A day in the life of a Northern Ireland political junkie…


The radio alarm goes off – Sonny and Cher are singing, ‘I’ve Got You Babe’. I’ll have none of that cheery Frank Mitchell malarkey and switch the station to Radio Ulster. In Ormeau Avenue, Connor Bradford sits in bow tie and tails – reading the news for the BBC is a serious business after all – ready with some bon mots (en Français naturellement) and Latin dictums to let the Hoi Polloi know their place. With a voice full of plummy gravitas, he could be announcing the abdication of Edward VIII. Instead, the Choo Choo men have been at it again in Lurgan. What is it with these guys and trains?

It’s soon time for the biggest show in the country. For those that don’t tune in, Nolan is a talk show featuring Nolan, Gregory Campbell, Gerry Kelly, Norman and George. Sometimes Mrs You-Know-Who, the one who lives deep in the heart of nowhere, phones in to condemn sex outside marriage, but today’s subjects as always are flags, parades, gays, gay parades, gay cakes, abortion, and gay abortions. Gerry Kelly explains he was proud to be in the IRA and Nolan, at the first stage of exasperation says, ‘but we’re talking about Asher’s for goodness sake!’ Gregory, afraid he’ll be asked something difficult, demands to know how much Nolan earns. Nolan refuses to disclose that, but Gregory has successfully diverted the biggest host in the country onto his favourite subject – himself. After half an hour of waxing lyrical about his weight, his new villa in Florida and how bad Vinny is at polishing his gold-plated Bentley, we get back to the serious business of arguing. Norman has found a verse from the Book of Leviticus, George is reaching a state of feverish indignation and the folks at home are playing Nolan bingo: ‘Abomination’ ‘Full house!’

Soon the blood pressure of are wee country is at a dangerous level, so Shan, who inherited Gerry Anderson’s radio show, sets out to sooth ragged nerves with a 1950s skiffle band.  Thankfully it’s soon time for Talkback, a radio talk show featuring Gregory Campbell, Gerry Kelly, Norman and George. The callers and subjects are exactly the same as Nolan but it has a different presenter, William Crawley, who unlike Nolan, is a serious journalist. It’s not long before Gregory reminds Gerry he lives in the United Kingdom and the Union Flag is the flag of the United Kingdom. Gerry reminds Gregory he lives in Ireland and the tricolor is the flag of Ireland. There is a solution to the Twaddell problem he insists, all the Orange Order has to do is rewrite their banners and drums in Irish and play ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ – then the residents will have no objection. Gregory explodes. Literally. George reaches such a high pitch only the dogs in the street can hear him and Norman texts in a verse from Leviticus.

After an hour and a half I’m almost relieved to hear Hugo Duncan. Almost but not quite. I switch off the radio and turn on Sky news. Somewhere in the world an election is happening. The European Union might collapse if Angela Merkel suffers a reverse in a regional election in West Pomerania and there is always a presidential election going on in America. Donald Trump, seeing his popularity wane, suggests shooting all Muslims and adding minefields and machine gun post to his Great Wall of Texas. Pundits debate whether he is really serious – it is April 1st after all. His poll numbers soar.

After a few hours in a trance like state the clock strikes six. There is nothing of substance on the national news, only tension over a NATO exercise to be held on 22 June called Barbarossa II. Putin calls it a provocation. Trump says if he talked to him like that he’d launch an all-out nuclear strike. His numbers soar. The local news is more interesting. The railway line at Lurgan is blocked again and the DUP is complaining complaining the PSNI gave first aid to a Gay man who fell off a ladder trying to put up a rainbow flag. ‘Let him eat cake’, snorts Arlene.

After that it’s a UTV politics show. I must admit the last time I watched UTV was 1988 and boy, has Paul Clarke let himself go. The panel is definitely a second XI: Emma Pengally, Ruth Patterson, a 16-year old that joined the SDLP last week and a guy who won a year’s membership of Sinn Fein in a ballot at the Felon’s club. Emma looks radiant and confident, Ruth less so, but her spray tan is an intriguing colour. ‘Drumcree orange’ she explains. Little Pengally scoffs at a suggestion she will return to a 140K year job as a SPAD if she fails to get elected. ‘I wouldn’t get out of bed for a 140K a year,’ she explains, flicking her hair.

The show only lasts 30 minutes so I have two hours to kill until The View. That’s where my box set of The West Wing (Extended Director’s cut) comes in handy. After checking the exit polls for West Pomerania, The View comes on. For those that don’t tune in, The View is a politics show featuring Gregory Campbell, and Gerry Kelly. Normally there aren’t any calls from the public so Norman and George have to make their opinions known via text. Mrs-You-Know-Who is tucked up in bed as her meds kick in. She regards mobile phones as inventions of Satan, so is blissfully silent. The subjects of tonight’s show are flags, parades, gays, gay parades, gay cakes, abortions and gay abortions. The host is Mark Crothers, who, his pink socks aside, is an even more serious journalist than William Crawley. All the big guns are out. Jim Allister is there, smiling smugly and Claire Hanna from the SDLP looks radiant and confident.  David Ford with a fine face for radio knows he looks neither radiant nor confident but is just happy to be invited. He knows he won’t actually be asked anything. Mike Nesbitt has a gleam in his eye. He has out flanked the DUP on the right by suggesting ‘Northern Ireland’ is changed to ‘Londonireland’. Gregory is knocked off balance. He demands that Sinn Fein are kicked out the executive unless they take an oath of loyalty to Her Majesty. ‘This is the United Kingdom you know!’ he barks at Gerry and alludes to his IRA past. ‘If he’s so bad why are you in government with him?’ asks Jim smirking and Gregory tries to change the subject by demanding to know how much Mark Carruthers earns. The delay gives Gerry time to respond. He demands the jailing of all former members of the security forces, especially the MI5 men who blew up Mrs Thatcher in the Grand Hotel and framed Republicans for it. Clare Hanna tries to say something sensible but is immediately shouted down by everyone else including David Ford who knows it is his only chance to say anything.

After all that I’m ready for Question Time, real politicians discussing real issues, but tonight’s show is from Belfast and Gregory Campbell and Gerry Kelly are on the panel. I scream but then realise the whole day was just a terrible bad dream. Then the radio alarm goes off. It’s Sonny and Cher singing, ‘I’ve Got You Babe.’

Sam Thompson is an occasional blogger, writer and historian, his latest book is ‘The Lesser Evil: A Political & Military History of World War II 1937-45‘
You can find him on Twitter at: @JarrieSam