Has there ever been a local tradition as commonly and guiltlessly despised as Northern Ireland's marching bands? With almost any other cherished custom a reflex of cultural deference would probably kick in. Might not be our kind of thing, we'd say, about Vanuatu tower diving or Turkish camel wrestling, but out of such stuff identity is carved. Not our business to judge. But you only have to see a marching band on screen to know that it has almost certainly been put there as an emblem of obdurate sectarian pig-headedness. Which meant that Alison Millar, director of Wonderland – The Men Who Won't Stop Marching, had a task on her hands in trying to broaden our understanding of the relatively small group of people who react to the sight with a sense of pride. That greater understanding was the mission was surely a given. Condemnation doesn't take an hour and would be redundant anyway, given the prevailing prejudice.
I'd say she succeeded in her task, even if it took a while and even if her own off-camera questions proved to be something of a liability. And her secret-weapon was a boulder-headed little boy called Jordan, born into "one of the most infamous loyalist families" in the Shankhill, the McKeags. Jordan's father, Jackie, who spent time in the Maze prison for a crime carefully unspecified here, ran a local band and seemed uncertain about exactly which traditions he should be passing on to his son. Devotion to his own band, and a defence of its rights, appeared to be mixed with a reluctance to let him take up a drum himself, something Jordan yearned to do. "I want me daddy to be really proud of me," he said, looking down over Belfast from a nearby hill, which offered a good view of the ugly security walls that still run between Protestant and Catholic areas.
It wasn't all depressing. The abusive graffiti registered an unexpected shift of public mood, with F.A.P. ("Fuck All Paramilitaries") freshly scrawled everywhere on the estate and the K.A.T. tags ("Kill All Taigs") now beginning to fade and peel. But the glimmers of light were hardly dazzling. "There they go, into the wilderness... Beirut, I'm telling you," said another band member Paul, after taking Millar on a tour of the city streets at night, haunted by young children with nothing to do. The bands, it was suggested, aren't just a fetish of embattled identity, but the only positive thing in town. And while they still march in commemoration of sectarian murderers ("a defender of the Protestant people... a true son of Ulster"), that history is beginning to fade too and become less starkly legible to a younger generation. The gable-end murals the tourists come to see are freshly painted but Jordan wasn't always sure what they were about, even when one of those commemorated was his own uncle, Stevie "Topgun" McKeag. And though Jackie took his son on a tour of the Maze towards the end of the film, he seemed happy to let some kinds of historical memory drift into amnesia. Millar concluded with a little human triumph that had nothing to do with confessional identity and everything to do with ordinary human life – Jordan's successful audition to play a snare drum in the school band, which didn't march at all.
They were making pet food in The Apprentice this week, with one team trying to buck market wisdom with a product called Everydog, aimed at that slender group of dog-lovers who think that their pets are nothing special and don't deserve any better. Tom Pellereau politely pointed out this flaw in the strategy, but was overruled by his project manager, as has happened nearly every time he's offered sharp and pertinent reservations. The big question now is whether Lord Sugar can overcome his embedded class prejudices and give Tom a chance to put his regrettable middle-class roots behind him.Reuse content