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No weathering this disaster

"Nature teaches us some hard lessons. We have to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Who among our great wits said that? Shaw? Wilde? Joyce? Brendan O'Carroll?

Nope. It's meteorologist Gerry Fleming, the head of Met Eireann's general forecasting division, who acquired the soubriquet "the winking weatherman" during his years on air, and he's talking about how extreme weather can destroy crops.

If you ever wondered what happened to Gerry -- and I have to confess I have during the odd, idle moment not spent musing over Jean Byrne's shiny frocks -- here he is, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in Weather Permitting, a documentary about the history of weather forecasting on RTE.

Gerry is giving it a game go, too.

He's being his usual cheery, smiley (if not quite winky) self. To be honest, though, there's a lot of separating to be done here, because there's more chaff than wheat.

The weather is the most boring topic of conversation under the sun -- when we actually get some sun -- and no amount of effort on Gerry's part can sex it up.

He's enthusiastic, I'll give him that, especially when it comes to the raising of weather balloons, which he considers, over some archive clips and soaring music, to be "the only incidence of the peoples of the world coming together".

Mmm . . . not so sure about that. I mean, there's the World Cup. And the Olympics.

A scientist Gerry talks to agrees with him. "This is probably as close as we can get to touching the sky," he says.

I would have thought space travel had that one covered, but there you go.

"For people who came before, this world would have been science fiction," Gerry beams. True. Weather balloons and satellites once seemed like the stuff of fantasy.

But then so did motorcars, microwavable curries and beer in a can.

This being a TV50 documentary, there's a lot of archive footage: Jack Lynch campaigning in the snow in 1973; Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald having to fly back from his holiday in Spain when the Tanaiste, Michael O'Leary, discovered that the weather is the one thing you can't legislate for; farmers forlornly considering a sodden hay crop.

Charlie Bird pops up briefly to talk about the time the country was hammered by Hurricane Charlie (it's not ALWAYS about you, Charlie!).

Pat Kenny pops up even more briefly to talk about the time a man stuck on a roof during a flood told Charlie to "f**k off, loud as a bell" on air when the intrepid reporter asked him how he was. Alas, that priceless moment wasn't included here.

We saw Evelyn Cusack -- but, funnily enough, not Jean Byrne -- picking out clothes to wear and reminiscing about how, as a child, the sight of berries in the hedges was supposed to signify a good summer.

Wouldn't it be great, Evelyn mused, if inspecting the hedges for berries was all there was to weather forecasting -- which, for the record, is only reliable up to 10 days in advance. Well, not really, Ev; you'd be out of a job, for one thing.

Weather Permitting occasionally threatened to take an interesting turn, as when the pleasingly grouchy former TV weatherman John Eagleton alluded to "the relentless psychological pressure" of having to deliver bad weather news to the public for days on end, and how weather forecasting "is for young people now".

But the point was allowed to drift away like a cloud.

Late July is the time when most of RTE's top stars (ie, the ones who hire themselves out as independent contractors, as opposed to those on basic RTE salaries) pack their sun cream and shorts and head off to somewhere that's not Ireland, leaving the rest of us to get by on programmes like Weather Permitting.

We'll have been drip-fed a lot of drivel by the time the summer ends -- if, that is, it ever gets started.

weather permitting HIIII