You only live twice

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Pubs are a refuge for the thirsty, the lonely, the weary, the indolent and the violently drunk. In Northern Ireland in the tense and jittery Seventies they were sullen, dangerous places: so dangerous that nationalists and loyalists separated to drink in sectarian shebeens. These were vermin-infested speakeasies, controlled by rat-faced thugs, whose only advantage was that, once admitted, casual drinkers were unlikely to be killed without warning.

There was nothing to choose between them. They were all full of strong women with legs as short as their skirts and tempers, and men without any visible necks, drinking steadily with an air of resigned decadence. A young fellow made his living performing in a band in these dives: in the nationalist establishments he was Seamus Doherty; in the loyalist, Sidney Turkington. His real name, Gerry Anderson, was too ambivalent in its resonances to have been safe to use. In Gerry's Bar (R4), he described this dingy, scary existence, conjuring up the atmosphere of alcohol-fuelled mistrust in a voice elegiac in its sadness, piercing in its perceptiveness.

This is what he does brilliantly. Forget the ill-conceived Anderson's Country and tune in to him on Friday mornings: you will learn more about the comedy and pathos of Northern Ireland in 15 minutes than you would on a fortnight's package tour.

There seems to be no Egyptian equivalent of Anderson, so The Classic Travel Guide (CFM) sent Valerie Singleton and Alastair McKenzie off to Egypt instead. Neither could quite do it justice. Singleton sounded so thoroughly miffed to find herself mingling with other tourists that she didn't seem to notice the miraculous Temple of Hatshepsut. Her guide told her that her entrance ticket would cost 20 pounds: nobody mentioned that he meant Egyptian pounds, which must have alarmed potential punters. He declared the Valley of Kings a marvellous place for old pharaohs to hide their tombs in; she seemed unconvinced.

She mooched about a mosque; McKenzie pondered on a pyramid and frolicked in a felucca, but only when they had both slogged up Mount Sinai to witness daybreak did the listener share a dawning glimmer of wonder. The rest was tourism, and another excuse for the Grand March from Aida and - this was strange - for Papageno's song. The Magic Flute provides a perfect link with Egypt, in the great bass aria "O Isis und Osiris", so why not use that? Perhaps it is not quite enough of a lollipop, so the very un- Egyptian bird-catcher warbled again.

Monday's Junior Prom (R3) was more adventurous with its music. Tony Robinson knows just how to talk to children, to inform them and make them laugh without being coy or patronising. He presented a Prom stuffed with as many plums as chestnuts. Michael Nyman's Musique a Grande Vitesse, written for the opening of the Channel Tunnel, took them off to Paris for the knickerless cancan, which Robinson described as belonging to a line of outrageous innovations that was to include the twist, the Sex Pistols, house music and Public Enemy.

The rest of the programme went on around the world: for me, the revelation was Peter Sculthorpe's Small Town, inspired by a war memorial in the little place in Australia where DH Lawrence set his novel Kangaroo. Robinson alerted us to the lovely oboe solo and to the variations on "The Last Post" which were beautiful and sombre, yet quite without pomp or triumphalism. I was astonished to find that I'd listened to the whole Prom in no time at all - despite a ludicrous, downright cringey interval feature.

If childhood were always like Monday afternoon, what fun it would be. Alas, for many children the messy adult world intrudes all too soon. The McFaddens were the subject of the last of Michael O'Donnell's excellent series Relative Values (R4), and the one you felt really sorry for was the daughter. Poor child, she had to watch her father stand trial for rape, and her mother attempt suicide - and to hear everyone whispering about it at school. I'm not sure how this series avoids melodrama and prurience, but it does, and echoes of the catharsis it might offer its contributors are experienced by its listeners.

A cosier approach to family relationships is offered by Sarah Kennedy in Thicker than Water (R2). Kennedy deliberately sidesteps the murky waters into which O'Donnell plunges, dwelling instead on the delights of being related to someone famous. The Wakemans, Rick and Adam, regularly tour together however, and, to some at least, the son is as famous as his father. There was a nice moment when Rick was remembering a 78 record. "What's a 78?" enquired the callow Adam. His father was ready for that: "My current chest size," he said.

I woke on Monday, as usual, to Farming Today (R4). Two men were earnestly discussing the effect of stocking density on farmed fish. Honestly. I mean, did you know that fish even wore stockings?

Comments