I was late for David Norris at Colaiste Feirste last night but I’d no bother finding the room where he was performing: the rolling, booming tones were unmistakable and echoed down the hallways. He was being interviewed by William Crawley as part of Féile an Earraigh, and over 90+ minutes he was incorrigible. A question – or sometimes no question – would set him off, and anytime Crawley tried to intervene, the Dublin senator would place a restraining hand on the BBC man’s arm or knee and keep rolling along at full volume.
He was there promoting his book A Kick Against the Pricks, but you could tell his heart was in his own performance rather than gaining sales. He grabbed at Crawley, he stood up, he shook hands with an audience member and told that meant they were now lovers, he imitated the mincing walk and high-pitched voice of gay men he knew, he slid in double entendre after double entendre. It was like watching Frankie Howerd with a beard and a posh Dublin accent.
Much of the time was spent telling the audience about the lies and smears the media invented against him during his presidential candidacy (see clip above). Other times he spoke of his love of the British monarchy, imitated an encounter he had with Princess Anne’s husband, claimed blood-relationship with just about every earl and nobleman in Ireland back to St Patrick. It was an over-the-top, occasionally hilarious one-man show. During the questions-from-the-audience bit, I asked him what he thought of the media’s treatment of Martin McGuinness during his presidential bid. As with nearly every question asked, he started with a half-answer and then quickly rolled away into a breathless, complicated tale of something that had happened to him. Think of trying to lift mercury with a fork and you’ll have some idea of what it was like.
In many ways Norris is representative of a southern view of the north – two warring tribes locked in irrational combat, with sensible people ( for example his part in the Peace Train campaign) trying to counter this irrationality. Oh, and how good it was we’ve all moved on from those dark days. It was hard to disagree with the second part; it was hard to listen to, let alone agree with, the first part.
There are those who say Senator Norris likes the sound of his own voice. Not so. He loves it. And there’s no denying his presence in a room unfailingly adds to the gaiety of nations, in every sense. You get the feeling he’s making stuff up as he goes along, but he does it with such toffish gusto it’s near irresistible. Next you know, you’re nodding agreement with his monarchist/libertarian/they’re-an-odd-lot-up-there take on politics.
And then on the way out, I met a woman who said she’d read an article I’d written about Marian Price and how much she’d liked it. She’d been at school with Marian Price – “An ordinary wee girl” – and now she was in prison or prison hospital, and might well end her days there if the whim of a British Secretary of State dictated so. The road from David Norris doing his on-stage stand-up to Marian Price in a prison: that’s a long, long road.