We’d just hosted and won the Rugby World Cup. Madiba and the rainbow democracy were celebrated worldwide, and never more so than in rugby playing countries. A couple of us had planned a golfing/music trip to Ireland anyway, so the timing was perfect.
After the final, hawkers in Cape Town were desperate to offload their stock. A R25 Springbok jersey would later pay for two nights B+B in the little village pubs across Ireland, to be proudly displayed alongside the All Blacks, French, Ozzie, Welsh and Scots jerseys. The white jersey of England was rare.
Anyway, from Dublin Airport we high-tailed it diagonally down west to Skibereen, the town hosting an intimate Van Morrison concert we’d heard about.
Turned out, this was part of an annual festival in the bottom left county, where Ireland’s fingers reach out into the Atlantic. But being a hundred and fifty years since the famine, this year’s week-long gathering was a festival and somber memorial combined.
Back then, the English taxed the Irish into poverty by confiscating crops and livestock in lieu of cash, so the locals rebelled by cultivating only potatoes. When the blight infected the entire island, communities simply starved to death.
To survive, families were fragmented and those chosen to emigrate would be gone forever – as if dead. Local fishing villages were known as ‘coffin harbours’, where the lucky ones boarded ships to the New World. Back home, the bitter taste of old English mustard lingered on.
Being legitimate Van Morrison groupies and with our Springbok giveaways, we became mini celebs (Springbok Van Fans) for a while, and were front page of the local paper. We hob-knobbed with the mayor, judged a local beauty contest and officiated at dog races down the main street. Unaware of the objective, these domestic dogs – when released by their owners – would dash off in all directions at once except the finish line, yapping and yowling to the thigh-slapping hysterics of the whiskey soaked spectators lining the sidewalks. Money changed hands.
Anyway, one afternoon while quietly reading the paper in the little harbour pub, one of the local fishermen staggered across from the bar-counter towards me and loomed over my table. They’d noted my folly of ordering an Old Hooky beer (north/Protestant) instead of a Murphy’s (south/Catholic) so they smelled the blood of an Englishman. This ghastly beast, reeking and looking like rotten bait, sneered and locked eyes with me.
“Do you believe in the Mother Mary?” he growled menacingly.
My brain froze. We all know of the slight misunderstanding between Catholics and Protestants – courtesy Henry 8 telling the Pope to take a hike – and Paddy and Pommy have been killing each other ever since. So, was I a Catholic or a Protestant? I’d a fifty percent chance of dying. Where the hell was Chuck Norris?
“Well?” His stench was overwhelming.
“I …I’m… an African!” I gurgled between dry-heaves (binne-barf). Thankfully this seemed perfectly acceptable because, although somewhat perplexed, he just belched more bait-breath over me, and lurching back to the counter mumbled, “Well, he’s not feckin’ English,” which got them all cursing the Poms and spitting on the pub floor. This was apparently the norm around there because we’d noticed other locals gobbing whenever the word English was mentioned. Kids would play a type of ‘tag’ game called Gob the Pom, a quaint tradition proudly passed down from father to son.
The following day I was booked for an interview on Cork Radio. Between the rugby and Van Morrison, we’d have plenty to chat about. I was looking forward to it…
“In the studio we have one of the Springbok Van Fans, here for tomorrow’s concert. So tell us,” smirked the smarmy DJ out of the blue, “what was it like growing up and living in racist South Africa?”
“Funny you mention that,” I replied, and started recounting how many Gob the Pom episodes I’d encountered. While being frog-marched out I just managed to yell over my shoulder, “So what’s it like growing up and living in racist Ire… (door slam)?”