Friday 19 January 2018

The Week in Radio: Bunkers, bombs & bathtubs

Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1, weekdays, and Culture File Weekly Lyric FM, Saturday

Sean O'Rourke in the studio. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Sean O'Rourke in the studio. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Ah, the 1980s. They were gas, weren’t they? JR Ewing. TR Dallas. Bosco. The Calor Kosangas Housewife of the Year (unarguably gas, that one). Magnum PI and, of course, the ever-present spectre of global nuclear annihilation.

OK, that last one was really only ‘gas’ in, y’know, a sort of irradiated-gas-that-melts-your-face-off kind of way. So not all that gas. Unless you’re the type of sicko who considers, say, When the Wind Blows a non-stop chuckle-fest.

When the Wind Blows, by the way, still occasionally haunts my dreams. As does Threads, and The Day After, and all the other jolly mushroom-cloud-shaped nightmares that once frazzled the raw nerves of pale, anxious and over-sensitive children.

But it’s 2015 now, right? And you

surely feel entitled to relax those clenched Cold War muscles just a little, right? Wrong!

“How prepared would we be,” Sean O’Rourke ominously asked on Monday’s show, “in the unlikely event someone decides to drop an atom bomb close to Ireland?” The question (despite the moderating “unlikely”) was alarming. The fact that I didn’t know the answer was even more so. Was it: “Very prepared”? Was it: “A little bit, prepared but we need to sharpen up our act”? Or was it: “Aaaahhh! Not remotely prepared! Sweet Jesus, we’re all doomed!”?

It’s always safest to assume the worst. So I did. But from beneath the kitchen table — where I lay ducking and covering and wolfing down (out-of-date) iodine tablets — I detected the soothing tones of Brian O’Connell. And it soon became clear that it was all a bit of a laugh after all. The piece, I mean. Not nuclear war in general.

“Brian, you’ve been inside the bunker,” chuckled O’Rourke. “I was afraid you wouldn’t let me out, Sean,” chuckled O’Connell. As the chuckling subsided, it became clear that the nuclear bunker in question was in (or, rather, under) downtown Limerick. Once state-of-the-art (not really), and now, damp and smelling of wee (most likely).

“In the event of... the big bomb going off,” said Brian Kelly (formerly of Limerick City Council), this bleak cavern was to function as “a control centre”.

“Who were the lucky ones?” O’Connell wanted to know. “If the bomb lands, who are the people who got in here?”

Kelly painted a grim picture of a cramped shelter, stuffed with high-ranking civil servants, local officials, and (one presumes) local politicians. All huddled about a table, discussing the impact of nuclear holocaust on regional bus schedules. Or, more likely, quaffing brandy and laughing their arses off.

Imagine being stuck in there, indefinitely, with that lot? I’d sooner be immolated in the initial blast. I’d sooner get devoured by a mutant gang of zombie cannibals. Anything but the bunker.

While we still (at the time of writing at least) live in a pre-apocalyptic world, then let’s be thankful for the pre-apocalyptic radio treats that occasionally enliven our dreary pre-apocalyptic existences.

Into this category falls Culture File Weekly. It being, explained host Luke Clancy, the “weekly gathering of the nicest bits of the week’s daily Culture Files, plus extra treats for the collectors”. We were promised “a bathtub, some trains, some acorns, a pair of turntables, a mysterious and powerful love potion, a printing press and a grand theory of everything”.

And that’s, more or less, what we got.

A little bit of whatever you’re having yourself. And more besides.

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