The ultimate guide to understanding 'the other side'... Part one: the Prods
Right. In the interests of better community relations in Northern Ireland, it's time to assist all those folk who are planning to spend this year making Herculean efforts to build bridges across the divide by devising a short but informative guide to "the other side".
Not something trite. We don't need any more wild stereotypes of the "eyes too close together" variety. No. We need a handbook based on sound scientific principles, close observation and tested in the laboratory of experience.
Next week, in honour of St Patrick, we will examine characteristics which clearly distinguish Catholics, known by "the other side" as "kethlix" or "kahhalicks".
But today, I give you the Sons and Daughters of William. Protestants, "praddesins", "prawds".
1. Protestants live in big houses with sagging tennis nets on spongy lawns beside dripping shrubbery.
2. Non-drinkers, they might enjoy a small sherry at Christmas if female, a single bottle of stout if working-class male; a small whiskey if middle-class.
3. They also like The People's Friend. The Weekly News. Woman's Realm. And the Sunday Post – Oor Wullie and the Broons.
4. If there is a bigot about, that person must be Protestant. And Protestants will always be reminded of this every time they listen to the news. Not to be confused with the Cultural Prawd who thinks it's progressive still to hate the Catholic Church venomously. No change there then.
5. Protestants believe in life after death. Rangers FC. They go "to church" on Sundays. When they've been, they've been "at church". Even when they haven't been. On that note, a Protestant minister can be most easily spotted in the dead centre of a mob of Catholic housewives at a parish cross-community function, being fed cake. Protestants say the Lord's Prayer, not the 'Our Father'. They also say it in full, not the shortened version preferred by Kethlix. The most vociferous critic of smaller Protestant denominations will not be kahhalick but a member of a slightly larger Protestant denomination.
6. A function which has a Babylonian spread of sandwiches with no crusts filled with bits of every known mammal; and of sweetmeats, known as traybakes, ranging from a Pavlova like a wedding headdress to so much shortbread you could pave a yard with it, will be a Protestant one.
7. Protestant children never see their father because he works so hard he's never home in daylight hours.
8. On the spud front, Protestants always eat "British Queens" rather than "Queens". Or Comber potatoes if there's nothing else, because there is something sinister and anti-Ulster about Kerr's Pinks.
9. Protestants fully understand the words "thole", "hain" and "spare".
10. Weirdly, though many Orangemen look forward to the Twelfth fortnight ... it is to spend it sporting a sombrero, not a sash, in sunny Spain. Protestants also have a bizarre interest in each other's granny. If they ask you what age your granny is, it's not a genealogical inquiry but a subtle attempt to find out the number of your Orange Lodge – or indeed if you belong to one.
11. Protestants like motorbikes, re-enactments, Fred Dibnah, steam trains and being self-made. They like "heritage" as opposed to "culture".
12. They are useless at the arts, don't like them, don't trust those who do and positively despise those who excel in them. At least, that is what they are always told.
13. Protestants deeply cherish hockey results on Saturdays. They display no symptoms of appreciating the irony of baying for "our wee country" in soccer and honking in favour of somewhere called "Ireland" in rugby.
14. Royalty – if someone can instantly tell you where in line to the throne Princess Beatrice is, they are of the dissenting tradition.
15. Protestants have a natural affinity with the popular culture of the American Deep South: country music, Gospel, CB radio, Dukes of Hazzard box sets. Gotta keep rollin' down that lonesome highway between Tandragee and Moira.
16. "Pass the HP sauce." Need I say more? A Prod will always pronounce this in an RP accent, rather than something sounding like an explosive clearing of the throat.
17. Calling their parents by their real names. If anyone says "So I told Jack" and Jack turns out to be his or her father, rest assured you're dealing with a Protestant.
18. Ice-cream. Protestants love nothing better than a big poke (stop that!). From Grahams of Dromore. Or Morellis in Portstewart. Or Cafollas in Lurgan. Or Fusco's in Belfast. They will drive miles in winter for an ice cream. Especially on a Sunday.
19. Protestants only say Londonderry when they are contradicting someone, ie: Kethlix saying Derry. "Er, where's that? Edenderry? Derrylin? Oh Londonderry! With you now."
20. If someone says they think Catholics "have more fun", they will be a Protestant.