For the average Northern Irish expat, or perhaps that should be ex-William, (you know all that Derry / Londonderry stuff), there are some things that no amount of sunshine, freedoms, right to arm bears, surfing, skiing, wearing thongs, eating poutine, swanning in Greenwich Village, doing Hakas or cuddling Koalas will ever replace.
These are the eight essentials we have been denied, albeit voluntarily, through our choice of abode. And before you all cry foul, no, I don’t expect sympathy. Although if you can manage to mail a box of No.4 past Aussie customs, I’ll be very grateful.
1. Fadge – Yes, I realise you can make it yourself, I understand that. I’ve even done it myself, with not bad results, but it isn’t Ormo is it? It just doesn’t taste the same and you can’t just run in to the wee shop on the way home and pick some up.
2. Walking down the street and knowing, just from the look of them, who the person coming towards you is.
“Here comes one of them *insert appropriate family name* boys. Rough lot them, so they are. You want to steer clear.”
“Uch, look at that poor wee wean. She must be a ******** for she has her Da’s big nose, so she does.”
You might live away long enough to know friends and neighbours, but you’ll never live away long enough to know their family history on sight.
4. As we are on breads again, (you’ll find it’s a recurring theme) I have but one word for you… VEDA. Thickly sliced, toasted under a grill because the thickness of the slice won’t fit in a pop-up and slathered in butter. None of your low-cholesterol, medium plastic, maybe margarine, washed-out-colour spreads here. Nope. It has to be butter and yes I can believe it isn’t, so stop it. Butter. Lots of it. Almost as thick as the slice, crushed into it with a forceful knife hand, whilst making a wee cup of tea with the other. By wee cup of tea, I mean of course, a big mug of the stuff.
5. Having to look around and check who is in the vicinity before you start speaking about politics, religion or that family down the road with the big noses. Now, you might see this as a good thing, but it isn’t. For in Norn Iron, we had a set limit on the topics that were suitable for discussion in public. They were, in order, the weather – the state of the local Town-Council (no, this isn’t real politics, this is about the eejits on the council not doing what they’re meant to, or indeed, doing daft stuff we didn’t want) – sport (but not including football teams from Scotland), – our last meal out, where we went, what we had, exactly. What everyone else with us had, exactly. How good it was or wasn’t, who served us and how nice they were or weren’t. That subject alone could take most of an afternoon. When all of those topics were eventually exhausted, we would revisit the weather. It made for a much more harmonious life. But in our lands of exile, people will talk about anything in public. It’s quite off-putting. They seem to think that free and open speech is the way life should be. For the sanity of the Northern Irish who walk among you, I’d prefer it if you would recall the words of a song by Colum Sands:
"Whatever you say, say nothing, when you speak about you know what, for if you know who should hear you, you know what you'll get, they'll take you off to you know where, for you wouldn't know how long..." (You can watch a performance by Colum, in Canberra of all places, by clicking here.)
6. Peat. The smell of it. There’s nothing like a slacked-up fire with a couple of peat briquettes smouldering underneath to make the world smell warm and comforting. Wood fires do a job, but just like homemade fadge not being Ormo, so wood smoke isn’t peat.
7. Being able to order a drink or carry-outs properly. A vodka and white for some reason doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. Neither, it seems, does a fish supper, or a sausage supper. Unless you happen to live in Scotland. They get what the “supper” is all about, but the rest of the planet just looks blankly. I’m not even going to mention trying to buy brown lemonade…
8. Number 8 and last on our list is just that. The number 8. Pronounced as it should be, “AiT”. Short, sharp, Not pronounced like it starts with ‘aiii’ nor drawn out to be almost two syllables. It isn’t even one syllable the way we say it. It’s more of a syll – half a noise with a resounding T at the end. Speaking of which, it must be time for a wee cup of the stuff. Where’s my mug?
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: