I went to Belfast last night to pick up some friends at Central Station. For this reason, they were very fortunate to get home at all.
It’s a relatively new thing for me to have the confidence to drive through Belfast. The lanes confuse me and the traffic scares me, because everyone else knows what they’re doing and I’m the Effin’ Woman Driver dithering and swerving like a disorientated child playing blind man’s buff. However, thanks to Google Maps and their handy routefinder, I’m beginning to venture in now and again, trusting their step-by-step directions to get me to my destination.
Confidently I headed off along the M2. Continue on to the M3 said my Google Map print-out. I obeyed. It was easy. Take the A2 exit marked Belfast (E)/Newcastle said my Google Map print-out. MAJOR ROADWORKS AHEAD said the large luminous signs on the motorway. That’s OK, because I’m taking the next exit said I. A2 exit Belfast (E)/Newcastle CLOSED said the large luminous signs on the motorway. Oh, crap said I, as I sailed dismally past the exit I needed to take, all cordoned off and forbidden.
I drifted helplessly along the proverbial creek, having lost my paddle.
Before long, I found myself in the middle of Belfast, frightened and alone, with 20 minutes remaining before the train arrived at the station that might as well have been in a small village in Co. Wicklow, for all the hope I had of finding it. All my directions had depended on me coming off the motorway at that particular point. I realised with a sudden surge of impending doom that the only way I had even a hope of finding the station was by thinking rationally and employing a large measure of Common Sense. This was quite a depressing realisation, as these are not characteristics that are generally associated with me.
I decided to pray fervently instead. Dear Lord, I said in a wobbly, panicky voice, clutching the steering wheel like a drowning man clinging to a piece of wreckage, please get me to Central Station. I am very lost, and I don’t know where to go. If you don’t help me, I will get even more lost. Please don’t let me end up on the Falls or the Shankill. Amen. I opened my eyes. (Only kidding. I had, of course, kept my eyes open. Driving with your eyes shut is apparently quite dangerous, and should be avoided.) Just around the next corner, I saw a sign marked A2, and figured it would be a good place to start. I followed it. A few minutes later, I saw a sign marked Central Station. I whooped and cheered and grinned like a lunatic. Thank you, God! I announced gratefully. The sign had a large arrow on it. I like signs with arrows because they are absolutely impossible to misunderstand.
It’s fairly unsurprising, then, that I managed to misunderstand the sign, and found myself hurtling into a dark, eerie, flag-draped area of East Belfast, the kind with shady-looking characters standing on street corners, concealing guns underneath their jackets.
This was it. I was going to die.
To Be Continued