Jim Deeds is a poet and a wanderer. On Saturday he will be leading a Wonderful Wander through the West of the City. To give you a taste here are some of his thoughts from this week on life, dogs and wandering. 

New Dogs Please!

I met a man this morning whilst walking my three dogs. He was walking his dog and as we spoke our four dogs sniffed each other and pattered about happily. We had a nice conversation and then we moved on.

As I was walking away I remembered that our meetings had not always gone so well in the past. Let me explain.

A few years ago, we both had different dogs. He had a Rottweiler and I had my big Great Dane, Madadh (pronounced Mah-doo, it’s an Irish word that means dog!). Now his Rottweiler was an angry, snappy dog. He didn’t like people or dogs to come near to him and his owner. When we would approach, the Rottweiler would rear up and bark loudly. His owner found it difficult to contain the anger of this big dog who was straining on the leash. If he had broken free, he’d have done real damage. 

For our part, Madadh was a very nervous dog- had been since a wee pup. He didn’t like to see the Rottweiler coming. He got nervous and barked and also strained on the leash. Given that he was 10 stone in weight I often found it difficult to contain him too. 

So, when we would meet on the road our conversation was usually a short one shouted from opposite sides of the street- a quick hello, but no real meeting.

Even though we were neighbours (he lived just round the corner from my house) and had both grown up in this neighbourhood, I have to admit that I began to dread seeing him coming. I even found myself resenting and avoiding him. He might have felt similar. 

But time marched on and, sadly, within a couple of weeks of each other both our dogs died. I remember the first real conversation I had with him was actually soon after the dogs had died. We spoke of the loss of our four legged friends and lamented their passing even with all of their problems.

Doggy people love dogs and, in time, we both got new dogs. I got Charley the pug cross and Mac the Dane. He got Nero, a black terrier. And of course, I still have Jenny the black Labrador cross. Our dogs now have no such issues as the previous two. The anger and nervous distrust of the past have died along with our dogs. What has taken their place? Well, the anger and fear have been replaced with a genuine curiosity about the others and an eagerness to meet up. They have been replaced with lightness and an ease of meeting. For the other owner and I the days of avoidance and resentment are gone. We can meet each other, say hello, discuss the goings on in the world and then move on ready to meet again. We live together in peace.

Anger, fear, distrust, resentment, avoidance. These old dogs live within our hearts at times. They live in our families and in our politics and communities. And where they live, they bring division, war and ending of relationships. 

Here in Northern Ireland we are facing into an election (again). We see the old dogs of fear and anger alive and well I think. Can we allow these old dogs to die? Can we let them go? Can we allow them to be replaced with curiosity, eagerness to meet and reconciliation?

Next Saturday, 4th Feb, as part of the 4 Corners Festival, I’ll be leading a ‘Wonderful Wander’ down the Falls Road and up the Shankill Road. Often times in the past people from these roads would not have met and would have avoided each other. There are stories of wounds all along these two roads. But there are stories of wonderful things as well. On the walk, we will be stopping off to meet some folks who will tell us of their wounded and wonderful lives. People like John Mallon and Glenn Bradley for example- two men with incredibly inspiring stories to tell. We’ll also hear from a woman called Nirmal- a Muslim woman living and studying in Belfast. With visits to Clonard Monastery and the Shankill Garden of Remembrance this is sure to be a fantastic opportunity to hear about those old dogs I wrote about above and to walk in a different way- no fear or anger, just eagerness to come together and a curiosity about each other’s wounded and wonderful lives.

New dogs please!

Interested in going to the Wonderful Wander? We meet at 2 pm on Saturday 4th Feb in the car park of Clonard Monastery, 1 Clonard Gardens, Belfast, BT13 2RL. The event is free and will involve walking at a gentle pace for 2-3 hours.