Back in the 1980s, Donald Trump wrote a book called The Art of the Deal, but the Irish have a unique way of conducting business - call it the art of the dale. So how would it work if an Irish person was leading these last-minute Brexit talks?
From calves to engagement rings to laminate flooring or Georgian manor houses, the art of buying and selling or negotiating a mutually agreeable outcome is the speciality of a chancer. A poker player. A buffoon. There's the same buoyant energy as you'd find waiting for the St Patrick's Day parade to begin. The "half-talk code of mysteries and the wink-and-elbow language of delight", Patrick Kavanagh observes on the Iniskeen Road that July evening.
The art of the dale comprises a dash of devilment, a glob of grit, and the chameleon-like ability to roll with how the situation evolves. Whether it's buying an antique rug or putting an offer in on a house, we all negotiate multiple times in our lives.
The Irish like to be tactile when conducting business. It's not possible to see the whites of our opponent's eyes when negotiating via Zoom. There's a paper trail. You can't get a feel of a carriage clock. Run your finger over the stamp on a Toby jug. Shaking out the heft of a curtain liner.
It's Christmas Eve 1995 in the village of Glenroe, where Blackie Connors buys a rake of Christmas trees from Miley. The trees are advertised at £20. Blackie encourages him to knock a tenner off to shift them, for the day that's in it. In the end, he offers a fiver a tree, he and Miley spit on £6. Blackie is as much a master of negotiating the sale as Trump buying Mar-a-Lago.
How are the Brexit negotiations going? Well first of all, our Irish negotiator would tell you, there's nothing last minute about them. Instead, it is just a fact of the dale-making process that no major concessions would be made without a gun to the head. It was always going to come down to this. So there's no surprise there. We see in our own lives. How far do you go in pretending to walk away? Is it into the car or starting the engine?
Last week the press releases read like those for a royal wedding. Full of romantic details. What is on the menu? Turbot, potatoes with wasabi and pavlova with exotic fruits. The discussions are 'lively and interesting', but both sides are quite a way apart.
Ursula and Boris are temporarily coortin'. Getting to know each other's quirks. Romancin' the other side. We begin with these charming observations, but as both parties loom towards today's deadline, there is no doubt they will be getting down to business. Going in for the kill.
Then it all boils down to the bluff. Keeping a straight face despite the hooley going on in your head. Finding the tell in your opponent. My dad told me to look out for the laugh. When your opponent chuckles incredulously, you have them. The deal has been done. There's just the terms to finalise. There will be reams and reams of notes and documentation, but the ultimate outcome could be written on the back of an envelope.
So will the art of the dale survive Covid? All the marts going online. For the divil with a glint in his eye, the switch to shopping online sanitises the interaction. There's nowhere to ask "Sure you'll throw in that picture frame," at a web checkout. Nor can you request to "leave it at even money".
I spent a grand post-lockdown day at a six-hour online auction. I came for an emerald brooch and I stayed for the tremendous good patter of the auctioneer, Damien Matthews. The lilt and joy that his Hiberno-English patois brought to each and every item, from chamber pot to blue leather club chairs, was simply incendiary.
A doctor in the family remarked that patients are looking forward to appointments previously considered chores. Starved of human company, they were arriving in top form for a contrast X-ray, as if it were a Swedish body massage or a 50th birthday bash.
Beautiful stock aside, I wonder if these auction sales went well because of the unique human experience of interaction.
Once all the art has been exercised, all strategy, skill and bluffing has been concluded, what comes after the dale is agreed? Both parties will leave discussions tired and in need of a shower, like spent lovers. But the dale will be done. A short text sent. Before the press conference and endless analysis, in this moment the dale begins to fade from importance, it's already in the past. It's done. As much as it can ever be.
Because nothing is forever.
It took six months to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, but it failed to stop another war 20 years later.
As soon as it's agreed, there will be a new dale to be done.