Monday, 23 July 2012

Are the English becoming more Irish?

“So what is it that you write about?”
“I write about my life as an Englishman living in the West of Ireland.”
“And why would the Irish enjoy reading the opinions of an Englishman?”
In her straw hat and Laura Ashley dress, she couldn’t look more perfectly English. I’m in Gerard's Cross, an affluent outer-London suburb, where large houses have remote-controlled entrance gates and oaks have great girth.
My uncle’s funeral finished a couple of hours ago and we’re now back at my aunt’s house, where the strong summer sun is baking the back garden terrace.
The hot afternoon air is heavy with sadness and nostalgia. Tea is drunk from bone china cups. There are strawberries and cream. Looking down the steep slope of the long green lawn to the other side of the valley, I watch horses lackadaisically munch lush pasture in the distance.
Whoops! While I’d lost myself in the utter Englishness of the scene, the lady was patiently awating an answer to her question.
“I’m not sure if they enjoy it, exactly, but I think it engages them.”
She smiles with a manner well-practiced by affluent society types, suggesting equal measures of boredom and fascination.
A little later I seek shade, sitting inside on the sofa, taking a breather from making smalltalk, giving myself a moment to appreciate the emotion of the occasion.
Just beyond the French Windows, around a shaded table on the terrace, sit a group of my late uncle’s friends. Most of them are over 80. All of them have lived through the war, worked hard and become financially successful. Even though I have diddly squat in common with these people, I completely understand why they think the way that they do, and smile as I listen to their banter.
“Oh, so you went to the air show did you? Were the Red Arrows there?”
“They were indeed, and most splendid they were! They had a Spitfire and a Hurricane too!”
“Should’ve had a Messerschmitt going down in flames!”
Much laughter.
“I don’t suppose that would have helped relations with our neighbours in the Eurozone.”
“Who cares!”
Much laughter and general loud guffawing.
My political views are a world away from theirs, yet I can’t help but respect them. They’ve come through times of hardship that make our present predicament look like the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Each of them has already regaled me with tales of visits to Ireland in times gone by, just as each retains an affection for the country that mirrors my own.
There’s a reason this colyoom is called Double Vision, and it has nothing to do with alcohol: having lived in other English-speaking countries, I fell in love with the one next door, where everything which looks familiar proves to be slightly yet intriguingly different. These days the political borders and cultural barriers between England and Ireland have become ill-defined in ways that never applied when I lived in Australia or the USA.
On my previous visit to London, my mother and I ate fish and chips as we sat together watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I was surprised when she said she liked Graham Norton, who replaced another Anglophile Irishman, Terry Wogan, as the BBC’s commentator on the show.
It wasn’t so long ago that she found him loud and irritating, but now his show is series-linked on her Sky+ box. At one point Norton says “We” referring to a score allocated to Englebert Humperdinck’s British entry, and I turn to my mum.
“Don’t think they’ll appreciate that pronoun in his native Cork.”
“Oh yes, I keep forgetting he’s Irish.”
Well done Graham. You’ve replaced Jonathan Ross in the hearts of the nation.
The next evening we watch Dara O’Briain hosting the BAFTAs. My mother is upset. As a fan of The Apprentice, she preferred Adrian Chiles as the host of its follow-up show, You’re Fired!, complaining to me regularly on the phone how
“That Irishman is so hard to understand. He mumbles, he talks so fast and he seems to think the show’s all about him.”
I sit and marvel at how blurry the lines between the country of my birth and my adopted home have become. Two potentially very patriotic English TV shows are now fronted by two Irishmen, while Dara is also actually nominated for a BAFTA.
Mind you, these days there’s a Bafta award for a category called ‘Reality and Constructed Factual’, so perchance the award has lost some of its cachet of old.
Have the Irish have become more English, or the English more Irish, or are we all simply homogenising into a lesser European beast?
If there comes a time when you can barely tell the difference between the two peoples, I’ll be out of a job. I need you to be different from me, because for every glaring gash of obvious difference between us there are the millions of subtly similar yet quintessentially Irish quirks that I love, which end up here on the pages of this noble rag.
As he’s wrapping up the BAFTA show, Dara refers to the fact that Graham Norton can’t attend tonight’s ceremony, as he’s still in Azerbaijan, where
“… poor Graham has spent the last 24 hours consoling Englebert Humperdinck. Ah well, that’s his cross to bear.”
Oh thank goodness and vive la différence!
Only an Irish TV presenter would ever use that expression.
On Thursday next, 26th July, your ‘umble scribbler has the honour of performing alongside Tuam’s very own and most excellent songwriter and wordsmith Seamus Ruttledge.
‘A Night For Celia’ is a fundraiser for the Galway Famine Ship Memorial and the Celia Griffin Children’s Park, taking place upstairs at the Roisin Dubh at 9.00 pm. I’ll be reading three short pieces, and then the musicians take over, led by Seamus and special guest Don Stiffe.
Hope to see you there!

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