Monty and JD - such charming young men...
I’ve been lucky enough to live in many English speaking countries, yet the friendships I’ve forged while living in Ireland are matched only by those struck in the heat of my London youth.
Whether from Australia, America, my native England or adopted Ireland, all my friends are capable of slagging. They have to be. What’s the use of investing all that time and trust in someone if you can’t make them laugh by tearing them to pieces?
Nobody personifies the Irish art of slagging better than my excellent friend The Body. Hanging his humour on the Continental Divide between absurdity and wisdom, there's a dryness to his wit that’s akin to having emery paper dragged across your private bits. His slaggings hurt, make you think, then laugh self-deprecatingly and on the way they teach you something about yourself.
To slag is to attack with affection, and it only really works when reciprocated. In my experience, English and Irish people enjoy and rely on slagging more than any from other nations. At risk of churning the stomachs of the Shinner-inclined amongst you, I think it’s part of our collective culture.
Our differences are mostly the result of our histories, because the humans standing in Irish and English fields and cities are not so very different: aggressive; witty; warriors who have survived invasion, we need to know we can bluster and barrage our way through friendships, free from fear of offending.
Indeed, as an Englishman living in the West of Ireland, I’ve been the victim of fairly hysterical and frequently historical Irish slagging for over two decades now, and when it has been delivered well, I’ve enjoyed it.
Slagging without humour quickly becomes abuse, but thankfully most of the time, it makes me laugh, so I take it on the chin.
In return, apart from occasionally pointing out in this colyoom one or two minor Irish idiosyncrasies that upset or amuse me, I’ve enjoyed gentle slagging pleasure by referring to ‘Double Vision’ as ‘this colyoom’.
In October 1992 I was two months off the boat, writing in this noble rag about my efforts to make sense of my new home. Ireland was so incredibly similar to England, yet enigmatically and vitally different.
People were coming up to me in the street saying they had enjoyed my colyoom.
“Oh, you know. Your colyoom in the paper. Your ar-tickle.”
Aha! So in the same way that I’d heard the Irish describe a ‘fil-em’ they’d seen, they read a ‘colyoom’, not a column.
Around the same time, I was sat at the bar of my first proper ‘Local’ in Ireland, when the old fella sitting next to me asked what I did for a living. Weary of the way my fellow Englishmen tended to overreact to the word, I whispered
“I’m a writer.”
“Ah sure, isn't everyone in Ireland a scribbler?” spluttered himself. “Doesn't every gobshite have a feckin' novel stashed under the bed?”
‘Scribbler? What a brilliant word!’ I thought to myself, feeling comforted by the informality of his sniffy dismissal. ‘I’m going to love this country.’
Recently I scored a slagging that reaffirmed that feeling. Conor ‘Monty’ Montague and John Donnellan were opening Cuirt Festival’s ‘Far From Literature We Were Reared’ event with their usual double-act skit.
The gag was that John had been dropped from the evening’s line-up at the last minute, because there were so many performers there just wasn’t time for everyone. This premise allowed the lads to go through the cast list, slagging everyone as they went.
“Charlie Adley? Charlie feckin’ Adley?” pleaded John to Monty. “But he’s a Londoner! I’m Irish and you’re dropping me for an Englishman? A cockney geezer who drinks whiskey for breakfast!”
“Well, Double Vision is a very popular colyoom!”
“Double Vision. I’ll give him Double Vision. He only has double vision because he drinks whiskey for breakfast. Coming over here, shaggin’ our women - ”
“Oh, I think the women of Galway are fairly safe!” Monty interjected, to howls of laughter from everyone who knows anything of me.
As I laughed heartily at the way I was being mocked from the stage in front of a sell-out crowd at the Roisin Dubh, my heart was glowing. You don’t get taken to pieces with humour, slagged good and proper, unless you’re a part of things.
Later in the evening we briefly left the world of slagging, instead dipping our toes into the Sea of Vitriol. No harm was done.
John Donnellan had brought the house down with his piece, in which he suggested the Irish shouldn’t trust institutions of any kind. He embarrassed me by justifiably accusing scribblers of choosing to write about beauty over truth. Sometimes the sheer scope of institutionalised Irish corruption defeats my typing fingers. Then he told us all to spoil our electoral votes.
Later, while on stage to launch Seamus Ruttledge’s new album ‘Elementary Chaos’, an evidently irritated Páraic Breathnach described John’s proposal as ‘Dull’, but then went on to bemoan recent Irish encounters with the House Of Windsor.
All of a sudden I heard myself heckling:
“It’s called peace! Terrible, isn’t it!”
There are plenty of deserving nominees for the award of Best Slagging Delivered to this Scribbler by a Celt in a Starring Role, but the clear winner occurred over 20 years ago (apologies to loyal colyoomistas who have heard this one before!).
In a pub in Timoleague, Co. Cork I was demeaned with wit and perfect timing. Even though this slagging owes more to hatred than humour, it makes me laugh to this day.
As an Englishman travelling with his German girlfriend, we appeared an odd couple, receiving many raised eyebrows. Yet nothing came close to the barman’s brilliantly minimalist and wholly damning delivery.
As he lopped the tops off our creamy pints of Guinness, he looked over at us and calmly, quietly, slowly stated:
“So you are German ... and he is English ... hmmmm ... (long pause) ... well, I have no particular problem with Germans.”