farewell to the bookshops

farewell to the bookshops

They’ve spruced up the bookshop on North St. and part of me feels a little sad. I have been a frequent visitor for the past 4 years and enjoyed the challenge of finding books in the chaos of it all.
Not that it was chaos to me mind you, but chaos to other customers who liked their bookshop neatly kept and organised, who wanted to pop in without a rummage and pop out again. Now they have been tidying it up a bit and things are becoming a little more organised. For me it is a good time to be saying farewell as I will miss things the way they used to be if I keep on shopping there. Not that it’s changed that much, just in the idealistic bookshop of my imagination. It was easily my favourite bookshop in Northern Ireland especially in the days when the older guy behind the counter (Jim?) would add up the total a knock a couple of quid of if you had bought a few books. There have always been good used books there as well or something of interest, provided you where/are prepared to have a look.

While I’m on bookshops an honorable mention should go out to the War on Want bookshop on Botanic Avenue for being (in my opinion) the friendliest littlest bookshop around Belfast. There is usually a little box of 50p Penguin books on the floor or bargains to be had on the table, so I have enjoyed popping in there most weeks. They usually have classical music on as well, which has the effect of calming me down a little.

I think I could have grown to like the Stacks bookshop in Dundonald as well, but it was a little out of the way over there in east Belfast so I didn’t get to explore it that much.

It feels bit petty to complain about a charity shop, but the Oxfam bookshop on Botanic Avenue could do a bit better on the customer service front in my opinion. Say hello to me, have a bit of crack, smile. There is a interesting selection of books but they never seem that happy to see you or appreciative of the custom. I find it annoying when they stick  paper price stickers on paperback books, then peel them off, with some of the back of your book.
Oxfam seems to be a little too powerful for my liking, perhaps like the Starbucks of charity shops? Everything is a little too slick for my liking. I’m not saying that the stuff they do isn’t great, but a little too organized nationally or something for the ramshackle image I have of an ideal used bookshop.
On the other hand, the guy who is usually behind the counter in the Oxfam bookshop on Rosemary St is cheery and helpful

Which brings me on to my least favourite bookshop, the one in Bangor. In fairness it is probably the neatest and tidiest local bookshop and there is good stuff in it. And I certainly don’t want to be negative about bookshops as many of them are struggling in these days when we can pick up books for £2.81 on Amazon. But I have found it a little cold and unfriendly anytime I’ve been in. At one time they had a clearance shop when you could pick up 5 books for £4 or something, which was great. But when I took it up to the counter the guy nonchalantly scored the prices out on my book with a blue biro which wasn’t great and put that particular bookshop in my bad books. I find some of the books a little bit expensive, but that may have something to do with being broke. I am used to paying about £2-3 for a decent Penguin paperback, but in this shop it might be £5. I think that £5 is a pretty fair price for a good book that you can keep and looks beautiful. So I’m reluctant to say that I think my least favourite bookshop was overpriced. I think that the other bookshops had their Penguin/Pelican books underpriced. But I’m glad they did or else I wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy any while I lived in Belfast.

trying not to boil away

I was reading this book in Belfast today as PSNI choppers hovered above, riot police blocked roads with white landrovers and  ‘peaceful’ protesters went  protesting about east Belfast with a healthy slice of rioting and destruction.
I am trying to deal with contempt for these people, to understand their issues or show compassion but it’s hard as most of you will probably understand.
At one point I was imagining the police helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles to fire into the streets of east Belfast and unleashing something that would really encourage people to give up and go home.


Still, violence isn’t going to halt violence.
This testimony from a medic serving in Syria during World War II reminded me of that, maybe also of my responsibilities if I claim somehow to be a Christian. If we can’t offer something radically different from an eye for an eye then what’s the point?

‘Once we heard of someone giving information about us to the Germans. We thought we knew who he was, so my gang went and captured him and brought him in front of me. He was very frightened. The boys said, ‘Let’s beat him up.‘ I had absolute power over this man and I felt the desire rising up inside me to smash him, to break him. It was really a terrifying feeling because it went against all my instincts, a violence erupting out of the very depths of myself. And I came to realise that this was the Hitler in me. That was a fundamental, mind-changing thing. I suddenly knew that the violence I was fighting against – the concentration camps, the sadism, the torture – was boiling up inside my guts. That has been a profoundly important insight for my life – that one should recognise the darkness. I sometimes feel that if you become a total pacifist, the danger is that you begin to think that you haven’t got these things in you. You become very gentle and smiling, but underneath you’re boiling away’

(Bishop) Stephen Verney, medic with HSU, Syria

Christmas Eve carp





‘In Poland and East Germany it is usual to have carp in grey sauce (szary sos) on Christmas Eve. The fish is cooked with it scales on and everyone treasures a scale or two in their purse to bring them good luck in the coming year. Sometimes the sauce is made with a mixture of beer and red wine or with red wine alone – carp in red wine is a New Year’s Eve dish in some parts of Germany’
Jane Grigson’s Fish Book

dark dandering notes


Soft night

Mustn’t get knocked over

Dame Mary not at home

(at Sport’s Personality of the Year)

Tower Block

Noisy Factory

Very Noisy Factory

Must find out what they make



Or Dunmurray

Mustn’t get caught taking

Photos of police station at this

Hour of the morning

Ignore the man trying to make

Eye contact

Drink my Fanta



Why Subway?

What is the attraction with



Creighton’s Filling Station Quiet

For once

Looks a bit like something from

An Edward Hopper painting

I always say that when I see

Petrol Stations at night

Kings Hall

Posh, private hospital




bouncing some thoughts around about flags

The flag situation is complex but maybe that’s because we’re not dealing with something we can untangle by ourselves with some bright political thinking, like sitting down with tangled up Christmas lights and getting them eventually straightened out again and up on the tree.

Maybe we’re dealing with supernatural forces that blind people or have our eyes blinkered by the kingdom of darkness and we’re powerless to stop them and our call is to overcome them by suffering?
We can’t untangle the political Northern Ireland Christmas tree lights all by ourselves and if people are as broken as we’re told they are in the Bible then we never will.

I guess that wonder how society can be so dark when we think about how many churches and Christians we’ve had and still have, even if the numbers are falling.

Part of me wonders how things seem quite so dark. But then maybe we just don’t realize how dark the human heart is. Is your heart dark? Mine is despite all the faith stuff. If a church has someone like me in it then it shouldn’t be so hard to see why we haven’t been peacemakers.

I guess that my take on why things are so dark is that many of our politicians (just like any of us) like the power and want to be in control. They don’t want the power stripped away because they are fearful of what would happen then.

The loyalists/unionists/whatever the correct definition is are fearful because they are seeing that things are slipping away from them, the balance of power which they enjoyed for decades is ebbing away. Suddenly decisions are being made that would never have happened in the good old days.

It’s all very Lord of the Rings with people looking to hold the one ring that would bind them all.

I want to be in control and cling to power as well of course.
Not being in a position of power means that you’re not in control and you have to trust God to be your refuge and strength.
That is a hard place to be in though because it makes you ask the question

‘Do I really believe this stuff or is it just fantasy?’

The answers might be scary because of the weakness of my faith. If something happened because of something would I trust God, would Jesus be enough?
I’m afraid to find that out sometimes so cling to my own sense of being in control, trust my own way of doing things.

I’m not sure about Christian display power, or what power means from a Christian point of view. There are a group of Christian planning to pray outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday morning. I should like this because we’re witnessing to a counter-cultural way of doing things and it seems like a really good Christian response to the darkness.
Yet I still feel a bit weird about it truth be told.
Is it like we’re going to try and prove that there are more of us Christians that those who would disrupt our peaceful society?
Are we trying to show how powerful we are compared to the darkness?

I’m not sure why this makes me feel uneasy. Praying is good,praying for peace in our land is good as well.
But what does praying for peace mean?
Will our land be peaceful if we pray that the loyalist rioters go back home and the dissidents disband?

That would be great but if that happened we still would be far from having a peaceful society.
What about the economic war for instance? How many lives are being wrecked and prevented from flourishing by the advertising on billboards beside the flags. We have divided society into labels like ‘shirkers’ vs workers’ or ‘skivver v striver’ and how much harm has that done? Does greed up the Malone Road offend God just as much as some teen with limited opportunities and throwing a brick. The message might be that the kid just needs to prove himself and pull his socks up, change his ways and start competing.

Not sure what is bothering me, it’s great people are praying for peace. But I guess that if we think that the only violence and trouble that is inflicting Northern Ireland are to do with Union flags or sectarianism then maybe the devil has pulled another trick out on us. Maybe that way middle class people look down their noses and sneer, or patronize is just as bad.

Flagsh Mobs


I overheard a conversation a few months back in which a man was telling another man that he was looking for a job after walking out of his old job in a bakery.

The reason he had left was that he was getting bullied at work somewhere in a bakery in north Ards by his supervisor who was an ardent loyalist and in a band. He said that ever since the incident with the loyalist flute band parading  around in circles outside St. Patrick’s Church in Belfast there had a been a nasty atmosphere in the workplace which had come to a head with his supervisor saying unprovoked derogatory things about his wife.

I guess the conversation had come to mind watching all this flag madness come to head the last couple of days. There is a dangerous undercurrent underneath it all, almost fascist I’d say, a bit like the Jews being attacked in the Nazi Germany or having their shops torched. What kind of mob forces a young lady to flee her home?
I was also wondering how much social media is feeding this?
With the riots in London last year a lot of organizing was done in ways that wouldn’t have been possible a few year backs.Now we have Facebook groups promoting protests and urging protestors to bring their Union flags. I was thinking that whereas  normal countries get flash mobs, we get flagsh mobs a decision to meet up at certain place and be a mob about flags.

Anyway, no point writing here or complaining about it. Not sure one of the lads smashing up an Alliance Party office is going to be reading this blog and then think to himself ‘Yes, Dave has a good point there. I think we will stop now’

Adlent Calendar Day 3- Unionist Christmas Tree Experiment

city hall
















1 Find hardline Unionist friend (the type of person who might have been outside Belfast City Hall tonight)

2 Wait until he is out of the living room. Remove angel or star from top of their Christmas tree and replace with small Union Jack.

3 See if friend ever takes tree down or if he keeps Union flag flying for rest of the year.