Growing up in Belfast 2.
Humour amid the chaos.
If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Sometimes the only way to cope with the strain and stress of life is to occasionally see the funny side of a situation. It's what keeps us from going insane. Even in the darkest hours, it's very often humour that pulls us back from the brink of despair. No-one would try to deny the horror and sadness of the Ulster 'troubles', not attempt to belittle the tragedy nor the issues, but as a child growing up in Belfast, I was accutely aware of peoples ability to find humour in some very un-funny situations. I grew to believe that as long as that spark of humanity existed, there would always be hope for a better future.
There's a popular tale of the Englishman who, when required to travel to Belfast on business, was advised by a friend to be aware of the religious divide, with the advice "If it's Blue, it's Protestant and if it's Green, it's Catholic." The gentleman in question was a smoker, but during his visit, he quit the habit because on his first day, he went into a tobacconists and asked for a packet of Gallaghers, a popular brand of cigarette at the time. He broke into a cold sweat, however, when the tobacconist asked him, "Do you want Blues or Greens?"
I remember being called a "Salt 'n' Vinegar" by a catholic friend, and wondering what the hell he was talking about. "You're a Salt 'n' Vinegar." he told me, "And I'm a Cheese and Onion." It was quite some time later when he explained to me what he meant. "Golden Wonder Potato Crisps". The Salt and Vinegar packets were Blue, and the Cheese and Onion packets were Green. It amuses me still that in the innocent eyes of children, ones religious affiliation could be identified by ones choice of crisp flavour.
I remember lads telling me that you could always spot a Catholic because their eyes were too close together. Years later, a Cathoilc friend told me that he had been told the same thing about Protestants. It was all a lot of nonsense. I also remember asking my dad at a football match if one of the Linfield players was a Catholic. My dad looked completely bewildered. "What makes you think that?" he asked, and he let out a roar of laughter when I pointed out that the player in question kicked the ball with his left foot. I had some protestant friends who honestly believed that all left footers were Catholic, and worse than that, were evil. More nonsense.
There was a famous incident of Graffiti humour that sticks in my mind. "Ulster Says No!" was emblazoned across a wall in a 'loyalist' area, and some brave catholic wag, in the middle of the night, had the courage to enter the area and write below the slogan, "But the Man from Del Monte says YES.... and he should know, coz he's an Orangeman!"
Then again, there's the much reported tale of folk-lore about the young woman who was stopped by a gang of young thugs in the centre of Belfast and asked, "Are you a protestant or a catholic?" Not seeing any emblems to determine the religious affiliation of the youths, the young woman cunningly replied, "Actually, I'm a Jew." The juvenile thugs looked at each other in bewilderment, before the ring leader piped up, "Well.... are you a catholic jew or a protestant jew?"
As a teenager, sexual awareness became a feature in my life, and even in this arena, there were myths and legends abounding, concerning which 'denomination' you would be most likely to score with. The poem below will give you a clearer indication of the predicament faced by any young man who was determined to have his first sexual encounter.
Catholic School Girls?
Catholic Girls Are Easy!
“Catholic girls are easy!” all the big lads used to tell us.
“Before they reach sixteen, they’ve had at least a dozen fellas!”
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but here’s a fact I know,
There’s enough unmarried teenage mums who live on Sandy Row!
“Catholic girls are gaggin’ for it!” some lads used to say,
“Get one of them, and sure as God, you’ll get your end away!”
Well if it’s true, they’re just the same as the lassies from the Shankill,
Coz I’ve seen many a one at night with her knickers round her ankle!
“Catholic girls take chances!” more than once I’ve heard the saying.
“The Pope won’t let them use those rubber jonnies when they’re playing!”
Well my sister, and three cousins, must agree with papal tactics,
Coz they wouldn’t have two kids a piece, if they’de used prophylactics.
“Catholics girl are guilt free!” I was told at a drinking session.
“They can shag all night, then salve their souls by going to confession!”
So I don’t sleep with Catholic girls, and you’ll maybe think I’m silly,
But I don’t want some old parish priest knowing all about my willy!!