Written February 2009
I had to phone the electrician yesterday to report a problem with some new lighting he'd rigged.
‘I'll check that out for you,’ he promised. ‘I'll be there in a minute.’
Now, I know what you're thinking. Ha. Feckin' tradesmen and their empty promises and full bellies and eyes narrowed by years of giving elderly ladies funny looks and hopelessly peering at XRays to locate their shrivelled little hearts. But no. This particular electrician is a committed professional and a man of his word, and I had no worries about his turning up. Just not ‘in a minute’, as trustworthy and all as he is. Because he . . . is from . . .
Now, Corkonians. I do love you. I love your singsong accents. I love the related fact that you're all deaf by thirty five because your eardrums have been ruptured by your loved ones' addiction to exclaiming ‘Dowtcha bhoy!’ in registers human beings were never meant to hear. I'm not taking the piss ; I actually find the Cork accent ‘vurrrry fuckin erohtic, lyke’. I'm forever bound to J's rebel-county-rooted side, and I don't mind at all.
And I love the fact that you built your city halfway off what appears to be a cliff (Patrick's ‘Hill’, my arse), and that you say, ‘C'mere timme’ to everyone, even if their name isn't Timmy, although because it's Cork it probably is Timmy, or Denis. I love the way all those hills have made Corkonians as wiry as a gazelle made out of pipe cleaners. I love the way you all claim to have been in Sir Henry's ‘when it was a bykuhr ba-ur, lyke’, even if you were only twelve when they knocked the place. I love the way Cork is in the middle of nowhere. When I needed to move from the Arse End Of Ireland, I never thought I'd find somewhere even more arsetacular than south County Galway, and yet you lot have made me feel so at home. So, so at home.
But what is all this fucking ‘in a minute’ shite?
The first time I heard it, I wore the soles of my shoes clean off wandering up and down the halls waiting on the one who'd promised it. Am I so wrong to presume that something that's going to happen ‘in a minute’ should happen . . well, if not in an actual minute - I am Irish, after all - then at least in the next hour or so? ‘In a minute’, to me, is what's growled to counter a long, wheedling nag. It's a bad-tempered concession, a phrase which draws out as long as possible the last few moments of being able to sit on your arse in the armchair, staring at Anne Doyle and wondering how it's possible that she was so much older in the '80s, before starting into the requested task . . . a last defiance in defeat.
‘Alan, will you bring in more briquettes?’ In a minute
‘Mam, can we go to the park or what?!’ In a minute
‘Ireland, won't you eventually riot like lunatics in protest at the absolute muppets we've got in government making an absolute hames of the country?’ In a minute
‘Will you put a bit of butter on those spuds, André?’ In a minute, sacrebleu!
But when Cork people say ‘in a minute’, they don't do it in a scowling, defeatist way. They brightly and wholeheartedly state their intention to ‘collect you in a minute’, or ‘meet you in the pub in a minute’ or, indeed, show up to sort out your lightbulb woes in a minute. And what they mean is that they'll wander along sometime in the next month. They'll pop their cheeky little heads around the door sometime in the middle of the night. They'll drop in when you least expect it.
I learned this when I bemoaned wasted hours waiting on a Corkonian friend to return my phonecall ‘in a minute’, only to be laughed at affectionately and told, ‘Come on now, gurl, it's a Cark minute, lyke’ And now I'm passing the info on to my fellow non-people's-republicans. ‘In a minute’ to the rest of us is a weak final weapon in a verbal war, a last hurrah without the hurrah. But to grinning Corkonians, ‘In a minute’ is a cheerful pledge to look you up when they next fall out of their time warps. You have been warned.
Or, as I said to the electrician, ‘You'll be here in a minute? You will yeeeeeeah, bhoy!’