Politeness was the order of the day, even if Arlene couldn’t resist some micro-aggressive commentary
In the morning warmth they walked relaxedly, in couples and knots, suits and dresses, as if bound for a country chapel and the making of vows.
Well dressed, shiny-shoed and smiling, men and women teetered over the sloping cobbles at Dublin Castle, hoping not to trip and fall headlong. Except there was no single photographer you could persuade not to make a print in such a case, but a whole bank of them, clicking away.
That was one reason for keeping a fixed grin and moving gingerly at the North-South Ministerial Council, while pretending that everything was not in the least bit awkward. The other reason, of course, is that we've all been there... mixing with the ‘other side’ at a nuptials while not having anything in common.
So it was, as Leo uncomfortably accompanied Michelle O’Neill, and Micheál tried to be mature about it with Arlene, who knew her own mind.
What can you really say? Just for God's sake don't even think of offering the elbow-thing in public or the pair of us will look a right pair of goms in the newspaper.
It's always artificial when meeting the in-laws, who also happen to be your neighbours. Especially when we haven't spoken in nearly four years.
There was that bonfire, you see... a few flakes of ash drifting over the fence, when we might have had the washing out. And then those raised voices between them, and the man storming out and slamming the door. And it wouldn't matter, but we all have to share the island, it's been going on for years, and would it really be too hard to show a small bit of consideration?
Which is why Arlene and Michelle had a joke prepared to break the ash, sorry ice.
The two ladies could give advice on power-sharing, if the three gentlemen were wondering how to manage it. Forced laughs all round, everyone in the same boat of having to make the best of it, although didn’t they get a great day with the weather?
“Isn’t a bit of levity a good thing?” said Michelle. “It got the meeting off to a good start." Which really shows how leaden it was, a stilted ceremony behind closed doors.
One could imagine the droning liturgy, because it came out at the press conference... ever closer cooperation on health... the Ulster canal… a road called the A5… Giant Hogweed (probably),and (possibly) joint recognition of library cards north and south, and of piddling fines for late returns.
But of course it is much more important than that, and only responsible to treat the matter with due and proper seriousness.
There was the matter of the green list of safe countries to which to travel, although, of course, they don't have a green list in the North. They instead have a travel list. You'd want to wise up to cross-community colour consciousness.
This is why Eamon Ryan’s exhaustively extolled Greenway, from Sligo to Enniskillen, will no doubt mysteriously become a cycleway when it crosses into the wee North.
Outnumbered, Arlene was perfectly cordial but still managed to stitch in some micro-aggressions to southern ears, such as references to “the mainland” and “the rest of the UK”.
She said she didn’t feel in the least bit threatened by Micheál’s new ‘Shared Island Unit’ in the Department of the Taoiseach, and would never shy away from her Unionism. “It will never change who I am, or what I believe in, but I do think it’s good to talk.” If there was a border poll she would vote to remain in the UK, she said.
Steely stuff, but she did find herself in Dublin Castle, seat of British rule in Ireland for some many fine centuries, and so she felt emboldened to make another joke, which was a somewhat lackadaisical two in the one day.
“We were so well socially distanced in that large room, that it was like Father Ted. I didn’t know if you were small or far away.”
She might prefer both.