The Rat Files

Stormont was an iconic parliament building, three levels of ten windows along either side of six columns out front. After the War, the removable paint never really removed, and the building lost the ‘white house’ look. Despite that, the hill added to it’s stature and Stormont was visible from various parts around Belfast. No parliament could sit in the long low intensity conflict, so there was no heavy security installation. Instead the building had a heritage house feel, albeit closed, though the acres around were publicly open. Our family moved to the area in 83, and my brother and I would take the ball ten minutes for a kick about the grounds, which were green and wide.

One day while watching the Roland Rat Show, Roland announced he and Kevin would tour the UK. This was sort of big. Roland was the fore-runner to the grunge movement, a brash, outrageous knit. He didn’t care for pleasing the typical lot with demand for primary colours. He was grey and animatedly pushed boundaries. He was arrogant, translated as, self-confident for a reason. Kevin the Gerbil by contrast was so pink, so welcoming, that his straight-ness was bent, gay iconic with an unassuming air. And maybe, Kevin was Roland’s beard. Jokes were made of his subservience, but his agenda of conformity opened up not just the Marxist dialogue, but also that of social interactionism. For conformity had it’s reasons. The biggest news.

The biggest news in all this was that Northern Ireland was recognised as the fourth region of the UK. Roland Rat Superstar was to ignore the Irish sea, fuck a two fingers to the war of the Troubles, he was coming. Blue Peter didn’t bother, ITV’s many paranormal productions never filmed here, John Craven treated us with the same black-out mentality as Police Six, which was supposed to be local! So, Graeme and I made our plans. One Friday morning, after London, Roland announced they were coming. We got mum to make sandwiches, and packed an apple, and a biscuit from the biscuit barrel, into a green plastic (Tupperware) container. By mid-day we were at the gates of Stormont. We kicked the ball diagonally, broad strokes, hoping that it might be intercepted by a film crew.

By Sunday gate closing we were worried. It was the summer holidays and come half eight the next morning we set off for what we were sure would be a live show. Roland never came. We heard it in the air that yes, indeed, he was in Northern Ireland. So why hadn’t he come? On Tuesday with lunches, no Roland, no Kevin. Not even Errol the hamster. We ate everything we had and stayed on two hours after the show ended. I told Graeme we might see the crew set up for the next day, but it was probably desperation on my part, I could see he had given up. On Wednesday I left the ball behind and when it became clear he wasn’t showing up I ran home. Graeme confirmed Rat On The Road had reached Northern Ireland, in some place called Ballycastle. One of the Ballys, one of the Castles. It didn’t sound too impressive.

On Thursday I stayed in the living room and watched as the TV-AM cameras tried to show the hexagonal stepping stones known as Giants Causeway and the wild exposing ocean. The two slithers of sock puppets traversed these inter-locking columns, their missing feet skipping the playfulness. A sixty million year old rock formation, it was suggested comedy happened, as Roland and Kevin’s wires were blown across the wide open landscape. There was no rain and I was unconvinced. I can’t care what happened on Friday. By Monday, he and Kevin were in Wales. There were no people there. I didn’t care about that either, how he’d much rather follow an isolationist agenda. By Tuesday he met people, were he hoarded cheese, and lorded it over them. Wales was the birthplace of Errol the hamster, but The Rat made quite clear Errol was only in the band to suit his prerogatives. By Wednesday, Roland had the people of Wales by the balls. Errol was a lost figure, Kevin was a dithering sycophant, the puppet government was in place.

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