Thunder and Lightning by Colin Bateman: deliciously dark drollery

This is memoir as self-deprecating confession, with rich, meaningful, universal emotions

Bangor might be the centre of Colin Bateman’s universe, but — shock! horror! — he was actually born in godforsaken Newtownards, although we only discover his shame in a footnote on page 154.

As a lad, he enjoyed perusing the lingerie pages of Kays mail-order catalogue, and had a vicious Jack Russell called Patch who bit people in the face. Colin cried copiously when Patch pegged out, but not at all when his mum and dad departed.

He dreamed of being “the Robert Maxwell of Bangor” but when the IRA blew the town to bits in 1992, instead of editing a historic edition of the Co Down Spectator — his job — he hid under his duvet and discovered he wasn’t a journalist after all.

This is memoir as self-deprecating confession, and while we’ll never know what has been left out (any outrage seems possible) he has certainly put an awful lot in, from his profane life as a punk, through his calamitous career as a wannabe impresario, to his sad search for sainthood in Uganda.

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Bateman’s rollicking chronicle is Bangor through and through, from the Tonic cinema (who did burn it down?) to the stinking changing huts at Ballyholme beach. The cloak-wearing teachers of Bangor Grammar — “vampires on day release” — feature, as does the urine-enriched water of Pickie Pool. Cecil Greenwood’s shop, selling nudey mags and stink bombs and even Bangor’s meanest laneway, the Vennel, have walk-on parts.

This all resonates, painfully.

But Bateman’s narrative also has at its core what all good biography needs — rich, meaningful and universal emotions and experiences such as teenage lust, too much cider and lots of boke.

The humour is sometimes hyperbolic, often mordant, and once or twice defamatory (although I’m sure the lawyers said he’ll probably get away with that story on page 195.) Even Bateman’s most poignant memories are framed in deliciously dark drollery.

Presenting one’s formative years as a litany of miserable failures and monumental screw-ups may be a well-known Bangor stratagem for making life’s later achievements appear all the more exceptional, but in Bateman’s case it all rings perfectly true.

I laughed from cover to cover, and even if the author was “a hangover-suffering reprobate”, what self-respecting Bangor teenager wasn’t?