Jesus & Fig-Rolls


Is Jesus in your heart?  That’s what he asked me, while he held a sign that said ‘John 3.7.’   Busking religion, in city centre Belfast.

Belfast is a hot-spot for buskers.  Amped-up with the rest of the strummers and drummers are a particularly persistent group of buskers.  On the street armed to the teeth with leaflets and optimism, busking Jesus to anyone who’ll listen.

I only approached ‘John 3-7′ to inquire if he was with the GAA.  You always see it in Croke Park on TV, those big signs in the crowd at hurling finals saying ‘John 3-7.’  I often wondered what that meant.  I presumed there was no direct hurling reference in the Bible, no half-time advice for struggling corner-forwards.  So I thought it must be some passage that mentioned team spirit.  Or perhaps playing against the wind…

But the guy holding the sign told me it was just a way of getting Jesus into Croke Park.  He said they’ve been doing it since the early ’80s – born-again Christians from Belfast.  Why Jesus can’t go online and buy tickets like everyone else – or get them from his local GAA club – didn’t seem up for debate.  Not to mention he’s been getting into GAA matches without paying for the bones of 30 years.

Then ‘John 3-7′ started telling me about his own transformation.  The obligatory story of chronic addiction and wasted life all miraculously turned around.  By Jesus.  Overnight…

Then he asked me to pray with him.

That was the line in the sand.  I’ll happily listen to the sales pitch, the life-stories, and the spectacular road to redemption.  Which again, always seem to happen overnight, so in road terms, more a by-pass than an actual motorway.  But the minute they seek to involve me in their convictions – like trying to get me to pray with them on the street – that line in the sand is crossed.  And I think that’s fair enough, considering most people don’t even look at these Born-Again-Buskers twice.

Where as I give them a good run-out – a pre-season practice match.  They get a chance to exercise their miraculous patter on a potential convert.  I give them the whiff of excitement, the fleeting notion this might be their first – their very own personal convert.  In busker terms, like as if someone dropped a wad of fifties into your guitar case.  And then offered you a record deal.

But that’s the trouble with these religion buskers – it’s a very fine line.  Give them an inch, and suddenly they’ll be looking for you to bow down and repent upon your whole existence, on the strength of a five-minute sales pitch.  On the street, at lunchtime, on a Saturday.  They really need to learn some boundaries…

As I ran away from ‘John 3-7′ before he made me pray, only a hundred metres up the street I met the the next Born-Again-Busker.  This guy was something special.  This guy was carrying a massive metal crucifix over his shoulder.  With a little wheel on the end of the base, so it wouldn’t drag along the ground as he lugged it along.  Like those wheels you see on amputee dogs, when they’ve no back legs.

He told me he’s been traveling across the world with this cross for the last 35 years.  He had a leaflet with pictures of himself and his cross, everywhere from the Soviet Union to El Salvador.  Just him, and his cross.  And his wife.  She played the guitar.  But of course…

I asked him could I have a go on his cross.  At first he wasn’t too keen, but persistence convinced him.  So he got out from under it, and placed it down on upon my shoulder.  It was hollow and lightweight – for a crucifix.  I felt he was cheating a little bit, between the dog-wheel and the lightweight frame.  I told him I expected it to be heavier. He said it used to be heavier, but he had to change the design, now he was sixty.  It reminded me of the bit in Only Fools and Horses, where Trigger gets an award for using the same sweeping-brush for twenty years.  Then he reveals that same brush has had eight new handles and twelve new heads.  Disappointed by his laziness, I gave him back his hollow cross, took a leaflet, and walked on…

Then standing outside MacDonalds was a chap taking a radically different approach.  His sales pitch was focused on the evils of cigarette smoke and how to quit.  Using Jesus, and the Bible.  Whatever about GAA strategies, I’m pretty sure there isn’t much on smoking cessation in the Bible.  If there is, that book is a whole lot more comprehensive than I’d given it credit for.

I collected all the leaflets for later consumption, like the way you steal sachets of sugar from a cafe.   To enjoy at my leisure later on, and possibly choose which direction I’ll take.  No point rushing into these things.  But try telling that to a Born-Again Christian. Everything seems to happen overnight once Jesus gets involved.

The one thing all the Born-Again-Buskers had in common, was their rejection of the notion of the church, or any sort of organised religion.  They all said it was about your own personal relationship with Jesus – cutting out the middle-man.  Which in a world of organised religion, is probably why these outsiders operate out on the street, instead of inside prime real-estate surrounded by goblets and frocks.

I came away from my encounters with the Born-Again-Buskers thinking about Fig-Rolls. In many ways, what they’re offering is the keys to the cash n’carry.   By going directly to the source and cutting out the middle-men, you eliminate your exposure to grumpy supermarket cashiers, you won’t bump into anyone you don’t want to meet, and you won’t feel guilty about not giving money to that fella collecting for Ataxia outside the supermarket door.

However, like the man holding the ‘John 3-7′ sign – or the disappointingly lightweight cross – you risk looking a bit fucking mental, going all the way to the cash n’carry just for a packet of Fig-Rolls.

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The Iron Man

Thatcher with crop4 - Sunday Independent article - Official Trailer - Official Facebook Page

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Celebrity Love Island


Whacker was on the whiskey. Prone to paranoia when on the hard liquor, it could go either way. A north-cider from Cabra, he’d moved to The Island almost twenty years previous. Spoke fluent Irish with the natives, but still sounded like a skanger when he spoke The English. His main claim to fame was that he’d been on the nine o’clock news when he caught TB from a tourist. Lost half his bodyweight and was airlifted to Dublin. The whole island had to be quarantined.

But Whacker was better now, and back on The Rock. He’d a massive tattoo in Chinese on the side of his neck, which he claimed meant chicken balls. He said he got it done for a dare in Cavan. He’d another one of beads and a crucifix around the very top of his chest. He wasn’t happy with the shadow on that one, he said. Not that he’d be gawking at himself in the mirror, he was always quick to add. Only when he was shaving.

The pub television was always on in the background – as if the islanders were afraid they’d miss something happening on The Mainland. But nobody paid it much attention – far too busy telling each other stories at the bar. But every now and then something would catch a native’s eye, and this would prompt further speculation. An ad came on for a PrimeTime Investigates program about drugs in Ireland, and one of the natives asked the rest of them if they’d ever taken drugs.

–    I took one of them ecstasy tablets one time, a big fisherman in his forties volunteered.

–    What was it like?

–    Fuckin’ right yoke; I was shtill up drinkin’ pints at lunchtime the next day. Terrible hangover though!

–    Where were ya at that craic?

–     Prague. A load of us went over for the brother’s stag party. We went to this big rave where you had to wear all white to get in. I wore me boiler suit. This fella just hands me a tablet and I said arragh shir fuck it, and horsed it into me. Then there were these two midgets having sex in a cage.

–     Ah here now; are ya sure that wasn’t the ecstasy? says the barman

–     No, they were at it before I even took the tablet. It was part of the event, organised as a showpiece.

Hearing mention of dwarves and midgets, Whacker suddenly emerged from his wink-eyed stupor.

–      I had sex with a pygamy. Last summer. In the graveyard.  At twenty to one in the afternoon.

The whole bar doubled over clutching their guts, laughing in a way they don’t laugh on the Mainland. A dangerous style of laughter – you could cause an injury, burst your appendix – tear something. Not these tough islanders.  Once some sort of composure was restored, the questions start flying at Whacker.

–           Where did you find a pygamy?

–           She was over visiting the island with two friends.

–           Was she Irish?

–           No, from New Zealand.

–           Why did you bring her to the graveyard?

–     She wanted to see the graves. I was paranoid then that the whole island saw me. I felt like a paedophile, even though she was thirty-five. She was just so fucking small…

And with that solid contribution delivered, Whacker re-entered his seated-coma. His head swayed from to side and he began to drool as he pondered the ramifications of banging a leprechaun.  That’d be unpatriotic behaviour – pure anti-social – he concluded.  People have been kneecapped for less.   What would Gerry Adams do in that situation, was the question Whacker always asked himself.  You wouldn’t find him riding dwarves in the cemetery at lunchtime on a Monday. Certainly not. Nor Mary Lou McDonald. That was a bad lapse in judgement – a momentary slip – Whacker consoled himself. It won’t happen again Mr. Adams, I promise.

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Two Minute Mass

Two Minute Mass
a film by Nicky Larkin
starring Patrick Conway & Felicity Mckee
narrated by Gosse Terpstra & Marco Bianchini

Two Minute Mass is a schizophrenic love-letter to the city of Belfast.

On arriving in Belfast you became very aware of how psychologically fractured and polarised the issue of identity is in the city. To a large degree your identity is imposed upon you, based on pre-ordained factors – such as the lottery of your birth – and whether you were born Catholic or Protestant.

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The Belfies (full film)

The Belfies (Belfast Selfies)
The Belfast Selfies came about as a culmination of a number of ideas. The Belfies are an antidote to the instant ‘selfie’ way we capture portraits today. Our attention spans have become the casualties of the rapid-fire digital age we find ourselves positioned in, constantly surrounded by millions of ever-changing pixels wherever we go. Between popular culture and digital advertising, there appears to be no escape. The Belfast Selfie project also strives to present a new face of contemporary Belfast, different to the traditional, historically presented ideas of Belfast. Belfie subject’s names are not given, as even a name can identify and hence be troublesome in a city with such a fractured, sectarian past, such as Belfast. Each Belfie subject was chosen at random on the streets of Belfast city centre, and given only one simple direction – to look directly into the lens for a prolonged 30 second period.

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Just Another Touchy Paddy…


A few days ago in London I sat down in a low-end food and liquor merchants, part of a famous UK-wide chain. Surrounded by flashing fruit machines and alcoholic geriatrics, it’s truly a place souls go to die. But they do a fantastic Chicken Tikka, so swings and roundabouts I suppose.

The waitress came to take my order. I told her about the Tikka. Then she repeated my order back to me in a bad stab at an Irish accent.

It wasn’t even my flat midlands accent she tried to mimic. It was that awful patronising Hollywood-Paddy brogue – that Darby O’Gill beggorrah-bullshit. Think Julia Roberts in the Michael Collins biopic. Like a bad impression of a locked leprechaun.

The familiar tickle of the ginger-rage crept up along my spine towards my brain. I didn’t know what to do. So I stood up and stormed out, leaving the waitress stuck to her spot in shock. She’d clearly never angered a ginger before.

In her defence she tried to pacify me as I grabbed my jacket, but by then it was far too late. I’d gone past the point of no return – I knew I had to commit fully to my temper tantrum. It’s like having a seizure – you can’t just climb back up on the sofa and carry on chatting like nothing happened. People notice that sort of thing, it becomes a talking point. And I certainly didn’t want to watch those alcoholic geriatrics gossiping about the touchy heat-seeking Paddy in the corner.

I reached the door and kept storming up the street. But then as the initial blinding dose of ginger-fury began to evaporate, I started to doubt my explosion. Was it an over-reaction, I began to wonder? Was I being too touchy?

Then I passed a Chinese couple on the street, and I decided I was right. That waitress wouldn’t have done a bad Bruce Lee impression if they’d placed an order. That’d be racist – completely unacceptable in anyone’s book. That sort of stunt would get her fired, and her employers up in front of a judge, and rightly so.

But now after a few days reflection (and some serious over-thinking), I just feel confused. Even though the waitress’s little Paddy pantomime definitely wasn’t acceptable, as a contemporary nationality we’ve become over-sensitive to even the slightest hint of Paddy-Whackery. Perhaps this comes as a result of the rest of the world constantly telling us how fantastic we are, and telling us they wished they were Irish. 35 million Americans proudly proclaim their beloved hyphenated heritage, according to the 2010 US census.  That’s 11% of the total US population, and seven times our own population.  The biggest Paddy’s Day parade in the world doesn’t happen in Dublin, it happens 5,000 kilometres across the Atlantic, in Boston –  a city where 23% of the population claim Celtic heritage.

So is it any wonder our Irish egos have become overly massaged, to the point we’ll storm out of dodgy restaurants in a huff at even the smallest bit of slagging?!

But then as usual we completely contradict our own expectations.  Despite our sensitivities, ironically it’s us alone who are the single biggest producers of Paddy-Whackery.  We peddle homemade Paddy-Whackery on a massive scale, which we then flog all around the world. I recently read a theory that speculated the reason Mrs. Brown’s Boys has become such a phenomenal hit in the UK is because it’s a contemporary, socially acceptable way for the British to continue laughing at the backward Paddies.

While I don’t subscribe to that particularly touchy thesis, it’s an interesting idea never-the-less.  It’s alright to laugh at ourselves, but at what point do people stop laughing with us, and start laughing at us?  Or is the difference that important?  Either way, we only have ourselves to blame…

But I never bought into that brand of nationalistic paranoia many of my contemporaries subscribe to. It’s a telling symptom of collective low self-esteem at best, or collective schizophrenia at worst. It makes no sense to be paranoid when half  the world wishes they had Paddy passports. The idiots peddling locked leprechaun accents are few and far between. I was just unlucky.

Having that said – and having clearly over-thought the whole situation – I still couldn’t resist firing off a scaldy email to the management of that dodgy restaurant chain. Because no matter how much over-thinking I do on the issue, at heart I’m just another touchy Paddy. Prone to the ginger rage…

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Compo-Culture reduces us to a bunch of bone-picking vultures

Compo-Culture and the rise of the anti-hero….

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