I had breakfast with the Taoiseach or Irish prime Minister recently. The last time I had a full Irish with anyone political the bizarre thing was, I had Hillary Clinton sitting to my left and Donald trump on my right. Yeah I know that’s mad isn’t it.
Now with the Taoiseach, I am cheating a little. I was having breakfast with a colleague in a hotel in Sligo and when my friend got up to leave, I realised that the bold Enda Kenny was sitting at the table behind us. Only in Ireland. I am sure there was security somewhere, but while he wouldn’t be exactly my favourite politician, it was quite cool that this can still happen in such a casual manner in our lovely little country.
Hillary and Donald was a few years back and that was an entirely different story. I had been writing as it happens, about the culture of punishment that existed in Ireland when I was a nipper. You would get your ass handed to you for just saying ass when I was a kid. I hear five year olds using the F word with impunity these days. If I’d a cursed as a kid two things would’ve happened…no three… My Mother would have scalped me, then she’d have threatened that my father would scalp me worse when she told him after he got home (she generally didn’t tell him, to my understanding) and finally, I would have booked my one way ticket to hell and damnation via the God network. Now there was no escaping the scalping, but we all knew as kids that if you could just stay alive until your next confession, you had a chance of salvation. Confession meant forgiveness and wiping of the slate.
Spitting was pretty high up the need for forgiveness too for some reason. I never quite understood why my mother thought that needed more emphasises, than say murder. We never discussed murder in our house (if you don’t include “Jesus Mary and Holy St Joseph – I’ll murder you if you don’t hang your coat up.”) but spitting? It was a regular topic.
Turns out, according to my mam anyway, that it was the devil who made you spit. Seriously! He was there waiting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear – “Go on spit… you’ll love it.” The strange thing was, that all the big lads spit. It looked cool and we even had different types and names and competitions for God’s sake. How could it not be cool? Why was it so evil?
Golliers? Remember them? They were gross of course, phlegm filled spit balls that carried further than your average spit. We used to stand at the edge of the path and see who could spit across the road the furthest. I remember on one occasion, beating everyone by a country mile and in the glory of the moment I didn’t realise that I had been abandoned. One moment I was surrounded by six lads, the next…tumbleweed. The clout across the side of my ear brought me to my senses. Note to self…never enter a spitting competition unless your mother can’t see you from the front room window.
Everything fun seemed to carry as price. Spitting, cursing, pulling girls pigtails, peeing in the street…God you could do nothing! Disobedience, Stealing a handful of sugar from the press to put on your bread and eat under the stairs. Licking the cooking chocolate, sticking your fingers in the butter, playing ball in the house, lighting matches…I loved lighting matches…Chewing Gum!
Gum seriously! My ma would have a sevener if she caught me chewing gum. Apparently if you swallowed it, then it would stick to your heart and you would die! Chewing gum could actually kill you, imagine.
So all of these little things were punishable by your parents, teachers and other adults and you had to keep track of so many things that were not allowed. You had a chance of redemption through confession, but you couldn’t let anything happen to you until you got there or were lucky enough to have a priest at your side at your death bed so he could take your last confession. Of course there was always a chance there wouldn’t be priest handy and you’d go to hell.
That’s what I told Hillary and Donald. Hillary laughed and said “Everyone deserves a second chance, no matter what they have been ‘accused’ of and Donald looked at me with a terrified look on his face and said “Spitting! You can go to Gaol for spitting!”
I don’t know if those are exact quotes. It was a long time ago and now that I think about it and try to recall those faces, it might have been my neighbour’s slightly scary mother and the crazy old guy from across the street that I’m thinking of…but they sure sounded a lot like Don and Hill in my mind. Perhaps I saw one of them chewing gum or spitting. Hope not – they could go to hell if they’re not careful… or maybe it’s just me that’s losing it.
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