Catholics in the DUP! What next?
Someone once said that life is what happens when you're busy making plans to do other things.
How often do you abruptly realise that while your mind is focused elswhere, events have moved on virtually unnoticed.
In the film "Father of the Bride", Steve Martin plays the character George Banks. Giving his daughter away at her wedding, he reveals that he's been dreading the moment for six months; actually, he says, he's been dreading it for 22 years.
And he says the last time he looked his daughter was a little child, and then suddenly he sees this beautiful young woman.
All parents will identify with that. Every now and then, you see your child has suddenly grown up and where has the time gone.
In this country, sometimes we forget just how much progress we have made.
I was at an event in Belfast recently, part of which was a dinner at the Titanic Centre. I got chatting to a man who was a civil servant representing the Irish Government at Maryfield near Belfast in the 1980s. He recalled feeling, literally, in physical danger from members of the Unionist parties angry at what they saw as interference in the "internal affairs of Northern Ireland."
He hadn't been back to Belfast for years and was amazed at the physical transformation of a new, modern city.
I wonder how he would have felt at the DUP annual conference at the week-end.
Not only was there the tantalising prospect of an Alliance party Councillor joining the ranks of the erstwhile Paisleyite fundamentalist party, but the leader appeared to be making a pitch for the Catholic vote.
Crikey, where did that come from, my Dublin civil servant might have thought.
Of course, for those of us living here, the signs of progress have been there for all to see.
It's hard for even his detractors to deny that Peter Robinson has been leading from the front. His relationship with Martin McGuinness isn't exactly Chuckle Brothers stuff, but it is a serious working one. And he appears comfortable with Ministers from the southern Government.
Attendance at GAA matches is something that would have been unheard of years ago and is still used by his detractors in the TUV.
I felt the DUP leader's performance at his party conference was indicative of the strength both he and the party feels at the moment.
They are far and away the dominant voice of Unionism, and you get the feeling that they are emboldened in their feeling that they are the senior partner in their Assembly relationship with Sinn Fein.
In the context of all this, Peter Robinson felt confident enough to affirm that Catholics knew they were better off with Britain and even said that a majority of them would vote accordingly.
There were, however, mixed messages coming from the DUP.
I think Peter Robinson is right to the extent that many Catholics feel comfortable enough as part of the United Kingdom at the moment; not only because of the current economic climate, but more importantly the changes that have taken place within Northern Ireland means more Catholics feel part of society now.
It's a bit of a step, however, to imagine that Catholics of this particular viewpoint are all ready to be flag-waving Britishers, happy that the Queen "will long reign over us." And spiritually, they still feel Irish. Maybe Northern Irish at the moment.
To be fair, this was a party conference. And the DUP leader also had to reassure some within the ranks. So as well as the flags, we still had Sammy Wilson's knockabout "humour" (not).
People talk about a sham fight between the DUP and Sinn Fein. If you watched the debate over Jim Wells and Republicans who wanted him banned from Stormont last week, you won't have had any sense of Wrestlemania-style fight posturing. The bad feeling seemed real enough to me.
When Sinn Fein first entered Stormont, some Unionists didn't just refuse to speak to them, they positively couldn't stand the sight of them.
Hardliners don't soften that much that quickly, and Robinson has to keep all his constituency on board.
I thought it was significant that in his speech, the DUP leader tried to bat the idea of a Border poll out of the park.
Sinn Fein, he said, should take the hint.
A Republican friend of mine recently told me that Sinn Fein are at Stormont for the long haul. But they won't morph into an SDLP, just trying to reform Northern Ireland from within.
They will keep pursuing the Border poll. They may lose the first one, but once introduced the mechanism would allow for the poll to be repeated every seven years.
Thus keeping Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom as a theme for recurring debate.
Both of the dominant parties work hard at keeping everyone within the ranks on board, and it says something for their respective party management machines that they have done so.
Who would have thought that Sinn Fein would continue to work the bastion of British rule, Stormont, along with the former evangelical-DUP who would once have agreed with Jim Allister's "personification of evil" description of their partners in government.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us life does go on. For us, what is the most important thing? Flags? Religious make-up of parties? Voting about the Border?
It's the economy, stupid!