One of the strengths of the people of Derry is our ability to laugh at ourselves. The good old ‘Derry sense of humour’ has got this city through many a dark spot.
But just in case we were ever in danger of taking ourselves too seriously - one local hack has been working incognito over the past ten years to make sure that the best, and worst of Derry is immortalised with some top class satire.
‘Pure Derry’ - an internet presence which started as a parody of a well known (and excellently written) local paper is celebrating ten years of forcing the people of this city to take a long, hard and sometimes painfully funny look at themselves.
And to mark the big decade, fans of the satirical writer - who now operates on Social media site Facebook - can now buy a book celebrating the very best of Pure Derry.
In addition if you want to add a few extra stocking fillers to your Christmas list, there will soon also be a range of high quality mugs, t-shirts and other merchandise available - celebrating all that is just so very pure Derry!
The man behind the phenomenon chooses to remain anonymous - although he admits his identity is probably one of the worst kept secrets in Derry. But he admits he never thought - when he first launched the project ten years ago from a laptop in Galliagh - that he would ever be sitting in front of a published book with a Facebook following in excess of 15,000 people.
“I never ever thought we would be here,” he said. “I can still remember the moment on the laptop at my friend’s kitchen table. I remember wondering whether or not to hit the button to send the site live. We did it - at about one in the morning - and we sent this one link out, on hotmail to about 50 people saying ‘check this out’.
“We had a wee hit counter on the site and got up the next morning to find 2000 or 3000 people had looked at the site - and this was before social media, before Twitter or Facebook or Bebo or MySpace.
“We just watched the counter go up and up over the following days and it got to 10,000 within the first two weeks.”
Styling itself on, of course, Derry’s best loved newspaper The Derry Journal, Pure Derry initially uploaded a full edition of the paper once a week, covering news, sport, job ads and everything in between.
The original site at www.purederry.com ran from 2003-2008 when it simply became “too much to manage” for the Mr Pure Derry - who was also trying to hold down a full time - non-media related - job.
He had also noticed his own style of writing changing, and the site evolving. He admits that while the original site was extremely popular it also cut “very close to the bone” on a number of occasions.
“In the start with Pure Derry I used the anonymity as a means to facilitate being offensive but then I realised morally that was not the right thing to do. I realised that quite quickly.
“Then I suppose the writing evolved, my comedy style evolved - the anonymity became a bit of fun. The content didn’t need to be controversial. It just needed to be weighty so that it could get the message across - it could have impact without naming specific businesses or people etc.”
There are people who do come under fire from the site however - although Mr Pure Derry said most have taken the “slagging” they have received in the spirit in which it is offered.
“I’ve got quite good at figuring how close you can go. I always think if you can look someone in the eye and can stand over what you say about them then it’s good.
“It’s a bit like those caricatures you get on the bridge at Prague - we take elements of people and expand them out.
“I try not to be hateful about anyone. With the odd exception. ” Mr Pure Derry said.
The new book will be launched in Foyleside on Saturday (complete with a Derry take on the Jeremy Kyle Show hosted by the one and only Doherty McLaughlin) from 2pm.
It combines content from the original website, from the Facebook page - which was set up in 2012 - and new content including a very witty ‘50 Things To Do in Derry’ guide.
Mr Pure Derry is hopeful people will enjoy the book. “When I brought Pure Derry back I did so because 2013 was on the way. But I didn’t want to be negative about Derry. I try to strike the balance between satire and a real pride in my home town.”
And the site looks set to stay - and indeed grow - in 2014. Pure Derry TV hit our screens earlier this year and next year Mr Pure Derry hopes to recruit a new team of writers and contributors to keep the content fresh.
“You have to evolve. You can’t keep telling the same joke.” he said. That said, I’d say there’s still a fair bit of mileage out of tobacco onions.
‘Pure Derry’ is priced at £12.99 and is published by Blackstaff Press.