to relax, and enjoy the long evenings, watching as dusk merges into twilight and the sky turns from blue to lemon to pink and the sun sets over the hills. I wish some sense could descend upon the city and we could do just that.