Chalk & Cheese…

I spotted this rather cutting comment on our new devolved government the other day, hanging on the wall of Clements’ coffee shop on Royal Avenue in Belfast. It’s unusual in that most public political art in Northern Ireland is partisan, whereas this takes a dig at the cynics on both sides of the divide. Entitled ‘Chalk & Cheese’, Harry Pettis’ triptych features ‘advertisements’ for the aforementioned products, as branded by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, with satirical blurbs (which can be read more fully below the fold, alongside close-ups). Across the top and bottom of the canvas are the words ‘The war is over/ The good guys lost’, while in the centre panel, sandwiched between an orange/green handshake and Parliament Buildings, it reads: “Good: But why did you not do this 35 years ago?” This is the ‘chalk’, as sponsored by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness (larger copy here). The text reads: Finest Irish white chalk/ Department of Ed approved/ Pure white and clean/ Thagadh ár lá/ Errors easily erased I think (but correct me if I’m wrong) the Irish means something like ‘Our day has gone’.

And the second photo is of the ‘cheese’, brought to you by DUP First Minister Ian Paisley (larger pic here). The text reads: Special vintage/ ‘Blue skies’ Ulster cheese/ Extra strong & mature/ Handmade North Antrim Cheese, 80 years old and specially selected for substance and flavour/ Guaranteed never, never, never to turn/ Best served at high temperature

And finally, the centrepiece of the three parts, the agreement bringing the previously incompatible chalk and cheese together, albeit far too late for the artist’s liking.

  • middle-class ****

    Alas, all too predictable in its under-graduate “plague on both your houses” analysis, letting off scot-free (indeed, airbrushing entirely) the most cynical of them all, our colonial absentee landlords in Whitehall.

    Cutting, perhaps, but none too sharply.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Alas, all too predictable in your under-graduate “plague on the House of Windsor” analysis, letting off Ulster-Scot-free (indeed, airbrushing entirely) the most cynical of them all, the republican whitewash of personal responsibility.

  • missfitz

    I guess from the above comments, it was right on the money then

  • thagadh ár lá – our day used to come

  • Thanks olly, thought that spelling looked a bit different.

    Not that funny, but “The war is over, the good guys lost” has a rings a bit too true.

  • Sorry, still sleepy this morning:

    “The war is over, the good guys lost” rings a bit too true.

  • Crap artwork, decent raspberry and honey scones.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Ah, but their mochacchinos are to die for. Liquid velvet.

  • Wee slabber

    What’s the significance of 35 year’s ago? Why was 1972 the year zero of the “troubles” as far as these people are concerned?

  • sms

    belfast gonzo

    the irish means ” our day used to come”. something deep going on there!!

  • Sean

    Wee Slabber
    Thats because 1972 was the year “a protestant parliamnet for a protestant people” was finally binned for good. I dont believe it referanced the troubles but was about Storomont and power sharing

  • the most cynical of them all, our colonial absentee landlords in Whitehall

    More cynical than the DUP and Shinners have been towards Margaret Ritchie over UDA funding?

  • An Céilleachaireach Rúa


    It’s gnáth caite so it could be “Our day came” in a past habitual sense

  • The last one is brilliant, as that point is what’s so infuriating when people praise Paisley and Adams.

  • snakebrain

    Clement’s Royal Ave had for a long time an excellent view of one of the sash-wearing dinosaur stencils done by some Banksy imitator round Belfast. This is a bit ponderous and lumbering as incisive commentary goes. Though it’s well up on the trendy intertextuality and so on. It does hang on its own argument a little. Why weren’t the artists producing these works 35 years ago?

    I do know a graffiti collective who are considering doing a little modification to a few existing murals. That should be interesting, though risky, I’d imagine.

  • middle-class ****

    Sammy Morse

    While the DUP and SF have been pretty cynical about Margaret Ritchie, I reckon I’m on fairly safe ground suggsting the British security apparatus here probably tops them. I doubt you consider (ineptly) isolating a political opponent on a procedural matter to be more cynical than a State funding, arming and operating sectarian murder gangs to murder its citizens?

    I’m not entirely convinces that Margaret has been white as the driven snow in all of this, but she’s doing well, she made the right substantive decision and is fighting her corner bravely, and I for one am delighted to see the SDLP showing some chutzpah.

    But, hey, I thought we were avoiding each other.

    Shore Road Resident

    Your comment above is pathetic. Tell me now, do you really see our problems as a binary, sectarian face-off, free of external influence? Or are you just having a juvenile and, if I may say so, asinine, go at me?

    The artwork is funny, but moronically naive and lacking in any real insight. If you want to defend it, defend it. But the parrot-techinque is just so cringingly lame. I leave you to reflect only on the fact that my usual response to such inanity is to remark that it is beneath the commenter in question.


    Now, what’s your problem? Are you accusing me of some kind of zero-sum sectarian tweedledummery? If so, that’s grossly unfair. Do you think the artwork offers insight? Do you think my criticism was unjustified? Otherwise, respectfully, ta gueule, mademoiselle!

  • middle-class ****


    You make a great (I thought, Sandsian) point about the men of art.

    As to your vigilante art collective, I think they should get in touch with the mural artists in nationalist Belfast and tell them, in a non-specific way, what that they want to do. There’s no reason why the murals themselves, physically, shouldn’t afford a venue for political dialogue – and, after all, it’s only paint. These things have been retouched ad nauseam after hundreds of squaddie paint-bombings.

    I guess it rather depends whether their intent is to engage and critique, or merely to offend. While both are legitimate artistically, I think the latter probably doesn’t offer much prospect for engagement. I don’t know enough to say whether the same is true on the other side of the fence, but I reckon nationalist Belfast is big and ugly enough to look on quietly as a couple of its sacred cows are cattle-prodded, artistically speaking.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
    Everybody knows that the war is over
    Everybody knows the good guys lost
    Everybody knows the fight was fixed
    The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
    Thats how it goes
    Everybody knows.

    Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
    Everybody knows that the captain lied
    Everybody got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died
    Everybody talking to their pockets
    Everybody wants a box of chocolates
    And a long stem rose
    Everybody knows”

    – from “Everybody Knows,” by Leonard Cohen.

  • The Dubliner

    Great song by Leonard Cohen, Billy – with the innovative ‘list’ format shamelessy stolen by Bob Dylan for “Everything is Broken.” The line “Take one last look at this Sacred Heart – before it blows” is classic.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Apparently Cohen wrote it in the late 80s when we were first getting to grips with Aids and people were talking about sex the way they normally talk about hard drugs – enjoyable, yes, but it WILL kill you so it’s to be avoided at all costs.

    In that context, some of the lines are chilling in their pessimism. (Even moreso when you think of Cohen’s own “ladies’ man” reputation – how much of this was him looking into a mirror?)

    “Everybody knows that the plague is coming
    Everybody knows that it’s moving fast
    Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
    Are just a shining artefact of the past
    Everybody knows the scene is dead
    But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
    That will disclose
    What everybody knows
    And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
    Everybody knows what youve been through
    From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
    To the beach at Malibu
    Everybody knows it’s coming apart
    Take one last look at this sacred heart
    Before it blows
    And everybody knows.”

    The man should get a Nobel Prize, seriously. Nobody tells the truth like Leonard Cohen.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Though in fairness, Dylan also did an incredibly innovate reverse-list format in “Most of the Time”.

    Every verse ends with the words “most of the time”, which tends to completely reverse the meaning of the whole verse, in a way that’s fantastic to behold.

    “My head is on straight,
    I’m strong enough not to hate.
    I don’t build up illusion ’till it makes me sick,
    I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
    I can smile in the face of mankind.
    Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine

    Most of the time.

    I’m halfway content,
    I know exactly where I went,
    I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide,
    Hide from the feelings, that are buried inside,
    I don’t compromised and I don’t pretend,
    I don’t even care if I ever see her again

    Most of the time.”

    So simple, so brilliant, so heartbreaking!

  • The Dubliner

    Billy Pilgrim, the first time I saw Leonard Cohen in concert was at The Stadium in Dublin’s South Circular Road in 1985. Cohen was performing in a rundown old shabby boxing venue which seemed inappropriate for a man of his artistic stature yet strangely appropriate for a man drawn to ‘beautiful’ losers. It wasn’t fashionable to like Mr Cohen in 1985. Indeed, even admitting to the dismal disposition in casual conversation was considered to be evidence of suicidal tendencies and a complete lack of musical taste. There was something strangely nourishing in knowing how profound Cohen’s songs are when the great and the good had dismissed him as a joke. Critics, clearly, knew nothing. On Cohen’s return visit to The Stadium in 1988 (the year of Dublin’s millennium celebrations), he quipped from the stage: “They tell me that the city is 1000 years old. It’s nice to play in one of the original buildings.” The man’s humour and humanity was there on stage just as profoundly and as movingly as it was in his songs. I really love that man.

    Dylan is another genius. Those two are firm friends in real life. You can see how closely they listen to each other’s work in their own work. Even “Most of the Time” has that masterfully ironic pause in the tag line that is an echo of Cohen’s “Tonight will be fine – for a while.” Yes, tonight will be fine alright, but only for a while. It’s what Yeats said: “Young poets of Ireland, learn your craft.” They are both immaculate craftsmen – still recording the very best songs of any recording artists. No-one can tell the truth like Mr Cohen and Mr Dylan – and it’s not just in their words, it’s in their voices. That’s one of the things those critics never understood when they said that neither Cohen of Dylan could sing: it wasn’t about singing, it was about telling the truth.

    By the way, Cohen is working on an album that is due for release early next year. He may be 73, but he still writes the best songs. As you said, “Nobody tells the truth like Leonard Cohen.”