Today I had the good fortune to bump into a group of women running the ‘Lawyers for Choice’ stall outside Clery’s in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. I opted to pop over and say hello with a view to taking the temperature of the campaign. I learned about snarl-laughing.
Within about three minutes of my arrival (and of course it’s possible it was my presence which brought the crazies), a chap approached the table to tell those staffing it that “200,000 babies are MURDERED in England every year”. It wasn’t the inaccuracy of his words that struck me – it was the power of his seething rage, forcing out the word “MURDERED” like so much lava through a fast-erupting volcano. He didn’t shout – he didn’t lose his cool – I suspect he didn’t have much of it to begin with. He looked for all the world like a potentially dangerous person, and I felt somewhat glad I got to witness this first-hand.
About three minutes later a woman in an elaborate hat approached with a sign, all typed out in double-space Arial Bold (I reckoned about 18pt, but it could have been 22pt) saying “Abortion Kills Babies”. She tried to fix the staff (and me) with a meaningful eye and ever-so-slowly walked past with the sign aimed at us all at just below eye height, saying “It does, you know.”
So far, so genteel. The next troupe came by snarling, pointing their ‘Níl’ buttons towards us, and laughing to one another. Now make up your mind, Ben. Was it a snarl or a laugh? Well, it’s strange – I remember this from general election campaigns when UUP members used to approach Tories with their rosettes and snarl-smile. I always wondered what they thought they were achieving by wasting time trying to harass people expressing a nuance in politics. But in Dublin today, this snarl-laugh was very much in evidence, and I swear by Euclidean geometry, I didn’t see it from ‘Yes’ campaigners.
The next chap came by, with an ensemble seeking, essentially, to be a complete ‘dark brown’ colour palette, from his very dark brown shoes, his dark brown chinos, his middle-dark brown jumper and his (very comfortable looking, to be honest) brown jacket. I knew he was going to be a crowd pleaser when he stopped for a minute, clenched his face, got out his phone, spent a while mucking about with the screen and then rubbed his face again.
“Hello, sailor”, I thought, as I realised he was trying to set up a wide-angle selfie so he could catch himself being fucking hilarious. I was right. That was what he was trying.
Squaring himself up in the screen, he began to advance towards us, half looking at us, half at the screen.
“Well lads,” he began – the sure-fire starting pistol for a well thought out political thesis.
“Would you have liked to be aborted?”
This didn’t get any response from the people at the stall, so he tried again – this would make for a genuinely terrible video.
“Would you? Would you have liked to have been aborted?”
I walked away from the stall for a moment – I haven’t had the Lawyers for Choice briefing and I am the sort to be a bit more visceral than their well-thought out and heart-felt messaging.
I took a few photos of the beautiful cloud plume now visible over the GPO, and the brown-dressed man approached me directly.
“Would you have liked to be aborted?”
I looked him right in the face. “As an alternative to having to speak to you in the street, I’d take it.”
This is why I don’t get taken canvassing.
To be a little more serious though – the No campaign is frustrated right now. They see this slipping away and they are beginning to take on menaces I can’t recall seeing in Ireland before. It won’t surprise me if street verbal battles become the norm next weekend. It’ll be necessary to show them the compassion they seem so keen on in the abstract.
To the Lawyers For Choice people who I bothered for 20 minutes this afternoon – I think they were doing a great and friendly job – respectfully explaining their position (and their expertise) to people who stopped by to ask questions. Thanks to them for their patience with my glowering, fairly imposing presence.