The Silly Season Has Started

A toddler screamed in her father’s arms, as the pounding drums of The Orange Order marked the start of  ‘The Silly Season’.   On Thursday evening they marched down the Lisburn Road, flanked by armed police, followed by PSNI Landrovers, and monitored from the sky by helicopters.   I used to think the Vintage Parade in Birr was fairly hectic, but all we need down there is a few bollards and a couple of stewards to keep it kosher.

And being a naive Freestater from that cosy Vintage-Week world of Midlands Ireland, when I moved up to Belfast a year ago, I made a definite point of not talking politics.  With anyone.  For starters, they don’t want to hear it – especially from some clueless Southerner.  It’d be patronising to pontificate on a situation I’d only ever seen on the Nine O’Clock News as a child.

But this self-preserving vow of silence becomes difficult to maintain once ‘The Silly Season’ comes around again and the whole city goes on lock-down.

Like most naive Southerners, I was under the impression the Orange Order marches only took place around the twelfth of July.  However, upon my arrival in Belfast last summer, I discovered they go on right up into September and, occasionally even beyond.  Every single weekend, in multiple locations across the city.

Some are genuine ‘Expressions of Culture’, and just involve a load of aul’ fellas in suits and sashes marching up a road banging drums and singing songs.  Others however, carry a far more threatening air, when it’s made very obvious their connection to paramilitary groups, with big letters painted across their drums, and their packs of drunk marauding supporters.

So all this week big mounds of timber pallets were being built a hundred-foot high, in multiple locations across the city – both in the city centre, and in Loyalist estates.  Perched on top of these massive mounds of pallets are tricolours and posters of Sinn Fein politicians, ready to be set ablaze on the night before the 12th. 

This highly charged atmosphere feels especially threatening when you’ve a southern accent. This is clearly much more than an ‘Expression of Culture’, as the Orange Order continually attempt to justify it as.  It’s a show of force.  And the vast majority of people – Catholic and Protestant, want absolutely nothing to do with it.  A sizable proportion of the locals leave the city for at least a week, and head for Donegal or Galway.  Shutters go down across the city as businesses close – some for the whole month of July.

As those marchers paraded past me on Thursday thumping their drums, what struck me was the age demographic.  While some of the marchers were staggering frailly towards their pensions, the majority were much younger than me.

Teenagers born post-Good Friday Agreement, decked out in sashes, aggressively thumping drums.  Totally unqualified for their hardline opinions – innocent young heads filled with romantic notions of a fight. Unfortunately, those same innocent young heads appear to have no room left in them to comprehend the brutal realities of that misplaced romanticism – those brutal realities us sheltered Southerners saw on the Nine O’Clock news for decades.

When I first arrived in Belfast a year ago, none of it made sense to me.  All this flag-business, this almost-sexual obsession with a piece of coloured cloth.  But Belfast has this way of making you acutely aware of who you are.  It’s a city obsessed with identity, and it’s frighteningly contagious.

Maybe it’s just this city confronts you with scenarios alien to the cosy Vintage Week world of Midlands Ireland.   Or anywhere else for that matter.

Your polished veneer of aloof detachment becomes quite difficult to preserve while watching a flag burn on-top of a pile of pallets.  In this city it’s impossible to be oblivious, so the key is not to get knocked over by that initial wobbling dart of identity.  It’s like meditation – allow the thoughts to enter your mind, but make sure the thoughs leave again fairly quickly  – preferably before you join a paramilitary organisation.  It’s important to keep yourself balanced.  Centred.

Grounded.  And over the course of my year here so far, Belfast has become my favourite place I’ve lived – and I’ve lived in so many cities I can’t remember them all.  It feels like home, more so than anywhere else I’ve been.  Belfast has a vibrancy that’s missing in Dublin, a definite friendliness, and an urgent sense of mischief.

But what I like about it most is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You won’t find too many perfectly-bearded eejits with retro headphones and Yugoslavian bicycles from the 80’s poncing about eating paninis up here!

It’s a city on the rise, a city in recovery.  But in order for this rapid rise to continue, and Belfast to become a true European city, the annual summer push for polarisation needs to be resisted at all costs.

And that means getting rid of ‘Displays of Culture’, such as burning flags (of any colour) on top of stacks of pallets.

Nicky Larkin, July 2015

Please help us fund our film ‘Pissing in Botttles’
http://fundit.ie/project/pissing-in-bottles

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Which Do You Prefer – Weddings or Funerals?

The wedding season approaches again, and my friends are busy getting married again.  Different friends than the ones who got married last summer; that’d be just weird.  Old friends, decades old.  School friends.  I’m really looking forward to seeing everybody again, it’s been six months – longer in some cases.

Weddings are usually seasonal.  People hold off for the weather I presume; I’ve never been involved in one myself.  Obituaries, on the other hand, are big business all year around.  I’ve had my fair share of them.  Hail, rain or snow…there’s never a bad time for a funeral.  And we fucking love them.

But try explaining this strange, unspoken preference for darkness to light to a non-Spud-Head friend.  You sound cruel.  Psychopathic even.  Sociopathic, at best.  But after five years living in Ireland, an Italian friend of mine said he still couldn’t understand our national obsession with obituaries.

It was beginning to bother him. At lunchtime in work, he’d watch his colleagues flick straight to the back pages – for a quick scan through the deaths. My Italian friend wondered why they were so eager to see who’d croaked it?  It made him paranoid.

But then my Italian confessed he’d never been to an Irish funeral. Immediately I understood his confusion.

An Irish funeral is like a U2 gig.  It’s a unique experience you can’t fully comprehend, until you’ve actually been to one. The sandwiches, the hip-flasks, the mumbling, the keening, the shitty weather, the tears, the bus back to Offaly…

Plus, like a U2 gig, funerals have advantages over weddings.

You don’t have to be invited. You don’t have to bring a present either.

However, our Paddy-preference for despair runs much deeper than superficialities such as free drink and endless wailing.  Funerals provide us with a sincere sense of ‘one-up-man-ship’ that’s simply unavailable at weddings.  Because there’s nothing we Bog-Merchants love more than seeing somebody ‘with ideas above their station’ getting a good land for themselves…

Whether it’s a sparkling new Beamer get a fresh scratch down the side, or some pony fancy-shirt wearing millionaire getting crucified for tax-evasion, there’s absolutely nothing we relish more than witnessing someone getting ‘taken down a peg or two.’  Or three, if possible.

And the more publicly, the better.  Obviously.  Similarly, we grin through gritted teeth at lottery winners, and we do our utmost to embarrass the groom on his wedding-day.

I don’t know whether this Irish love of begrudgery is unique to us, or whether there are other peoples who revel in this same darkness, people who also shunning the light in search of that special sort of divilment craic?  There must be.  Unfortunately, our neighbours to our immediate east have their ‘stiff-upper-lips’ wank – so you can’t really tell what they’re thinking.  Plotting our downfall, no doubt.  They’ve been too quiet for too long….

Our neighbours to the west definitely don’t share our cruel preference for pessimism.

When a Yank sees success, he gets all ambitious and speculates that someday he’ll be that guy.  We have a more pragmatic, realistic approach.  It’s really quite different. When an Irish person see similar success, we speculate that someday we’ll get that fucker.

And by going to his funeral, getting tanked on his liquor, insulting his relations, and scoffing all his corn-beef sandwiches, you kind of are getting the upper hand on that fucker.

Plus there’s no greater physical expression of ‘one-up-man-ship’ than standing over a coffin, leaning down at a corpse all caked in makeup, draped in rosary-beads, and decked out in his best suit.  As if he’s off to mass.  Which I suppose he technically is.

This more realistic/pessimistic style of ambition appears inbuilt into our national psyche, no matter how many cycles of boom and bust we endure. There was perhaps a brief moment of attempted change, when we were up to our guts in cash and cocaine around 2004.

We began buying self-help books on success – obviously all written by those optimistic fucking Yanks. We also started doing yoga around that same time too.
But then the model died, it all started to fall apart, and we quickly reverted to our old begrudging, gurning ways.  Stick to what you know, and all that….

Now we’re busy cutting deals with higher powers to ensure our existence.  Sitting in Rooms, listening for answers.

As for this wedding; I’m looking forward to it.   I’ve had my fill of funerals.  I don’t like surprises.  At least you get decent notice of a wedding.  And I’ve got the tickets…

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Smoking at My Granny’s Funeral

I first smoked at my granny’s funeral. I don’t think she would have approved.

Not that she was a Holy-Joe; my granny. Not at all. The woman liked the odd 60 fags-a-day herself. She used to pass around fags to her kids after dinner on Sundays back in the day. The weekly treat – but only if they’d had been good at mass.

I’m talking proper kids. Not teenagers. A load of children sitting ’round the kitchen table, smoking fags on Sunday afternoons. And then my granny had the nerve to get scaldy – ’cause her grandsons were smoking out in the garage. At her funeral. A bit hypocritical, if you ask me, considering her fag-peddling antics to children, fifty years previously!

Except I don’t think my granny was overly concerned about her grandson’s smoking out in the garage at her funeral. For a start she was dead, plus she was pragmatic. Laid out in the sitting room she was, under a big stitched picture of Jesus getting thick with some fellas at a temple.

It could’ve been Jesus, or maybe Moses. I never enquired, it was none of my business either way – Jesus or Moses. Both grand fellas by all accounts, either of them deserved to be stitched on a rug hanging on walls in ‘aul wan’s houses.

I’ve no problems there. But whoever it was – Jesus or Moses – he had a fierce scorpy temper on him. Judging by that big stitched picture hanging over my dead granny.

A load of beardy lads in red and beige dresses, getting thick with each other outside a fancy building. Losing the heads altogether they were. All stitched onto that big rug. Hanging on the wall of my dead granny’s house.

She wasn’t the last – my granny – there was one more straggler a year or two after, one more funeral, and then that was it. That whole generation of us dead.

No grandparents left. It’s a strange feeling. I can only imagine the day your last parent dies, and its just you, that whole generation of you is now also gone – and your generation are suddenly the oldest ones left.

But the problem with funerals I find, is there’s no ticketing system – no invites. It’s a fucking free for all, especially in country towns.

Also, it’s a well established fact that there’ll definitely be endless hard-liquor and ham-sandwiches available at all times throughout the wake at a country funeral. It’s like Turkish Airlines – free liquor all the way, but a woeful safety record so you can never be sure exactly what way things will turn out.

But the thing about Turkish airlines is their main clientèle are usually Muslim, so they don’t end up getting shafted by a bunch of booze-hungry Spud-Heads.

No such luck at my granny’s wake, we didn’t know any Muslims. Just half the town in your granny’s front room, all shaking hands with you and saying how sorry they are for your troubles – as if they’d something to do with the death themselves – the big guilty half-jarred heads on them.

Even the nuns looked guilty. Frantically doing their holy mumbles. Muttering away, feeling beads. My granny wouldn’t have been into that craic at all. She wasn’t mental.

But she had no say in the matter. Once again, ticketing issues and a lack of invites can’t be ignored as a significant problem here. I feel this needs to be addressed at committee level, the next time rural funeral logistics are on the agenda.

Because once those pious-fucking nuns get the whiff of a funeral, the mumbling hordes come banging down doors, out on the hunt for misery and sandwiches.

They never said anything of significance at funerals, those nuns. Just muttered prayers and thousand yard stares. They wouldn’t even have enough craic in them to have a cup of tea.

Anyway, you wouldn’t be able to say the rosary properly if you were holding tea, you’d be fucked. Spilling it all over your frock with all that frantic blessing yourself like a Holy epileptic.

Eventually the muttering nuns get to a point where you’re all supposed to join in with the muttering. Everybody somehow knows the lyrics; it’s like a fucking Garth Brooks song.

You don’t really have a choice in the matter, you just somehow know those fucking lyrics, they’re implanted somewhere in the darker corners of your brain, waiting to jump out when needed. Bored (or beaten) into you by those Presentation Brothers, ready to recite at funerals.  And on New Years’s Eve in Donegal.

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Proper Gossip Syndrome

While indulging my wikipedia addiction, I came across an interesting syndrome. ‘Mean World Syndrome’ is a phenomena where violence on TV makes viewers believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is. But in the past few weeks we don’t need CSI to convince us it’s a mean world out there.

We’ve had a pilot fly a plane full of children into a mountain. We’ve had a college student acquitted of murder in Perugia. But scariest of all, we’ve had a harmless-looking architect found guilty of one of the grimmest crimes in recent Irish history.

Yet bad news is nothing new to us. Some would say we thrive on it. So why does our recent ration of despair seem darker than our usual dose?

We don’t bat an eyelid when a building blows up in Somalia, and we don’t seem overly worried about the slaughter in Syria. All those kidnapped children in Nigeria didn’t cause us much panic. But give us a south-side architect with a polo-neck and a blood-lust, and we’ll give him more column inches than 9-11.

The obvious answer is it’s a question of proximity, that we only care about things that happen in our own part of the world.  As scary as they are, Isis will never arrive in Athlone. But I don’t think geographical closeness to a crime has much to do with our reactions. We don’t seem too concerned about gangland hits in Drumcondra. So it must be another factor…

I think it’s more about the potential for gossip. So like Mean World Syndrome, there is an infinitely more Irish syndrome currently doing the rounds. It’s giving us The Fear, convincing us it’s a very mean world indeed. But this particular affliction has nothing to do with watching endless streams of CSI…

I’m going to call it Proper Gossip Syndrome.

Proper Gossip Syndrome is why we don’t worry about gangland hits in Drumcondra, despite their geographical proximity. Yes gangland murder makes for good reading, but like Isis and Love/Hate it’s not relevant to our own lives, unless we’re unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. And therefore while it grabs our attention – and dare I say entertains us – for a few minutes, it’s not something we fear will ever happen to us.

Because to properly gossip about something – the key component in acquiring The Fear – we have to have a little bit of understanding of the event we’re gossiping about.  We have to be able to relate, in some small way.  This is why the doomed flight, the student in Perugia, and the pudgy polo-necked architect provide us with Proper Gossip material, while gangland hits and fundamental Islamists don’t cause us much lasting concern.

Luckily that particular pilot’s name was Andreas and not Adhmed, so nobody has mentioned the dreaded word jihad in connection to his kamikaze antics. Because here in Ireland as soon as jihad is mentioned, we lose all potential for Proper Gossip. We don’t understand jihad, we can’t relate, it’s beyond our Spud-Head reach. But we all know people who ‘suffer with the nerves’. Maybe we suffer with the nerves ourselves.

Also, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that any of us could end up on a doomed flight someday. So we have all the angles covered on that particular dose of misery. Therefore it makes for some Proper Gossip, even though it didn’t happen in our jurisdiction.

Likewise, the Amanda Knox trial and subsequent acquittal on appeal captured our imaginations because we all know college students who’ve gone abroad. Perhaps we are college students who’ve gone abroad ourselves, or our kids are college students abroad. Knox’s own father didn’t want her going to Italy as he felt she was too naïve!

As for the pudgy little architect in his polo-neck? In terms of Proper Gossip, we’ll be a long time waiting to top that one. We’ve come to expect pre-meditated murder from our drug-lords and jihadists, but not from well-heeled architects in Foxrock.  And to see those smiling pictures of him posing with his model airplanes you’d think he wasn’t capable of a cross word… 

But the poster boy for the Celtic Tiger has pissed on our paninis, and now we don’t know who we can trust.  

The solution to Proper Gossip Syndrome?  Turn off the news, close the papers, and immerse yourself in an endless stream of CSI, in an attempt to contract a dose of Mean World Syndrome.  One of the main symptoms of Mean World Syndrome is sufferers take unnecessary precautions because of the illogical fears they’ve built up, due to all the gruesome fiction they’ve been watching.

And if you never leave the house, you’ve much less chance of being involved in a plane crash or meeting a blood-thirsty architect in a polo-neck…

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My Lost Generation of Gaeilgeoirs

According to the internet, Irish is my first official language. It’s also an official language of the EU. Yet apart from asking permission to go to the toilet and rattling off the Our Father, I can’t speak a word of it.

Recently I’ve noticed how cool Irish has become, and I’m jealous. It wasn’t cool in the 90’s when I was saying prayers in the toilet. Back then it was the preserve of medicated nuns, and that one reclusive family in every Midlands town. You know the type – always giving out about Protestants, no TV in the house, and a wonk-eyed father who insisted on his court cases being conducted ‘as Gaeilge.’

Naturally I wanted no part of it. The only remaining option for budding Gaeilgeoirs was to be exiled to Irish college for three weeks every summer. I wanted no part of that either. Even as a child I could see that was a strange arrangement – despite all the barely teenaged heroes returning to Offaly with tales of disco shifts.

But as a result, I can’t speak my native language. And unfortunately I’m not alone. Not many of my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs can speak Irish with anything approaching fluency. Not that we’d ever admit it – particularly now with that centenary looming large on the horizon.

Our misplaced patriotism seems all the more hypocritical since that Enda Kenny/Mick Wallace showdown was seen all over the globe.  Because of that disaster we haven’t a leg left to stand on when ticking boxes on census forms. Confusingly, they look a lot more like Mick Wallace out in the wilds of Connemara than they do Enda Kenny.

Yet even more mortifying than that showdown, we are the only nation in the whole EU where citizens get paid to speak their first official language. You can get 260 of those EU euros a year if your kids can demonstrate fluency.

How do I know that? Again, I asked the internet. That’s what my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs does. While I was asking said web, an ad popped up advertising Irish lessons. In the sales pitch they told me the Irish language is not dead. The ad said it’s alive in everyday usage – we just don’t realise.

Two examples the ad gave me were the words ‘craic’ and ‘smithereens.’

Fair enough. However in reality – as opposed to on the internet – only 3% of us use Irish as our main household language. That’s not great considering it’s ‘official EU language’ status.

And then to make things more tangled, we have all these different flavours of Irish. They don’t speak the same Irish in Donegal as they do on Inis Oirr. And the Irish on Inis Oirr doesn’t bare much resemblance to that list of Modh Coinniollach the deranged nun scared into us, back when we were 13.

Another thing that happened when I was 13 was the launch of TG4 – or as we called it – Tina Jee. Back then Tina Jee could only claim a 1.5% stake of the national television market. Not great either, for an official EU language we all claim to understand.

But since the sexy name change, TG4 has managed to double that figure to 3% of our TV market. Those reclusive families clearly got televisions on the sly while their father was ‘away’ for his stretch. Plus the Protestants have started learning Irish too.

But despite these miserable figures all is not lost.  The Irish language has re-emerged with it’s own urban patois, complete with brand new words for hip-hop and blogging. And nobody had to be exiled to the Gaeltacht for that to happen, despite the chances of disco-shifts.

I really like the fact that Irish has been snatched back from the hairy-knuckled clutches of frothing nuns and twisted dissidents. That was a seriously wrong turn in the history of our native tongue. All it did was render a whole generation apathetic towards a language we should be fluent in.

One thing niggles on my mind though. Am I less Irish, because I can’t speak Irish? I can’t do Irish dancing either, but that doesn’t bother me. And I’m not much of a hurler, despite the best efforts of the Presentation Brothers.

In my defence, I have seen U2 live four times. I remember when Packie was a goalkeeper and not a racist slur. And with my ginger hair and pasty spud-head skin I’m like a walking Bord Failte ad. So language or no language, my credentials are unquestionable.

But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about getting paid for speaking my first language. Oh that’ll be the day alright, because as far as scams go – that’s about as Irish as they come.

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Having ‘The Irish’

I don’t like trad music. To me it all sounds the same. They say Hell is full of accordion players – I know exactly what they mean.

So therefore it was a strange move for me to go to a trad school for a week. In Donegal, right beside Mount Errigal – the complete middle of nowhere.

I was only ever in Donegal once before. It has that endless desolate landscape – the sort of place that could be a Taliban stronghold, if only it the winters weren’t so rough.

As we drove through this bleak mountainous landscape, I could imagine seeing Ross Kemp jumping out of a jeep with a camera crew, out looking for insurgents in the hills. This certainly wasn’t my Midlands-style landscape with it’s reassuring flatness. The Taliban wouldn’t last five minutes in Offaly – we’d see them coming from miles away, and we’d be out with the hurls.

So why a week in Taliban trad territory? I wanted to see if I could be indoctrinated. Not by the Taliban – lurking around the back of Mount Errigal in their shawls, but by the trad music itself. Total immersion – like the way the Nazi’s used to make their prisoners learn German.

Because I believe you can indoctrinate yourself into liking any kind of music, if you give it enough time. It’s happened to me before, by mistake…

I once shot a load of hip-hop videos for a group of rappers in London. I never liked hip-hop before that. I’d never been exposed to it. But then in the hundreds of hours I spent absorbing those beats while editing those videos, I fell in love with the music. Now it’s all guns, drugs and bitches for me.

So could I also fall in love with that incessant fiddling, those brain-piercing high notes on the squeezebox, and that bloody banjo too….?

My main concern was that a week wouldn’t be enough time do a proper indoctrination. You need a significant amount of time to be properly brainwashed – any cult leader worth his Cool-Aid will tell you that.

But I needn’t have worried. I soon realised a lack of trad was not going to be a problem in this particular hostel.

Because trad players don’t get tired. They play all day, in sessions until five in the morning, and then they’ll be up fiddling away again around the breakfast table – three hours later.

At any stage of the day or night they’d be fluting and fiddling in the hallways, playing banjos in the lobby – basically knocking out the trad anywhere there were chairs available. The hostel kitchen proved particularly popular for all this fiddling and fluting – there were plenty of chairs in there. Not even the cutlery was safe – a pair of spoons was swiped by a young fella with the look in his eye of a man who’s going to show you how it’s done – whether you like it or not.

The next morning I walked into the kitchen to witness a Chinese woman speaking fluent Irish to her local Donegal husband. While waiting for the toast to pop, I enquired – in English – how she became so proficient in Irish. A language that’s unfortunately become both obscure and irrelevant – not just to Chinese people – but to fair few of us too.

She told me she’d moved to Donegal five years previously, and decided to learn the local lingo. She said she felt it was important, particularly as she was living in a Gaeltacht area.
I felt ashamed – I learned that same Irish for fourteen long years, and I can barely string a sentence together. That, coupled with the far more pressing and relevant fact that I am actually Irish – and not Chinese – further depressed me with my comparative lack of language.

I also felt like an eejit in the local shop, without a clue how to ask for the simplest of things in my supposed native tongue. I could ask your permission to go to the toilet, or I could rattle off the ‘Our Father’ fairly quickly for you. You can thank the Presentation Brothers for those two endlessly practical skills. But that’s about the extent of my Irish-language abilities today.

But a lot of the trad players could speak the Irish. I was interested in the correlation between being able to play the trad and speak the Irish. They should probably be the two qualifications for the passport, or if a Noah’s Ark situation ever arises again and we have to pick the best few Irish people to send on the boat. Trad players and Gaeilgeoirs, they’ll get the lifeboats first when the ship starts to sink – not the likes of me, a tradless fucker frantically reciting the ‘Our Father’ in the toilet.

In conversation with a woman from southside Dublin, I enquired as to whether she could speak the Irish too. She announced that she ‘had’ the Irish – as if she was some sort of chosen one – like Jesus or Stalin or the manager of Chelsea – but that she didn’t like to ‘use’ her Irish. She declared this with a dismissive wave of the hand that really wound me up. I’d just heard a woman from fucking Guangdong speak fluent Irish, and this D4 ‘Oirish’ eejit couldn’t be arsed?

I came away from the week in Donegal with a few questions for my parents. Despite the ginger hair, the foul mouth, and the fact I’ve seen U2 play live in Croke Park four times, I mustn’t actually be Irish at all. The place was full of trad-mad Italians, Swiss, Germans….and a Gaeilgeoir from Guangdong…..but I just couldn’t get into it.

I even learned a trad tune on the mandolin – my thinking being that if I actually became an active participant rather than a mere witness, I might get into it more. But that didn’t work either…

So I guess I’ll have to stick to the guns, drugs and bitches of hip-hop – rather than the flutes and the fiddling of the trad-scallions…

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12 Candahar Street, BT7 3AQ

When I was a child I was advised against ever trusting small men. I was told they’ve got aggression issues – because of their diminutive statures. Angry little terriers…

This advice came flooding back to me as my diminutive ex-landlord Malachy, and his landlady wife Geraldine refused to give myself and my Italian housemate our security deposits back – despite our respective bedrooms being left in absolute pristine condition.

The Italian said if we were Eastern Europeans, our ex-landlady would’ve given us our deposits back, no questions asked. He said we weren’t sufficiently scary. I agreed we weren’t scary at all.

I should’ve seen the red-flags from the word go. They wouldn’t offer us a contract when we first moved in, in a cunning move to exempt themselves from general basic privacy laws. They held spare keys to all our bedrooms, and were partial to a good poke around whenever the fancy took them, without the lawful 24 hours notice.

We felt completely invaded. Under siege. They’d be letting themselves in and out of our ex-home every single day with their spare keys without any prior notice – an absolute illegal invasion of our privacy. Then there were the constant sporadic demands for extra cash, coupled with threats of eviction if we didn’t cough up.

So last week, myself and The Italian decided enough was enough. We weren’t going to be bullied by a pair of short-arses anymore. We had paid our rent on time every single month for seven months. It was a house full of professionals, there were no parties, no students – it was quiet – we were the perfect tenants. But that didn’t hold any water with our vertically challenged land-barons…

Things got a bit heated – strong words were exchanged. Our ex-landlords even threatened to call the cops, as they felt we were being overly aggressive when looking for our money back. Which we weren’t – we were being assertive – there’s a difference. We just couldn’t accept the fact that we were being blatantly robbed in broad daylight.

Once the Peelers were mentioned, The Italian called their bluff. He took out his phone, handed it to our little ex-landlord, and told him to go ahead and call the cops. At this point the little ex-landlord panicked, as he knew there were two sides to his sordid story that the cops might be interested in hearing. So no Peelers were called….

It was standing in that kitchen being screamed at by a diminutive figure that the childhood advice came flooding back to me. Malachy the landlord was properly small – maybe 5 foot 5 – I can’t say for sure, I’ve never measured him. Geraldine the landlady was even smaller – I doubt she would’ve even been 5 foot. She struck me as the type of person who’d have difficulty getting on certain rides in amusement parks, where they have those boards as you’re queuing up, to measure kids to see if they’re tall enough to get on the roller-coaster.

Think about it for a second.  Think about all the shifty little players of contemporary global politics – Putin, Berlusconi, Sarkozy – all power-hungry, megalomaniac short-arses.

Then in recent history we had Ceaușescu – yet another short-arse dictator – 5 foot 6. He gave the Romanians an awful hard time until they had a revolution and shot him, back in 1989.

They’d taken enough shit from the little man, so they brought him outside, put him up against a wall, and shot him. It’s a pity things can’t always be that simple.

They shot the wife too, those Romanians, but she deserved it. That may sound a bit harsh, but she was way worse than him – always in his ear, telling him to have this fella or that fella clipped – she was running the show there. Wearing the blood-soaked trousers.

When the soldiers shot the pair of them, they fired ten times more rounds at the wife than they did at Ceaușescu himself. When a similar situation inevitably arises with our ex-landlord and his wife, I think myself and The Italian will definitely fire more at her than at him, like those Romanian soldiers did, back in ’89. But we’ll see when the time comes. Up against that wall…

Then further back you’ve got little Joe Stalin – 5 foot 4 – that’s beyond short. That’s even smaller than Malachy. Apart from the 50 million Soviets he murdered, Stalin the short-arse had several of his portrait painters shot – for not making him look tall enough.

Hitler was 5 foot 8. Not exactly a strapping fella either, and look what he did to all those Jews? Jesus, on the other hand, was a fine cut of a man – if we are to believe all those holy paintings and statues of him.

I would’ve liked to have been at that particular committee meeting in the back-room of the Vatican, the night they decided the guy from the Middle East was to look like a six-foot Scandinavian model, with flowing blonde hair and a six pack. And while that decision gave the Nuns a bit of much-needed eye-candy for those long lonely nights in the convent, it also displayed a chronic lack of long-range thinking – to a not-so-distant future where people could travel about the place a bit. With Ryanair and all that…

Ryanair don’t go to the Middle East. But I did. I was in Bethlehem. And I didn’t see any Scandinavians, apart from the ones that had jetted in for a bit of holiday war-tourism. But the lads in the Vatican can’t have known about all that Israel-Palestine stuff, at the committee meeting in that Vatican back-room, the night they gave geography the same two fingers they gave science – and decided that Jesus was to be a Viking in all future publications.

The list of tyrannical short-arses continues. Mussolini – 5 foot 6, Kim-Jong Ill – 5 foot 3, and shortest of all, former Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – 5 foot 2.

So I’ve moved into a new house, and I breathed a sigh of relief upon meeting my new land-baron. He’s of average height, which put me at ease straight away.

So the next time you’re in the market for a house share, consider your prospective landlords height. Unless of course you’re Eastern European.

But whatever you do, don’t go near 12 Candahar Street – or any property owned by Geraldine and Malachy – the thieving gypsy tyrants.

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