Tuesday 25 October 2016

Radio: Blast from the past for a break from the now

Father figure: Broadcaster John Bowman
Father figure: Broadcaster John Bowman

Sometimes we all need a little escape from the now.

OK, that may sound like the crap tagline of a crap romantic comedy. Some noughties rubbish about star-crossed, time-travelling lovers. I'm thinking Matthew McConaughey as a hunky Tudor jester. I'm thinking Sandra Bullock as a frazzled high-school history teacher from New Jersey who discovers a portal to the past in the basement of her local deli. I'm thinking...I'm sure I've seen this.

But, as I was saying, sometimes we all need a little escape from the now. It sounds like crap. It is crap. But it's also true. And such an escape was what I needed this week.

So away from all things current I turned. Away from rolling news and rolling reaction and back into dusty archives. Well, to be fair, it was John Bowman who went into the dusty archives. Plus, they're probably not even that dusty these days (what with improved standards in archival preservation and all). Plus, y'know, he probably gets researchers to do it.

What is certain - inasmuch as anything can be certain in this universe of quantum uncertainty - is that there I was. On Sunday morning. At 8.30 a.m. Listening to Bowman serve up archival delights. In a show whose exact name I've never been entirely sure of.

Actually, that's not true. About the Sunday morning listening, I mean. I was in bed and reviewed via podcast later. I'm not insane. The bit about not knowing exactly what the show is called is true though. Is it Bowman? Or Bowman: Sunday? Or, even, the ungainly and colon heavy Bowman: Sunday: 8.30, as per the Radio 1 website?

Such uncertainty doesn't, ultimately, matter because for those needing a little escape from the now it's a show that rarely fails to deliver the retro goodies. Everything about it screams then. Or, rather, whispers then. From its delicate cello (?) main theme to Bowman's measured and professorial delivery. Imagine a gentlemen's club for audio archivists where the doorman greets you with a slight nod before handing you a Werther's Original. That kind of thing.

The second half of Sunday's show focused, quite enjoyably, on Mervyn Wall, whose novels The Return of Fursey and The Unfortunate Fursey are, Bowman told us, “being reprinted by Swan River Press.” Cut to archival audio of Wall describing how The Unfortunate Fursey came to be. Wall was ill. With mild pleurisy. His sister had been dispatched to fetch some books (preferably books of ghost stories) from Dun Laoghaire library.

She returned, said Wall, with “a book without a cover on it.” Wall “never knew the title” but worked out that it was a 17th century “manuscript by a French abbé.” One that amused him because of the “language and the seriousness at which witchcraft was taken”. Out of that amusement, Fursey was born.

We also heard Wall talk about George Orwell's critique of jingoistic and imperialistic British boys' publications before he reflected on a Jesuit education full of routine beatings. “I suppose one studied all the better,” said Wall, of the beatings, which immediately made me want to flee straight back to the now from that then.

But not before stopping in on The History Show where Myles Dungan and Michael Doherty were having a jolly discussion about Orson Welles' relationship with Ireland (and Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammóir). There were tall tales and taller tales. We heard much about self-mythologising and spoofery.

The past, basically.

Bowman: Sunday: 8.30

RTE Radio 1, Sunday

The History Show

RTE Radio 1, Sunday

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