Farewell to Belfast

Next month, almost 13 years to the day that my parents moved their lives across the Irish Sea, they will return to the island of their birth. For the first time since I was 22, I will live on the same land mass as my parents.

It’s been quite a decade-and-a-bit. When they left, I was wrapping up my History MA in London and my sister was finishing her 2nd year of uni. Now, she’s been married nearly a decade; and I’ve completed another two degrees and got ordained along the way. While they were away, we both became something akin to “proper adults”.

Dad’s face ready to adorn the college wall. 

This past weekend was their leaving do at the college where Dad has been principal. Mim and I went along, both because we were invited, and because we wanted an opportunity to say a decent goodbye to a city that wasn’t our home but did feel almost like one.

As something of a surprise to my parents, Mim was asked to sing grace and I was asked to make a speech. We conferred, and decided that our mission was to embody the episode of Friends where Monica desperately tries to make her parents cry during a toast at their wedding anniversary; while Ross barely needs to try for it to happen. [We are cruel, cruel daughters who know their mother very well!] With her reference to our 1991 sojourn in Massachusetts in choosing grace, Mim scored immediately. Evidence [make up stained serviettes] would suggest I was similarly successful!

I think my words to the community of Edgehill & beyond are worth sharing here, because I meant them and they say a lot about what Belfast became for us as a family. [This isn’t exactly what I said, as I didn’t use my notes, but this is what I *meant* to say…]

“Thirteen years ago, we weren’t really sure what our parents were letting themselves in for. For the first time in our family’s life, we weren’t going to be coming with them on this move and we weren’t sure what ‘family’ would look like for them here. But what Mim and I would like to thank you all for is the way in which you have been family to our parents during their time here. In fact, not just them, but us too. Every time we’ve visited, we’ve been touched by the way in which we’ve been welcomed by people that we see barely once a year!

Nothing demonstrates the “family” more than the way in which people responded to Dad’s accident last week. [There was a cyclist V cyclist incident that left him with a few broken fingers…] That the President drove him to hospital despite it being Conference. That Brendan sat with him for hour after hour waiting for his op. That meals were provided while Mum was away this week. We need never have worried!

And Belfast has become a family home to us too. Despite never having lived here, we have our favourite places to have tea; eat breakfast; drink cocktails; and walks on the beach. I’ve worked on essays in the deserted college library during Christmas holidays, waiting for a signal from the dining room window to say that food is ready.

I was reflecting two weeks ago that one of the best things our family’s time at Edgehill has given me is obscure knowledge about Northern Irish politics – which suddenly became very useful in the aftermath of the general election! While other English people were being berated for suddenly acting like experts on this part of the world, we could claim a vested interest in the topic for over a decade!

So thank you. Thank you for being ‘home’ for thirteen years – the longest this family has been based in my parent’s entire marriage!

To conclude, I felt it only appropriate to include a quote from one of Dad’s favourite theologians: Karl Barth. (In fact, when I was at college, I made a point of including a Barth quote in every assignment – it became a fun challenge. I am my father’s daughter!) “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” [Church Dogmatics III]

There is much joy in this place, and for that we are truly thankful.”

Final Belfast meal at The Dock Café in the Titanic Quarter. An excellent place to say goodbye!

On Monday, as we prepared to head to the airport for the final time, our parents asked us what our favourite Belfast memories would be. I’m not sure that we really did justice to their question – partly because we’d had a running joke that our favourite things about Belfast were all food related – but also because there’s an awful lot to consider given 13 years of a relationship with a place. But I’ve had a think, so Mum & Dad, here’s my answer:

  • Food. We joked, but honestly, the land of tray-bakes, the Ulster Fry, wheaten bread, potato farls, pancakes… I could go on. We walked around the AMAZING St George’s Market on Saturday morning practically drooling over all sorts of goodies. I now need to learn how to make Fifteens and Mint Aero bars. And wheaten. And where to find buttermilk locally.

  • The beach. When have we ever lived 20mins from the beach?? Crawfordsburn was a favourite (with the bonus of spring bluebells too), but the walk at Holywood filled a need over the weekend.

  • The culture. Northern Ireland is a very different place to England – not least because of the impact of the Troubles. Understanding a bit more of that culture is one long-term result, and I strongly recommend that you visit Belfast and NI if you haven’t been before, if only to try and get a handle on just how different it is and why we need to *not* ignore it.
  • The people. See above! It was always fun hanging out at the college (not least because of the scones that used to be found at morning tea), but it was also lovely to feel a part – albeit a very distant part – of Belfast Central Mission, to which our parents belonged.

Farewell Belfast. You will be missed, and I may be back. Thanks for everything!

So long, farewell…

Today marked the end of an era.
At 1pm I walked out of the building that’s been my workplace for four and a half years. It was a strange feeling, made all the stranger because although I’ve worked there since January 2007, I’d worked there as a temp in 2005, been a volunteer in and out of the building throughout my student years and had been a regular visitor between the ages of 11 and 15.

In fact, my association with the building began back in 1982 when I was just a small baby. As my mother was once moved to inform during a meeting we both attended last year, she’d changed my nappy in the room in which we were gathered. (There are times and places for such anecdotes – that was not one of them.)

Because my world is small and bizarre, it should be unsurprising that I ended up working in a building that my mother had worked in for 6 years; the building from which my father was sent as a mission partner 30+ years ago. Because my world is surreal, it made perfect sense that my desk for the last 3 years was just metres (literally around 2) away from the spot at which my mother’s desk had stood.

Today, I left Methodist Church House.

It feels right to have gone and on the whole it’s been a positive experience. There have been ups and downs. Sometimes it’s been massively frustrating, sometimes it’s been fantastic – especially on the odd occasion that I’ve got to travel to interesting places.

I’ve been blessed with some utterly fabulous colleagues. In fact, so far my working life has always involved one person I’ve had to work with closely who has also happened to be someone with whom I’ve got on famously. When I started at MCH I was worried I wouldn’t find someone I got on as well with as my CMS companion; but found Abidemi who was a valuable ally and is still an excellent friend. When she left I was convinced I’d be stuck with someone awful, and Andy arrived. He wasn’t so awful, in fact, it’s kind of thanks to him that I got to spend last week in France. When he disappeared I was positive that the void would be filled by an utter nightmare of a colleague, but I was wrong again – C turned out to be an almost perfect partner in crime. Work is never so bad when it involves spending time with friends.

Generally, I don’t blog about work, but there have been some entertaining stories along the way – like the discovery of what the mysterious Railway Club Room contained; the ridiculous lengths I end up going to thanks to my big mouth and my colleagues’ non-appreciation of sarcasm; the vagaries of the kitchen rota; the trauma of moving floors; and the bonuses of being able to watch the Madame Tussauds’ queue from the office window.

It’s been good, but new challenges are ahead. Next week, I get to move house. Whoop!
It’s a time of great joy for someone whose recurring anxiety dream involves packing…