On the way to the airport, we ran into some congestion on the E40 - not itself an unusual occurrence; but then galloping along the hard shoulder towards us came a horse, trailing blue restraints and followed discreetly by a police car. The traffic jam continued for another couple of km, and then we found its cause: a jack-knifed and battered horse-box, with another horse standing calmly beside the road. At least I was able to say that evening that wild horses (well, a wild horse) couldn't stop me coming to Belfast for the event.
I had booked into a B&B owned by a past teacher who was offering a discount rate for returnees like myself - I may well have been the only one who took advantage of the offer. But I arrived to find that mysterious "maintenance problems" meant my room was not available. (I noted the presence of a large wedding party in the bar, and drew my own conclusions.) However, they had rebooked me - at the discounted rate - into the Europa Hotel, which was at one point the only top-quality hotel in Belfast and also the most bombed hotel in Europe. It has competition now on the former point (and has long since been overtaken by the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo on the latter) but is still pretty luxurious, so I didn't complain too much. Much less handy for the reunion, but Belfast is a small city where taxis are inexpensive.
Today I tried a trawl through the bookshops of Belfast, but was very disappointed; lean pickings in Waterstone's and Forbidden Planet, and most of the second-hand shops have gone; every single one of the cluster of about half a dozen from Harry Hall's in Smithfield down to the arcade in North Street has closed. I walked over to the charity shops on Botanic Avenue, and then to Book Finders on University Road, but was a bit unimpressed by the range of books available. I'd have thought that the recession might encourage people to offload books onto the second hand market, but I guess the downturn in purchasers' available resources has a bigger impact.
Except in Book Finders, where I got more than I had bargained for. Sitting outside with a cup of tea, three new books, and a friend, we spotted two other customers running out of the shop - one had stolen the other's handbag. She had intercepted him just at the pedestrian crossing; I ran over to lend a firm grip to persuade the rather incompetent and demoralised thief to return to the shop while the owner called the police, and I then guarded the front door until they arrived (which they did pretty rapidly, coming from Donegall Pass). They duly arrested him for attempted theft, and took everyone else's names and addresses for future statements (though I will be surprised if they bother calling me in Belgium; my friend actually had a better view of what happened than I did). We had a good chat with the owners of both the shop and the handbag; not the first theft from there, alas, though the first time I can recall performing a citizen's arrest (if that is what I did).
Well, home tomorrow, hoping for a quieter journey (and praying that the Curse Of Heathrow will not afflict me this time).