Belfast Telegraph

For all of Norn Iron's wrong steps, we have come further down the road than we think

By Nuala McKeever

The latest news from the inter-party talks suggests that if a deal is done we will end up with nine new organisations or bodies, dealing with our issues here. At least three will be tasked with looking at flags/identity/parades/protests/events. And that's before we even start delving into the past.

On the surface it sounds rather like trying to get a solution by putting off finding a solution, pretty much the approach of all earlier agreements - get something down on paper, announce the success on the steps, do the photos, shake the hands, smile the smiles, spit out the soundbites and we can worry about the "detail" further down the road.

Sadly, inevitably, this being Norn Iron, down the road is not the best place to look for success. We're infamous for not getting "down the road" here. We are stopped, stalled, barricaded, ruled, herded, prevented, prohibited and proscribed from getting down the road.

So what'll be different this time round? More bodies, more talking arenas, forums, representative selections of cross community worthies to stretch out this l-o-o-n-g process. If the music were better, we could call this a dance. Advance, retire, advance, retire, cross-over, block, defend, riot, retire, retire, retire, talk, talk, talk, advance, retire, ad infinitum. Can't see Len Goodman giving our collective hoofing anywhere near a "se-VEN!"

It's more like a Craig Revel Horwood, "Dis-AHS-ter!"

But maybe this is always what we were going to need here. Perhaps it was always going to be a stop, start, stumble, shuffle forward, reel backwards, stagger towards normal. Whatever normal is.

It's no coincidence we've had 30-plus years of violence and now have the highest level of prescribed drug use in these islands and a collective inability to trust.

Just as the personal grieving process is an unwieldy, unpredictable, unco-operative beast, so the social, public journey towards a more life-enhancing approach to life, is one that won't be achieved quickly or easily. On the surface, people look like they're fine. But they can be functioning on the outside, while seething or crying or dying on the inside.

And just as a person grieving the loss of someone they love gets to the stage where they think they can't keep going on about it, so we, as commentators on society, often get impatient with ourselves and our fellow social beings and criticise them for taking so long to "get over it".

If we spoke to a hurt child the way we talk to ourselves and to "them", we'd be locked up for cruelty.

I believe everyone does the best they can with what they have at any given moment. If they could do better they would.

So as I'm joining in, or even starting, a conversation about how useless our politicians are, a small part of me blushes when it remembers that I am part of this body politic and we all have a lot to "get over".

I would always have said the Troubles didn't really affect me too much. But now I see that they had the effect of clamping a lid on us all. What was smothered was the ability to express oneself without fear. And that carries on.

We grieve for what we have lost. Sometimes that is other people, sometimes it's lost innocence and hope and optimism. Those, too, are important.

If I've been told one thing over this past year and a half, it's, "Be gentle with yourself." Maybe it's appropriate to stop and be gentle with ourselves as a whole. We have come a long way. We have a way to go. Let's be gentle with ourselves.

Why I'm out of tune with rock 'n' roll

Moments when you feel really old and no longer understand the way things work,  1) Paying in to see a band at a live music venue and hearing myself saying, "I'm a friend of the parents of the lead singer actually."

2) Said lead singer is pleased to see his parents and their friends, not scundered.

3) In post-performance chat, I overhear the drummer telling someone he's changed jobs and he's, "now in sales and marketing".

Made me want to smash a toilet, just for balance.

Lesson from ghost of Christmas past

Some tips for Christmas Day (from experience): Don't start drinking sherry before noon. If you DO drink sherry before noon, don't mingle with the bottle clutched in your hand.

If you DO clutch and drink the bottle almost entirely on your own, don't open the door to greet the in-laws. If you DO greet everyone half-cut, don't assume they'll want to kiss you back or sing All I Want For Christmas Is You in the front garden with a sherry bottle for a mic. And finally, if you DO feel a bit queasy, don't mistake yer auntie's handbag for the toilet bowl.

Happy Christmas!

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