Ghosting. Day 1: Belfast

I'm in Belfast. Me and Emma Cummins are driving down to the Republic of Ireland tomorrow. We're going to be putting out an ebook with Influx Press about the "Ghost Estate" phenomenon in the south, so we're going to visit a few and do some research. Ghost Estates are unfinished, underoccupied housing estates that are the product of the housing boom and bust of the mid 2000s.

I'll be putting up notes and photos up here until Friday when we go back to London.


-I booked the wrong flight and so I have to buy a new ticket and queue up and no member of staff even gives me the slightest human reflection of how stupid/unfortunate I am for doing this. I want my idiocy to be recognised but it is not.

-There are lots of men and groups of men flying to Belfast. A lot of them are wearing chequered shirts.

-Every time you fly (or, actually, get in a car or use the underground or get on a train, but especially aeroplanes), you should die. Does that make sense? Like, every time you land you have cheated death and nature and god. All the more so now that flying is so degraded as a ritual. Imagine how humiliating it would be to die on an Easyjet flight? How déclassé.

-There is a giant man on this flight and I'm sitting about five rows behind him and he has to keep his legs out in the aisle because there isn't enough room. He has a huge, healthy bald patch on the back of his head and lots of hair around the bald patch. He is a man who could just pick you up with his two massive hands and hold you up in the air and look you in the eye and nod and then put you down again if you said hey I bet you couldn't pick me up. Not angry or proving a point, just showing you.

-Ryanair would be even more embarrassing. Dying in a plane crash, I mean.

-Because the ritual is important. Like the turbulence, for example, is important, and maybe is a ritual in itself. It's important to remember that you should be dead, by rights. Maybe the technology is the ritual. I remember a Lee Evans bit (Lee Evans being a popular, sweary stand up comedian of the 90s) about how planes stay in the air via everyone on the plane constantly going "FUCKING COME ON" in their heads as it's taking off. Like we all know that we shouldn't be up there. Even the pilot, in the Lee Evans bit, Lee Evans says, is going "FUCKING COME ON" up at the front of the plane.

-And I always had a joke about train drivers being given steering wheels so they can pretend they are doing more than pressing a button. The technology drives us. The ritual is given over to objects we design but can't comprehend.

-Tool being. Something about tool being. Heidegger. Hammers are only present when they break. Planes are only present when they crash. Houses are only present when no one lives in them.

-Chequered shirts and loafers. Also, lots of copies of the Daily Telegraph with bottles of water that you get free if you buy the Telegraph.

-As I get up to get my bag I overhear a woman across from me talking to some strangers about the book deal she has just signed for her story of childhood abuse by nuns. "We were being punished for our parents' sins." "Our parents were drug addicts and drunks, they beat the devil out of us" "I don't care what they call it, as long as they get the words right." "Oh yes it's a big deal now, not just Ireland. Even Germany, now." "No, never again. I've done my time."


-In the car to Emma's Mum's house: British flags on lamp posts, horses in a field standing stock still like sculptures of horses, Maze prison now used for agricultural shows, motorbike shows, etc., apparently they're turning it into a Peace Centre. Ukip are up in arms - "shrine" to the hunger strikers, etc.


-I didn't realise but Emma tells me that unfinished housing estates are a problem in Northern Ireland as well as the R.O.I. We drive over to Wood Brook, "NORTHERN IRELAND'S FIRST ECO VILLAGE" which is right next to another unfinished housing estate called Hedgeleigh.

-People have barbecues, say hello, watch us as we walk past their gardens. It is unfinished but not unpopulated. I work out from the maps and from the road names that Phase One of the estate is unfinished, and the construction of Phase Two has not yet been started.

-A lot of promotional material on the two unleased Retail Sites. The promotional material runs up until 2009 ("Best New Development Regional Award 2009") and then stops.

-(When we get back to Emma's I type the website address into google and the domain name has expired.)

-Grass on the shared spaces is mowed, right up to the fences where the construction has halted. The construction sites are beautiful. A new pastoral. Huge mounds of earth with lush vegetation and birdsong. Pools of (probably stagnant) water, very deep colours in the water.

-We walk towards a stream running under a bridge, out through a broken fence onto a pile of moved earth. The mound has been shaped, ready to be seeded with grass (presumably), but for now is just wet mud with dried mud on top. The thick shell of a good meringue, chewy beneath.

-There are hundreds of mosquitoes flying through a patch of light above the stream. Thousands. It's hard to guess. An inhuman number of animals flying around in that light.

-We look at the hoarding at the front of the estate. Those people - the ones photoshopped into the designer's 3D landscapes - they aren't from some big sanctioned book of people-to-be-photoshopped-into-3D-landscapes. They're just cut out from other photos of public spaces and sold on to designers by some enterprising company. Imagine wandering up to one of those hoardings and seeing your own unaware face staring off into the middle distance. Caught walking with your kids, or cycling, or fulfilling some other useful moment for the designer's needs. Imagine coming across yourself depicted in an imagined lifestyle space. I wonder what the incidence rate is for that?

-A large wooden fence cuts across the road that would lead you from Wood Brook from Hedgeleigh. The wooden fence is a very nicely made thing. Beautifully constructed and finished.

-There is the sound of a football hitting a metal fence.

-In the construction site behind a metal fence: Moved earth hills, covered in meadow grass.

-Metal fence manufacturers must be doing well in the current economic climate.

-Dry. The sites are dried out. It is sunny and warm. There is dirt and dust, rather than mud and puddles.

-The construction sites are clearly separated from the finished houses with fencing, but the rest of the unfinished-ness is less obvious. The estates just sort of peter out. You suddenly find yourself on untarmacked  road, or walking on rock chippings. Driveways to finished houses have been tarmacked, but the pavement stones haven't been laid. There are occasional piles of material. Sometimes large chunks of breeze block are just there, at your feet.

-The layered textures of an unfinished porch: aluminium sheets, bricks, wooden frames, breeze blocks, concrete, a red primed steel girder.

-There is flapping material. A lot of shimmering movement at the edge of your eye. Ambient sound and other sounds puncturing that sound. Less still than I was expecting. Non-human life.

-There are ladders and wooden planks and scaffolding on the half-built houses. Things that are waiting for people to come back and use them. Things people only leave if they plan to return. It is hard to know at what stage of abandonment you are looking at. Someone must know, but they haven't passed on the message.




Building Communities in Wood Brook

Shared Biomass energy system in Wood Brook

Badger Culvert and Wet Meadow Area sign in Wood Brook

Public sculpture in Wood Brook

Shrouded water pipes in Phase Two of Wood Brook

The unfinished homes at the edge of Hedgeleigh

Stream by Wood Brook

Wooden fence between Wood Brook and Hedgeleigh

Mobility ramp up a dirt bank in Hedgeleigh. Strewn Recycling bins.

British flag on lamp post at the edge of Hedgeleigh.