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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
Balconies And Other Eccentricities
by David Brett
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There is a play by Jean Genet in which the clients of a brothel, acting out the private fantasies of Bishop, General, Police Chief, Hero and so forth are forced to play those roles for real, appearing on The Balcony to assure the people that, yes, there is still order and religion and nobility, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I propose, in full seriousness, that such an establishment be created in the City Hall, whereby our less adequate fellow citizens would be able to impersonate such figures as The Unknown Hunger Striker, The Protestant Boy, Bold Robert Emmett and Sir Edward Carson. To this end, an extensive balcony is to be built across the front of the Hall on which these figures will parade whenever we seem to be losing our identity.....
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It is worth while raising one's gaze above the level of the chewing gum. Belfast is full of notable points of vantage. I have never been to the top of the New Lodge towers, but they have the makings of mountain-tops. I come round the corner of Sandy Row and see the tall corner of Whitehall Square hung with cantilevered perches and I half expect to see them populated by eagles and storks and cranes - the flying kind of crane, not the Harland and Wolff variety. And speaking of Samson and Goliath ( which are now, I understand, Ancient Monuments), they have wonderful spindly walkways and vantages, up there in the mist. At a much lower level are the numerous and varied features now to be seen along the Lagan side which just about make it into the class of loggie. I have no doubt these were made out as `features' in the estate agent's catalogue, as selling points, indicating a superior step up in life. Because it is thought to be a feature of architecture, that it has balconies.
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This prejudice sprouts from a steadfast belief that if we build for the sunshine, the sunshine will follow; but it doesn't and it won't. In all this long fine summer past, how many people actually used their balconies? How many are used to hang out clothes? Nor for any of those other harmless pasttimes enjoyed by the balcony-dwellers of warmer climates - sleeping, taking breakfast, nude sunbathing, dope-smoking and getting hammered in the afternoon. And those of us with strong binoculars lose out accordingly.
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And still worse, we have none of those purely political balconies which figure so large in the iconographies of Church and State. How shall we ever admire our civic leaders if we cannot look up to them, to see a white silk glove raised in blessing, a ringed hand greeting. Nor are we ever able to judge which, amongst that line of waving predators, has the sharpest teeth of all - it's usually the one in the middle.
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So here's a further proposal. That the City Hall be furnished with mechanical figures, like a medieval clock tower, so that at every hour those self-same figures - Hunger Striker, Carson, Bold Robert and the lot - would all emerge and pursue one another with mechanical threats and mechanical emotions, demonstrating mechanical politics, driven at the last by Death.
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