Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Europa Hotel Belfast


There is some extraordinarily moving footage from the 2010 Glastonbury Festival of Ray Davies of The Kinks performing an emotional version of the song Days. This was shortly after the death of the original guitarist Pete Quaife.

Days is a wonderful encapsulation of both affection and loss alike for partners, family. friends or even animal companions.

It can also be read as a goodbye to better times gone by from the perspective of a current period of personal change, growth and struggle. That in the same vein as Van Morrison's Madame George - recorded as the very streets and districts of Belfast in which the song was set approached blanket physical and societal collapse during the Troubles.

Earlier this week I watched a BBC documentary about the much-bombed Europa Hotel in Great Victoria Street in Belfast - which is located beside the equally bombed train station that was referenced in the same Morrison song. Some impressive archive footage and computer-generated reconstructions of the attacks were balanced out by wearily predictable reminiscences from the likes of Anne Robinson, Trevor McDonald and John Suchet of their time there as journalist residents while bitter oul Belfast burned and blew up around them.

There still always seems to me to be a faint trace of cosmopolitan superiority in such interviews as to how the restless natives were behaving at the time in Reginald Maudling's "bloody awful country". And indeed a wee bit of a snigger at the parochialism of the hotel restaurant's services and penthouse lounge dollybirds. When the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner insisted during the 1972 closure of the Stormont parliament that the country was "not a coconut colony" he was probably getting closer to the truth of mainland political attitudes than he could ever have realised.

All so truly tiresome of course in light of the sheer tragedy of the destruction of one of Britain and Europe's great port cities and the fact that so many posters on Northern Ireland internet forums to this day often reference the people gone from those times as much as the terminal physical changes since the late Sixties.

Overshadowing all of course being the proud fact that during the Northern Ireland Troubles many more good people stayed in Ulster than ever left for North America, South Africa or Australasia.

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