HAPPY to report that the majority of people who joined in a recent debate on Chinese food in the north versus Chinese food in the South agreed with Squinter that the chow mein is better north of Newry and the chicken curry deteriorates when the further west you go from Derry.
It’s a debate that’s been had before, of course, but it’s a debate that keeps taking place because the truth is never found. Why on Earth should Chinese food be different in two parts of the same island? It’s not an Asian regional thing, because the difference exists whether you’re in a gaff that does Szechuan or one that specialises in Cantonese. It’s clearly down to Irish regional preferences, but what exactly those are will in all probability be constantly discussed, but never known. Reminds Squinter a wee bit of the number of times he’s asked people why it takes so long to bury a person in England. Countless words and multiple theories have been proferred on why that is, but Squinter remains as ignorant of the reason as on the first day he asked the question.
Not that the border divides Galway gastronomes and Enniskillen epicureans on Chinese food alone, of course. There’s the great Tandragee Tayto versus Free Stayto question. In Squinter’s experience, the crisp debate is carried on with rather a large helping of politics on the side. Is it a coincidence that, in Squinter’s experience, the vast majority of united Irelanders plump for the County Meath cheese ’n’ onion, while the County Armagh version gets a virtually unanimous thumbs-up from the Red Hands of Loyal Ulster? The statistics are too stark to be a coincidence, which begs the question, can your position on the national question actually affect your taste buds, or could it be that lots of people lying to themselves?
If Squinter’s being honest, he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to tell them apart in a blind tasting, although they do say in Portadown that if you look at the two Tayto bags the eyes on the southern Mr Tayto are much closer together – and it’s hard to argue with that.
Which brings us to chocolate. It’s often said that milk chocolate is creamier in the South than it is in the North, and as someone not noted for his sweet tooth, but who enjoys an occasional square or two of chocolate, Squinter confesses not to have a strong opinion on the matter. Which puts him in a small minority, because there are very few people who don’t have a firm opinion on the matter. Again, the suspicion is that political allegiance may play a crucial part.
So here’s the question... It’s a simple matter of fact that when nationalists from the north spend time in the south they come back laden with a food parcel in the boot containing family bags of Free Stayto and bar after bar of chocolate. But if Protestants go South do any do the same? Squinter rather doubts it. And are there any southerners who bring northern Tayto and chocolate back over the border after a visit? Again, Squinter has his reservations about that one as well.
That burning Protocol issue
UDF Brigade Staff meeting, Newtownards, Sunday, 1634hrs.
– Okay, folks, sorry for calling a meeting on the Sabbath. I know how much you all enjoy the Sunday Happy Hour at the Flag and Flute.
– What’s the craic?
– Today the deadline given by the DUP for action on the hated Protocol expires and we’ve decided that we’ve done enough talking and it’s time for action.
– Yeah, yih know, like, doing something instead of slabberin’ about it. Now, anybody any ideas?
A dog barks in the distance. Coughing.
– C’mon, lads, we need some radical thinking here.
– I thought that’s why you drive the Audi Q8.
– Don’t be clever with me, son, or you’ll be back on the Saturday City Hall protest before you know it.
– What about an attack on a border post?
– A what?
– An attack. Like have a go at something.
– No, the second bit.
– A border post?
– That’s where the customs Lundys check lorries coming from the mainland at Larne and Belfast.
– They check the lorries at Larne and Belfast?
– You do know what the Protocol is, don’t you? You called this meeting.
– Don’t be silly, of course I know what it is.
– Right, so why don’t we do a spray job on a border post?
– How far’s Larne?
– 40 miles, give or take.
– And Belfast?
– About 12.
– That means cars and all, doesn’t it?
– Unless you’re going to walk there.
– And rifles.
– Unless you’re going to spray paint.
– I think we need to do something more local.
– How about we blow up a government office in town?
– Such as?
– The dole office? The courthouse?
– Why those?
– Because all our lads are very familiar with both buildings.
– Hmmm. But where would we get the blowy gear? Quartermaster?
– When you say blowy gear, you mean…?
– Dynamite, nitro, Semtex. Who made you Quartermaster anyway?
– You did.
– Okay, fine. I take it we don’t have any of that stuff.
– We’ve a clatter of fireworks we haven’t sold yet.
– Go on…
– We could cobble something together with the gunpowder – a pipe bomb, maybe.
– How much damage would that do.
– It’d chip the steps, like.
– Nope, scrub that. We need to do something that’s really going to pull the world’s attention away from COP26.
– What’s that?
– A policing conference, I think. Not sure, really, but it’s a big deal.
– How about a show of strength?
– Now you’re talking. Be just like the old days. Quartermaster, what’s the weapons situation?
– Not great, tbh.
– By not great, you mean…
– Shite, actually.
– How shite?
– We’ve a Luger Davy’s granda brought back from the war and a Glock 17 some peeler left behind at the Flag and Flute.
– Well, that’s the show of strength cancelled.
– Any more suggestions?
More coughing. A poke van jingle is heard in the street outside.
– Can we hurry this up a bit, I’ve a bus to catch.
– Wait, what was that you said?
– Can we get a move on?
– No, the bus thing. Why don’t we hijack a bus?
Silence. Suppressed giggles.
– What’s so funny, lads?
– It’s hardly a spectacular, is it?
– Guaranteed to make Nolan, though.
– They’re hardly going to postpone BOP36 over it.
– COP26. And in the circumstances it’s what we used to call a measured and proportionate response.
– The biggest threat to the union in a century and throwin’ the driver and passengers off the number 28b is a measured and proportionate response?
– We’ll burn it too, like.
– Well why didn’t you say that?
– Now you’re talkin’.
– I’ve an idea. Why don’t we drive the bus to Stormont and burn it there?
– It’d be perfect. Think of the pictures.
– You know there’s a security barrier at the bottom of the hill, don’t you?
– And you know that at that security barrier are security men, right?
– We could quickly overpower and disable them.
– Mate, you got the melt knocked out of ye in the Flag and Flute over a ten-deal last week. No, we’ll burn one in the town. Right, two volunteers needed.
– I’ll do it.
– Me too.
– Good lads, so we’ll work out the route and the time later but for now we’re going to have to put together a short statement to make to the driver so people know what this is about.
– A statement on what?
– On global warming, you balloon! What do you think? A statement on the Protocol.
– You want us to read out a statement on the Protocol to a bus driver?
– Well, they’re hardly going to guess this was a strike against our enemies if we don’t tell them. So, right, let’s see now… (Rubs chin, puffs out cheeks.) “This is the first action in a planned series of responses to the Protocol…”
– ’Scuse me, “the hated Protocol”.
– Oh, yeah, “…the hated Protocol, and we warn the Eurofanatics who are intent on attacking Ulster…”
– Oi, “our beloved Ulster”.
– Right, “… intent on attacking our beloved Ulster that we will strike again and strike harder if the Protocol is not scrubbed.”
– “Dismantled forthwith”.
– Okay, “if the Protocol is not dismantled forthwith. No Surrender. We are the People. God Save the Queen.” That’s it.
– Can you write it down for us?
– Nope, nothing on paper, you know the drill. Tight security at all times. I’ll put in our group WhatsApp.
– Okay, that’s that. Now where will we do it?
– What about Abbot Road?
– Why there?
– Regular bus route, good sight lines, good escape routes. It’s perfect.
– Fair enough. And we’ll do it at oh-six-thirty hours.
– Jesus, we’ll have to get a move on, it’s a quarter to five now.
– No, you balloon, oh-six-thirty is half-six in the morning.
– We’re going to hijack a bus at the crack of dawn?
– Yep, it’ll dominate the daily news cycle. Nolan will be all over it. The phones will be going boogaloo.
– But we’ve a party tonight.
– Not a bother. Set your alarm, you’ll be back in ten minutes, you’ll hardly miss a line.
– Fair enough.
– Where’s the party, by the way?
– Abbot Drive.