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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
Step Right Up
by Paul Moore
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There are certain questions one knows one should never ask. Anything to do with your family background, unmentioned relations or closeted skeletons is usually best left alone. One would imagine, however, that it would be safe to enquire about a comfort food that has sustained one through thirty years of the Troubles, various relationship break-ups, a multitude of lost sporting fixtures and the odd family picnic. But alas it is not so.
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For years I have contented myself that I am never far from a little yellow bag. In that bag I can be certain I will find slices of potato that will be for ever Ulster, the potent aroma of cheese and onion reassuring me that Mr Tayto is alive and well. Forget cabbage and bacon, sausage and mash or fish and chips; the only gastronomic marriage ever made in Heaven was Tayto and crisps. When Mr Hutchinson started making crisps in 1956 they were made in his own image; they were no-nonsense crisps created through hard work in the newly purchased Tandragee Castle. They were (and are) indeed crisps fit for a King.
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Imagine then if you will the horror when I learned on a recent trip across the borderline that the crisps that go under the name Tayto in the Republic that calls itself Ireland are not manufactured in Tandragee. These crisps are in fact made in Dublin by a firm that is partly owned by an American company in Chicago. They are produced in a so-called 'state-of-the-art' factory somewhere on the outskirts of Dublin and they care not a jot for the hard-working men of Tandragee Castle.
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With hindsight I should have known. The Republic's Mr Tayto is a shifty character, too well fed, too smug and too self-congratulating in his yellow breeches and red coat to have worked his way up from the humble bread cart that carried the first potato crisps of Mr Hutchinson. Our Mr Tayto is an honest soul with a smile that shows an openness and a naivety that Joe 'Dublin' Murphy would be happy to exploit. And are we really supposed to believe that this Murphy started manufacturing crisps in the rural backwater that was the Republic in 1954 a good two years before the industrial north got its first taste of Tandragee's manna from Armagh? I think not.
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For six years now we have heard nothing but talk of peace negotiations, disarmament, cross-border initiatives, inter-party discussions and all-inclusive elections, but not once have we heard any politician prepared to stand up and tell us the awful truth that there are two Mr Taytos. For months Jeffrey Donaldson and David Trimble (both of whom have a great affection for Armagh) have been at loggerheads over the Good Friday Agreement. Has anyone heard them utter one word about Tayto, Tandragee or Dublin impersonators, and the Unionist party crying out for a common enemy?
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There is only one thing to be done; a party political taste-in. Each party in Ireland will choose a representative to meet with his or her counterparts. Blind tasting will replace blind sectarianism and each candidate will be asked to identify the crisp from the north and the crisp from the south. Those that fail will be forced to give up their seat and banned from accessing their crisp of choice. Failing that they can simply join the other side and grow accustomed to the bad taste that will eventually leave in their mouths.
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But I do not fear this test. I am convinced that any northern citizen worth his or her salt and vinegar will be able to spot the crisp from Tandragee. If all else fails it will be the one that has the 'taste of home' the one that doesn't need to travel outside the borders drawn by our ancestors in 1921, the one that knows that in the final analysis it's not what you are that matters, but where you come from!
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