Saying the unsayable at the Iftas: ‘Do you know who I am?’

Deep in the trenches of the red carpet press area at the Iftas, a ‘colleague’ nearly caused me to commit one of the great linguistic sins

Amy Huberman and Jason O’Mara  on the red carpet at the IFTAs 2017 at the Mansion House, Dublin. Just out of shot is Donald Clarke’s seething rage.  Photograph: Michael Chester

Amy Huberman and Jason O’Mara on the red carpet at the IFTAs 2017 at the Mansion House, Dublin. Just out of shot is Donald Clarke’s seething rage. Photograph: Michael Chester

 

Nothing more definitively identifies a sociopath than hearing him or her (almost certainly him) say the words: “Do you know who I am?” There are some exceptions. Who among us has not felt existential confusion after the fifth bottle of Chateau Mouthwash? Every now and then, this becomes a genuine question begging a sincere answer.

Forget that. I am, of course, thinking of the person who asks the question rhetorically when seeking entry to a restaurant, nightclub or airport lounge. The presumed answer is: somebody a great deal more important than you, worthless amoeba. Once you have uttered these words, you are no longer fit to walk among the righteous. Get yourself to a hermitage and set to contemplation. Of course, that’s not going to happen. You’re a pompous, entitled turd who thinks that imagined social status gives you rights not accorded everyday serfs. I hope you choke on your own self-importance.

To the Irish Film and Television Awards (Iftas). This year, the bash took place at the Mansion House in Dublin. Before things properly kicked off, I joined fellow journalists at the red carpet to practice the highest form of our profession. Never mind those endless dispatches from war zones. Tl;dr, mate. Forget about investigative reports on the health risks of untested pharmaceuticals. We’re shouting questions about potential reality television berths at Shakespearean actors. We’re wondering where that woman off that cop show got her shoes.

Anyway, the event was going perfectly well until a near neighbour at the barrier inadvertently tested my resolve never to utter the words mentioned above. This person, who I would put at about seven years old, was working for the sort of website that – I’m still guessing here – cares very much about whether that rugby player might be considering participation in Dancing With the Stars. He was dressed like a Billy Barry Kid impersonating the late music-hall star Max Wall. Tight trousers stopped three inches above a shoe-line that seemed untroubled by anything so old-fashioned as socks. He assumed implausible, near-psychotic friendliness with any celebrity deemed sunny enough to appeal to MonkeyJerk.com’s key demographic. We grew up on different planets.

Before The Incident occurred I had already grabbed a few quotes from passing celebrities. (Incidentally, if there is an actor more friendly or articulate than Ciarán Hinds I’ll eat my own head.) I was leaning amiably on the barrier clutching my notebook and my iPhone. The nation could relax. The Irish Times was in attendance. Affairs may progress. I will admit that my accreditation was not visible, but nothing about my demeanour suggested I might be a dangerous vagrant.

The infant from Monkeyjerk.com then lent forward and, without introduction or preamble, mouthed words whose meaning I initially could not take in. “Sorry?” I said.

“This is just for press,” he repeated in a voice that suggested the trucks would soon be along to drive me to the city dump.

“I’m aware of that,” I said.

Baby Max Wall looked me up and down incredulously. “Are you press,” he replied.

Let me set minds at rest. I did not actually say: “Do you know who I am?” But the sense of my words was much the same. To this point, I hadn’t wholly grasped what was going on. This shrill internet jockey, barely old enough to cross the street unaccompanied, had taken it upon himself to question the credentials of a colleague 30 years his senior. Worse still, this colleague turned out to be me. Me! Something about the Clarke package – baldness, articulacy, the presence of socks – had singled its bearer out as unworthy to ask Sinead Crowley where she bought her handbag. The little…

“I am Donald Clarke from The Irish Times,” I boomed in a Old Testament timbre. “Look upon my works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!”

Okay, I didn’t really spit out the second bit, but I don’t imagine he would have been any more moved if I’d worked my way through all four acts of Prometheus Unbound. Written down, the words may seem more pompous than they sounded spoken aloud. Then again, they probably don’t. At any rate, there was no sense of regret, apology or recognition from this future host of the Late Late Show. (Don’t bet against it.)

I then said something that I don’t now remember. I wish it had been: “I’m glad mammy let you stay up late to try out your My First Journalism Play Set.” But I believe it was in the same area as “mind your manners”. He snapped back something unapologetic and unmoved. We returned to our tasks and allowed tension to simmer in the space dividing us.

The problem was to do with delivery. My predecessor as Irish Times film correspondent, if put in a similar position, would have brought a Shakespearean grandeur to “I am Michael Dwyer of The Irish Times.” He would have delivered the line as if preparing to separate Cordelia from her inheritance. I regretted not getting enough apocalyptic fury into my reading. I genuinely resented the little tyke’s unwillingness to show any remorse for playing red-carpet commissar to somebody who, having not yet seen evidence to the contrary, he could reasonably have assumed to be as mature as the furrows on that weathered brow.

More than anything, I resented the fact that I had been driven so close to “Do you know who I am?” He knows who I am now. I’m the old, red-faced fulminator from the…

“Oh, I don’t know, the Irish something-or-other. I didn’t catch what he said. What’s his problem, anyway? Doesn’t matter. He’ll be dead soon. Ha ha ha!” 

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