22 December 2005

Squinter: That was the year that was


Squinter was in a supermarket last week (over whose name we shall draw the usual veil of silence) and on his shopping list was a packet of hot dog baps (don’t ask).
Squinter only needed six, but all he could find was a packet of 12.
Reluctantly, he put the baps in his basket – the other six would in all likelihood never be eaten that day and probably never would, because, let’s face it, nobody’s going to freeze six hot dog baps.
Squinter’s not, that’s for sure, because the freezer section of his fridge is like a monkey puzzle. Getting anything new in there is the real-life equivalent of a game of Buckaroo! One wrong move and you’re covered in a light dusting of ice followed immediately by an avalanche of frozen peas, fish fingers and pizza. And while Squinter’s willing to stand in a cold garage for half an hour with his tongue poking out trying to manoeuvre some steak or chicken products in there, 40p’s worth of fluffy hot dog baps just isn’t worth the candle.
Squinter has a pathological hatred of wasting food and money for two reasons: 1) He’s a right-on modern guy who wants to save the planet and eradicate hunger and need, and 2) His da was a Prod. So, with a heavy heart, Squinter trudged towards the tills where worse was to come.
At the check-out the lady told Squinter that the baps were in a two-for-the-price-of-one offer and invited him to go back to the bread section and get another packet.
Squinter balked.
And when he told the woman that he didn’t want any more hot dog baps, she looked at him as if he had produced a Bowie knife.
“You can freeze them,” she suggested, obviously never thinking for a moment that a mere man could already have considered that possibility.
Squinter remained firm.
“You can give them to somebody else,” she said, almost pleading now.
But Squinter was having none of it and off he went. As he exited the automatic doors, he could feel her icy stare of disapproval drilling into his back.
Turned out too that it wasn’t just hot dog baps. If you’d bought ten sausages they’d have given you twenty; two litres of milk and they’d have given you four; 24 eggs instead of 12; six snowballs, not three.
How much of this gets chucked out doesn’t bear thinking about.
Whether that’s worse than deciding to have two snowballs with your tea, or eight sausages with your dinner is another question altogether.

The National Union of Journalists thinks it’s time that journalists were subjected to regulation in the same way that lawyers and accountants are.
As it stands, anybody at all can call themselves a journalist.
Squinter, who’s been covering community centres and Irish dancing festivals for close on 20 years for the right to put the word hack on his passport, had to laugh when watching the TV the other night to see one notorious internet blogger described in a caption as “commentator and journalist”.
(What’s a blogger? Well, anyone who keeps their own ‘web log’ is a blogger and what they do is make totally unsubstantiated and deeply libellous claims about people they don’t like and invite their friends to write in doing the same. And if the object of their ire is republicans, then they’ll be writing columns and doing TV interviews quicker than you can say ‘Log on!’)
Squinter’s old pal Phil Whyte, that distinguished veteran journalist who’s written for pretty well all the Irish papers over the years, and even some English ones when he hits paydirt, is enthusiastic about the prospect of a journalist watchdog. He writes...
About time too. Those of us who care about this profession, about ethics and truth and accuracy and professionalism, are thrilled that liars and charlatans may finally be on their way out of the inky trade.
I’ll never forget the day I got my first front page story in 1972. It was handed to me at the bar in the Europa Hotel by a very helpful bloke called Nigel in a green jumper with patches on the shoulders.
It was headlined ‘Bloody Sunday Dead Were Part of Crack Provo Ambush Team’. That was an early lesson for me: those Provos, they’d stop at nothing, and from then on I made it my business to expose their murderous ways.
Nigel, who I think was some kind of journalist fairy godmother-type chap, came up trumps again during a spot of heavy drinking involving him, myself and a few other journos in a very nice public house in Lisburn called Thiepval Barracks.
‘West Belfast Women Strip at Bedroom Windows to Set Squaddies Up for Snipers’ was quickly followed by ‘Static Electricity in Knickers May Kill Lady Firebombers’ and my name was mud, sorry, made.
These young reporters today, they don’t know they’re born, what with the interweb and pens and suchlike.
Back then we started work early – the bars opened at eleven and we’d stand there drinking and gossiping and waiting for Nigel to arrive.
Sometimes I’d throw up and pass out around teatime from sheer overwork and when I woke up there’d be Nigel, with his lovely black shiny boots up on the table, on the blower to my newsroom, phoning in my story, whatever it was.
Things have changed immensely over the years, but the basic principles remain the same. I’m a bit thinner on top, a bit thicker around the waist, a bit redder in the face and I’m a martyr to the gout. I can’t get around as much as I used to, so it’s lucky that Nigel and I both have mobile phones.
And the exclusives just keep coming.
I was particularly pleased with ‘Stormontgate: Hugo Duncan and Julian Simmons Named on Provo Death List’ and ‘Stabbing: Kitchen Devil Bread Knife Found in Republican’s Top Drawer’, or it might have been a top republican’s drawer. Anyway...

6pm: Guests will gather at the stained glass UDR window where some classic roadblock scenes will be re-enacted, including the ever-popular “Derry? Never heard of it”, “Seamus? What kind of name is that?”
6.30pm: The UDR Reverend ‘Roaring’ Hugh Hanna Memorial Band will play Land of Hope and Glory by Elgar and Simply the Best by Tina Turner
7pm: A volley of shots will be fired over the statue of Queen Victoria and 10,000 red, white and blue balloons will be released
7.30pm: Solemn dedication and handing over of the Union Flag and the Drumcree standard – ‘Here we stand we can do no other’
8pm: Pre-dinner drinks, Lambeg drum and sword-dancing display, Davy Crockett hats optional
8.30pm: Dinner
Loyal toast
Terrine of wild Aughrim salmon
Duck a l’Orange and the mash my father wore
Compote of winter
Londonberries in a royal blackberry coulis
10pm: Dancing to the big band sound of Wee Stewarty and the Part-Timers

Squinter was left alone on Saturday night while his missus went out flying her kite. Not that he was too upset. Live Spanish football, Match of the Day, cold beer in the fridge, Chinese takeaway leaflet on the telephone table – shweet.
Two of the terrors nodded off with minimum effort on their father’s part, but the middle one insisted on playing hairdressers, which Squinter didn’t object too strenuously to, as it merely involved him watching football while she stood behind him gently combing and crimping with a toy hairdressers set. Granted, this is not something that every father would agree to, but it kept her happy and – crucially – required zero physical effort.
Somewhere in the middle of this madness she took off her hairband and put it on Squinter’s head, which in retrospect, for a hunk of prime Irish manhood like Squinter was probably an indulgence too far.
It was pink and spangled with little silver stars, designed to tie back flowing tresses, not to sit atop a greying short-back-and-sides – but what the heck.
It wasn’t long after this that Mr Sandman won his third victory of the night and as Squinter pulled her Bratz duvet up to her chin and descended the wooden hill, it seemed at this time of night a little music was called for. And so he stretched out on the sofa, turned on the CD player and the hits started rolling.
Some time around 12.30am, the sound of a key in the door signalled the return of the wanderer and a number of high-spirited voices in the hall further signalled she’d brought some pals back for a nightcap. Squinter straightened himself up and imagined he cut a caring, modern figure as he listened to music while the children slept upstairs. For a second he wondered why the visitors were standing still at the living room door instead of advancing, and why there were muted giggles instead of greetings.
And then he remembered the hairband.
Squinter tried to explain, but struggled to be heard over the raucous laughter. So, he bade the company a sheepish goodnight and shuffled in sock soles towards the stairs.
As he lay awake, the muffled sounds of conversation drifted from below and every high-pitched laugh was like a dagger to his heart. What sad and sorry scenarios they were enacting over the wine Squinter could only miserably imagine as he fell into a fitful, troubled sleep.

Squinter loves the Balmoral Show, wouldn’t miss it. All those horses, bulls, sheep and tractors; the judges in bowler hats, the rosettes, the Barbour jackets, the boots, the jodhpurs.
Anyone who believes farmers when they say they have no money should go along to the show.
There are pieces of machinery there that would get you a detached house in Malone, and then there’s the Charles Hurst stand. You’d think that if farmers are to be believed, and that they really are getting it hard, then Belfast’s biggest car dealer would have a Ford Escort or a Vauxhall Astra on display, but no.
The two cars that took pride of place when Squinter visited last Thursday were a Jaguar XKR Convertible (about £52,000 on the road) and an Aston Martin DB9 Convertible (£20,000 more than the Jag). Now both of these are excellent cars with many fine qualities, but let’s face it, they’re not at their best rounding up sheep or carrying bales of hay.
Apart from their cars, what farmers clearly love best is chocolate. And ice cream. Every five yards, it seems, there’s a big caravan selling either chocolate in novelty shapes (culchies like boats and rabbits best, it seems) or pokes the size of a postbox.
They’re also fond of union jacks.
Despite the fact that there were many country folk there with fadas in their names and wearing GAA coats, the showjumping ring was surrounded by five union jacks.
As the bloke selling the cut-price bridles from the back of a box van might have put it... Not one union jack, no madam. Not two union jacks, sir, not here and not today. Not three union jacks, folks, I’m not here to insult your intelligence. Not four union jacks, but five! Five whopping great union jacks so big that they’d cover a field of winter barley on a frosty night.
Finally, Squinter must confess to feeling sorry for the salesmen and women, because it has become clear to him after his years at Balmoral that to ask a farmer to pay the ticket price for anything is a bit like insulting his granny, or his prize Holstein. “40p for a packet of crisps? Jeez, boy, if there’s a penny’s wortha spuds in that beg Ah’d be surprised, so Ah wud.”
So you can see how difficult that same farmer might be when it comes to buying a combine harvester, or even an Alfa Romeo. “Seventy two thousand pound? Kyatch yerself on, love. Luk, throw in a Ford Fiesta for the missus and tek kyer o’ thon tax and insurance for a year and we’ll start talkin’.” About the luck penny, needless to say.

Father’s Day isn’t what it was. Come to think of it, Father’s Day was never what it was.
To say that last Sunday was a disappointment would be seriously to underplay the sheer gut-wrenching sense of desolation that swept over Squinter as Sunday turned into Monday and daddy’s day of days was gone for another year.
It didn’t start well. A single card with a picture of a football on it accompanied by two pieces of toiletry clearly bought the night before in a 24-hour garage were a less than ringing endorsement of Squinter’s performance as head of the family over the past year, while the breakfast was not exactly the full Irish. The full Albanian, more like.
And then Squinter had to go to work, which was a bit of a bummer, there’s no point denying it. But because Squinter had arranged to meet some fellow-fathers in the Roddy’s at around 4.30m, there was still a chance that the day could bring its rewards.
Of course, 4.30 came and went and as the afternoon gave way to evening with no sign of the job being finished, the bitter sense of injustice tasted worse than the hamburger that had passed for Sunday dinner.
It was some time around 8.30pm that Squinter took his seat in the Roddy’s only to find that those Father’s Day revellers who hadn’t gone home were in that happy-smiley mood that only an afternoon in the pub can bring on and which is so totally objectionable to anyone who’s vaguely sober. Squinter made his way home after an hour or so, only to find the house empty. The family hadn’t moved out or anything, the truth was rather more prosaic: a bedtime story for the four-year-old had turned into a family sleep-in.
And so Squinter took his place in front of the TV with the Sunday papers and watched and read and dozed as the clock ticked disconsolately on the mantlepiece.

And as the minute hand finally moved to 12.01, Squinter felt as though something had changed forever and things would never be the same. Unless he dons a Batman suit and takes a banner on to the dome of City Hall.

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