Wednesday 2 September 2015

A Knight to Remember

Current Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Total Distance on Tandem (May 2012 - present): 23,087 km
Equipment Status: Tent wearing out, rear tyre falling apart, air mattress delaminating.
Good Fortune: Judy pooped on by bird (again). 

Sometimes the planets align themselves, or as Judy the Stoker says, "it's all pigs in space stuff. Who would believe it could happen?"

Van Morrison - or Sir Van since his recent knighthood - was playing in Cyprus Ave, Belfast, the street he immortalised in song, and the street just up the hill from where he lived as a child. It was his 70th birthday and this was a kind of homecoming. And there in a crowd of around 1,500 fans were the two of us.

70th birthday performance in his home patch, Cyprus Ave, Belfast.

Van has been the soundtrack to our lives together for well over 20 years. For a year leading up to our arrival in Ireland we checked his dates and venues, hoping that somehow we could be in the right place at the right time. But the vagaries of cycling make it almost impossible to guarantee our movements, and in the end we tossed the idea in the too hard pannier.

Until yesterday morning. A story in the Belfast Telegraph outlined preparations for two Mystic Of The East concerts by the man himself later in the day. Tickets all sold, said the story.

On stage, and my point and shoot camera is being pushed to its technical limits.

We took ourselves off to the Titanic Belfast experience and spent three hours enjoying this huge and relatively new attraction in the city - all you could ever want to know about the world's most famous ship.

By the time we stumbled out, the afternoon was getting on. It was well after 4 when we walked into the Tourist Office to pick up a booklet outlining the Van Morrison Trail in his old neighbourhood. For us, it was going to be the booby prize for not getting to the concert.

Judy outside 125 Hyndford St - the two-up two-down red brick terraced house where Van was born and lived in his early childhood. His father was an electrician who worked at the Harland and Wolff shipyard which decades earlier had built the Titanic.

"I'm traumatised," I told the man behind the counter. "All the way from New Zealand and we miss out on Van the Man."

"The number 4 bus leaves from over there," he said pointing. "And I heard a rumour there may be a few tickets left for the second performance. Give it a go."

We did, and that's how 20 minutes later we found ourselves negotiating with two separate people for two tickets.

The small bridge shown here is in a spot called the Hollow, which gets a mention in the song Brown Eyed Girl. 

Problem One: We did not have the £50 cash each wanted.
Problem Two: The nearest ATM machine was several hundred metres away. 

While Judy engaged in our life stories to entertain our two hawkers, I broke into a jog. At the Tesco, there was no ATM. A checkout operator said there was one further up the street at the Spar. I resumed jogging. The Spar. No ATM. Inside. Ask at the checkout. Yes there is. Go out the door, turn right. Try again. Yes, there it is. Hope it works. They must be wondering where I am. Money comes out. £20 notes. Blast. £50 to each person. Quick look in wallet. I have a £10 note. Hope Judy has another. 

Elmgrove Primary School where Van spent seven years.

Sprinting now. Stupid backpack bouncing up and down. Money rolled up in my hand. Don't drop it. Dodge cars across busy road. There they are. Oh, no. The man has gone. No, no, here he is trying to catch me up. He must have come looking for me. We pay them both. Shake hands. All smiles.

Relax. Walk down Cyprus Avenue. Buy coffee. Stand in crowd. 5.57 pm. Three minutes later he is on stage and playing.

Approaching the Hollow - the area is getting a tidy up and new planting, but it is hard to ignore the power pylon which gets a mention in a couple of Van's songs. 

A cycleway runs along the route of the old Belfast and County Down Railway - which is referenced in at least three songs, Evening Train, Cyprus Avenue and On Hyndford Street.

St Donard's Church where Van's parents were married on Christmas Day 1941.

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