I think this is my sixth visit to Derry since October last, and each trip I stay for a little while longer.
Back in England a couple of years ago, I fell for a Tyrone girl. She couldn’t help but answer Ireland’s call and sought and found a job in Derry last year. But she left a trail and I tracked her down. So soon it’ll be a single ticket I buy from Liverpool John Lennon because Derry’s going to be my new home.
A lot’s changed since my first trip over. Flower baskets line the river. The Peace Bridge has opened. Cafe Del Mondo has shifted up Shipquay Street to the Craft Village.
Some things have stayed the same, mind. The people remain the warmest, friendliest, most talkative I’ve ever met - a hard thing for a Scouser to admit, as that was always our boast. I still can’t get a table at the Custom House and I’ve still no idea what’s going on.
Apparently Derry is going to be the 2013 City of Culture. I don’t know if you’ve heard, I only found out about it by accident a little while back. I’ve never known a place that says so little about itself. Especially when you think how much Derry talks.
I’ve got an idea for a City slogan. What about: “Derry - the city that keeps things under its hat”?
Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing going on. Far from it. I’m sure there’s plenty. And I’m not saying it’s not my fault I don’t know about it. But I’ve tried, I promise you. I’ve looked for leaflets and burrowed for brochures. I’ve kept my eyes peeled for website addresses and scanned the horizon for banners proclaiming the City of Culture status. I’ve even searched for signs to the Peace Bridge! But to no avail. I’ve found bits and pieces, titbits here and there, but no single, solid, comprehensive list of events, activities, ideas and plans.
Nothing that tells me what’s happening now, what’s planned for the future, and where it’s all going on.
And I don’t think I’m the only one. There are plenty of tourists here, but they seem to wand like lost souls searching for something to photograph or look at or learn about. There’s only Martin McCrossen’s men showing an interest in us!
Back home, they said the same about Liverpool before we were City of Culture in 2008. What’s happening? Where is there to go? Not to mention, why are all the roads in the City being dug up all at the same time?
It’s a different story now though. Tourists march purposefully from museum to gallery, to gift shop. They jump off the Duck Bus and on to the Beatles Tour. And if they get tired they can actually sit down on actual benches and gaze on the Mersey - which you can’t do with the Foyle, not that I’ve seen anyway.
Incidentally Liverpool has quarters. At least five that I’ve counted, with another on the way. Quarters are very trendy. Tourists love them. I’ve only found mention of one here in Derry.
I’m moving here soon and I tell you, I can’t wait.
Seamus Heaney, the Undertones, the Civil Rights Movement, the Siege of Derry, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Surrender of the U-boats, the emigration to America, John Hume the Battle of the Bogside, the boy who’s starring in Glee, the beauty of the Foyle, Derry City Top of the League, the North West coast and countryside... Derry’s got the lot!
And those are the bits I know.
Just don’t keep it under your hat.