Liz Kearney: 'As the universal humour of 'Derry Girls' proves, human nature doesn't change'
The 'Derry Girls' hilarious field trip to meet the Protestants in the new series opener on Tuesday night reminded me of a long-forgotten school trip to Belfast in the early nineties.
When I was in first year at secondary school, we were taken on a sports trip to Belfast, as part of a Co-operation North programme to foster relations between kids on both sides of the Border. Like Erin and her pals on their 'Friends Across the Barricades' jaunt, the idea was that we would learn that we had more in common than we thought.
It was badly needed. Because while the North might have been only up the road, for teenagers growing up in the Dublin suburbs, it might as well have been Pluto. None of us had been there, for obvious reasons, but by 1991 the threat levels to a minor-league school hockey team were considered manageably low and so off we went, a gaggle of near-hysterical 13 and 14-year-olds and our two long-suffering coaches, on the train up to Belfast.
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Once we'd gotten over the novelty factor of seeing real live soldiers in camouflage combing the fields in Border country, we arrived in Belfast and were pleasantly surprised to find that actually, it was a lot like back home.
School life was boringly familiar; punctuated by long-winded assemblies and plenty of standing around, pulling up your socks and waiting for class to start.
Our hosts were exceptionally welcoming, and instantly familiar; after all, we were all Clearasil-addicted teenagers with bad hair pulled back in scrunchies.
The girls treated us as if we were long-lost cousins: they took us to the bowling alley, to play Quasar, and then out for pizza. And then came the much-awaited hockey match, which ended in a polite nil-all draw, which seemed appropriate.
Life seemed pretty similar north of the Border, except for the glaringly obvious: the ever-present threat of violence. During a shopping trip to Belfast city centre, the contrast between our little group, Christmas shopping in Santa hats, and the army tank rolling down the high street was too bleak for words. The soldiers were friendly and cheerful, but it was clear that the breezy backdrop which we took for granted back home wasn't a given in Belfast.
But as the universal humour of 'Derry Girls' proves, human nature doesn't change. As with any group of young people, there was more that united us than divided us. It was a lesson worth learning.
Of course the main talking point sparked by 'Derry Girls' has been the Great Toaster Divide. A Protestant colleague confirmed that yes, as the show suggested, they do keep their toasters in the cupboard. She couldn't quite explain why.
Obviously, this is utter madness. The toaster in our home was always an item of such reverence - and in such consistent use - that to hide it away in the press would have been heresy. Instead it occupied pride of place on the counter, even when it took up most of the available space. A Scottish colleague was even more bewildered. "We never even had a toaster," she pointed out. "What's wrong with a grill?" Where to even start?
Balmy way to prepare for our biggest of days
Is there anyone left outside of the PR and marketing industry who takes International Women's Day seriously any more?
Just popped into my inbox is a press release from L'Occitane promoting its 'Solidarity Balm' - an orange blossom fragrance to mark the big day tomorrow. Because nothing says emancipation like moisturised hands, right ladies?