Magazine article The Spectator

Changing All Utterly

Magazine article The Spectator

Changing All Utterly

Article excerpt

WATCHING THE DOOR by Kevin Myers Atlantic Books, £14.99, pp. 274, ISBN 9781843547280 £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

This is a book so remarkable that after finishing it you will find yourself casting the film that will surely get made. Kevin Myers, a young freelance Irish journalist -- James Nesbitt, he of the Yellow Pages and Pontius Pilate; Pastor Oliver Cromwell Whiteside, a Protestant fundamentalist preacher who speaks throughout in the accents of the American South -- Strother Martin ; assorted IRA and UVF men, their randy wives and girlfriends -- the entire repertory cast of the Carry On films. For Myers, whose memoir this is, has succeeded in something you would have thought impossible.

He has reduced the Northern Irish Troubles to murderous black farce while convincing you this is how it really was.

Not as visiting British journalists or television teams saw these events from the cocktail lounge of the Europa hotel, with the fishnet buttocks of the waitresses wobbling to and fro.

And certainly not as American and Southern Irish journalists, brought up on phrases like 'a terrible beauty', saw them. These are the Troubles as seen by someone who knew the killers and the killed, and watched from the streets, the bars, and also the bedrooms, of Belfast.

The result is a humour of a sort so edgy you will only have come on it previously in the crime fiction of the great Elmore Leonard.

You are introduced to the prim young killers of the IRA who never swear, and call themselves 'lieutenants' in an organisation without non-commissioned ranks; also to the garrulous gunmen of the UVF who do nothing but swear, and call themselves 'lootenant colonels' in an organisation where everyone is of field rank. And you meet their women. For to the subtitle of this book, 'Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast', should be added two words, 'Also Shagging'.

Take a scene that cries out to be filmed.

Myers meets two Catholic sisters in a pub.

One, he has been warned, is married to an IRA man, but the three get smashed and he ends up in bed with the married woman, who assures him her husband is away. With her sister snoring drunkenly next door, he notices nervously as they get stripped off that the bedroom is full of chest expanders and barbells. Not only is he going to bed with the wife of an IRA man, he is going to bed with the wife of a weight-lifting IRA man, who in the midst of their transports comes home.

A naked Myers under the bed listens as the behemoth gets undressed and into bed before his quick-witted wife persuades him to go downstairs and make some tea. In a flash he gathers up his clothes and leaps into bed next door with the sister, who -- now what twist would you introduce? Exactly: the sister wakes up and, though still in a stupor, is suddenly very interested in the naked man in her bed, who is obliged to respond in case she wakes up fully. Jumping into his clothes in the garden, the much-used Myers finally makes off into the night.

But it is the sequel which is so wonderful.

Next morning he finds that in his hurry he has made off with the wrong clothes, and is wearing the IRA man's underpants, and one of his socks. More to the point, he realises that somewhere in Belfast another man, a weight-lifting killer, must at that moment be tugging bemusedly at his crotch and staring at his feet. …

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