Tuesday 21 November 2017

George's remedies are hard to swallow

On Monday, in an interview with Mary Byrne, Tom Dunne mentioned a musician who was "a bit messed up". Mary wisely observed: "Ah, sure we're all messed up."

On Tuesday's The Right Hook, George Hook was "messed up". He had laryngitis. I know! I thought the growly voiced-one always had laryngitis. Then on Tuesday a burst of subsonic spittle-flecked noise exploded from my speakers and I thought my radio was malfunctioning.

It was poor George. Many texters felt that hoarse George sounded like Tom McGurk, but I agreed with the listener who said he was like "a cross between Barry White and Shirley Temple".


I also feared that this was the start of a terrifying evolution. If George's late-life broadcasting career is something of a second childhood, could this have been the sound of his voice breaking . . . ie his second adolescence? And, indeed, what would his voice sound like when it had finished breaking?

The second adolescence theory seemed even more credible when George confessed to strange longings.

When another texter asked if he'd been "on the town" with Pat Kenny the night before (George had been on Frontline), George revealed: "I was deeply envious of that gorgeous head of grey hair he had. He's so attractive that man. It really upset me. I could barely concentrate on the topic on Frontline last night. My eye just gravitated to his gorgeous hair."

George was soon joined by political editor Shane Coleman, who became Han Solo to his Chewbacca, interpreting and contextualising the veteran broadcaster's husky bellows. Coleman got to demonstrate his own sharply honed interviewing skills and gleefully delivered snippets of medical advice as they came in on the text machine.

"Fill your jowls with honey and let it trickle down your throat very slowly," he read. "Then grab the band of your underpants and yank them up your chest. That should get your voice at normal pitch." I think they could get a whole spin-off programme out of medieval attempts to fix George Hook's voice.

Things were better in the past, or so Marc Coleman argued on Coleman at Large as he recalled the sinking of the Titanic, a time when people adhered to the motto: "Women and children first".

Coleman used this strange example against the backdrop of more recent shipping disasters to advance an argument against secular society. "A secular liberal society, is it really the progressive wonderful thing it's cracked up to be," he said, "or is it in fact something that contains the seeds of social destruction and human misery?"

A humanist and two Catholics were on hand to debate the issue, but even conservative pundit Mary Kenny argued that there'd been some significant advances since the days of mass drowning.

Coleman nonetheless pushed his idea to breaking point. "Can women have it both ways?" he asked.

"Can women say, 'We want equality, but we also want to get off a sinking ship first?'" Yes, contemporary gender issues are now a choice between equality in the workplace and not drowning (you can't have it all!).


Still, though I joke about his all-or-nothing approach, Coleman at Large is one of very few programmes that actually asks big questions about society and the principles that underpin it.

Speaking of which, on Tuesday's Drivetime Philip Boucher-Hayes presented a moving report on a day in the life of a special needs assistant. He showed us a system that works, in which children with disabilities are treated with dignity and are made to feel part of society. This system is crumbling. "Why should they pay for the mistakes of others?" he asked.

The next day he explained why: our national debt, outlining its extent and how we're paying it. The most memorable line: "In the time that it has taken you to listen to this report, our national debt has grown by another €140,000."

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