Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A step away, in one sense, and, in another, a whole world away

Poet Gerald Dawe was born and raised in Belfast. This excerpt is from his book The Rest is History. It goes a fantastically long way toward explaining why an adolescent Van Morrison was captivated by East Belfast's endless nooks and crannies—spots and sites he later immortalized in his songs.
What in effect Buckland is alluding to is the important housing differences as working-class housing bordered upon lower-middle-class housing which in turn bordered upon middle-class housing and so on. A class-consciousness, incremental, tier-system, in other words. Streetscapes altered, widened and opened out the further one moved up and away from the city-basin and its immediate hinterland. From a very early age, Belfast children learned their place in this scheme of things based largely upon their physical surroundings; assimilating architectural and civic barriers of class as much as absorbing, and sometimes, rejecting, or transcending as best they could, the discreet signs of religious—and hence, political identity. Accents, too, played a specific, instructive role in deciding within seconds one's background. For working-class kids who lived in what would approximate today to "the inner city," the "posh areas" were merely a step away, in one sense, and, in another, a whole world away. To know one's own place was both a source of strength but also a terrible inhibition.

It was often out on weekend walks through these avenues and parks that one saw the different styles of life counterposed quite starkly with one's own. Houses like mansions; tree-lined driveways, gardens like parks. Sedate, discreet, private. A landscape of imaginative thresholds amounted to a metaphor of the imagination itself. Yet within the intimate, even claustrophobic closeness of the working-class districts there were the random open spaces of builders' yards, fugitive rivers and streams, old warehouses, industrial networks and vast walls.

For a young boy or girl, part of "a gang of mate," life growing up in such a district was like a pendulum-swing between adventure and boredom, dreaming and routine, desire crossing against the force of custom, expectation and convention.

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