Archive for September 12th, 2005

Dat’s Kyarr-Ick-A-Chewered Speech, So It Is

I had planned to write at length about my distaste for the written parody of Protestant/Unionist speech that seems rather commonplace these days, e.g.

‘we decent Praddisint folk remember the days when ornery ketholics would come out and watch us march.’

Not only does this contravene number 7 of literary giant Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing, it is snide and demeaning caricature.

Ironically, given that the writer is usually a Northern Irish nationalist, it invites the reader to imagine that the writer of the words speaks with a cut-glass English accent, perhaps in the style of Lord St. John of Fawsley.

So I was pleased to read this piece by Eamonn McCann, via the excellent Newshound, where he deals with, among other things, a prominent example of this sort of thing:

The scornful mimicry of a supposedly distinctive Protestant/Unionist accent may not be as bad-minded as Bernard Manning jeering at the speech-patterns of “Pakis.” The Andytown editor won’t have seen it like that. But the parallels are close enough to be concerning.

However, it put paid to the need for me to write at length about it.

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Anything You Can Do…

Call me a heartless bastard, but I found this excerpt from Liam Clarke blackly hilarious.

Last year Oksana Sukhanova, a Ukrainian girl with little English, came to work in a food-processing factory in Ballymoney. [believe it or not, it gets worse] After being made redundant, she slept rough for a few nights in a derelict building and was unlucky enough to be caught in a heavy frost. Both her legs got frostbite and were amputated, but, within a few months, she had astounded doctors by mastering the use of artificial limbs and simultaneously learning English. The can-do attitude that she and other migrants display, the determination to make something of their life in the north, puts the squabbling locals to shame.

I know that people buy the Sunday newspapers partly to replace the sermonising they used to get at church, but this sort of stuff is way beyond Rev Lovejoy territory.

I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for the girl in question, but, well, ‘astounding doctors by mastering the use of artificial limbs and simultaneously learning English’ seems grimly melodramatic. What was the alternative to her ‘can-do attitude’? It might be uncommon for Northern Ireland’s amputees to take up a foreign language in earnest when learning how to use artificial limbs, but you can imagine that some might if the rehabilitation programme were conducted in Russian.

Stoicism and resilience are certainly important individual characteristics, but reducing present matters Northern to the absence of homespun traits such as a ‘can-do attitude’ is a tad flippant. There is, as far as I know, no shortage of a ‘can-do attitude’ in Cork or Camden. (See what I did there?)

Nevertheless, I find myself agreeing instinctively with the following:

Nationalist communities make Orange marches that would pass in half an hour a reason to be miserable for days or weeks. Orange Order members find it unbearable if they are not allowed to march along the same stretch of road each year, regardless of the views of the locals.

whilst disagreeing with this:

The banal and obvious truth is that life and a country are largely what you make of them. In Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr Faustus, the hero, enjoying a life of ease after his pact with the devil, asks the demon Mephistopheles what hell will be like. He is told: “This is hell, nor am I out of it.” It was an attitude of mind, an inner discontent that kept him miserable while others were happy.

I think Northern Ireland’s type of hell, for its natives, is not so much Marlovian as Sartrean: hell as other people. Present political arrangements legitimise and seem to concretise the political identities of unionist and nationalist. It is on this basis that political power is conferred and contested. In terms of political aspiration, is not in unionist interest to have more nationalists, and it is not in nationalist interest to have more unionists.

Yet neither identity is absolute, or even independent of the other. If the whole of Northern Ireland was evacuated, and then destroyed by an alien attack, the identities of unionists and nationalists would be utterly useless. It is precisely because immigrants are unencumbered by either of these constricting identities that they are able to adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude, think the world is their oyster and that the sky is the limit.

Eh bien, continuons.


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