Sunday 21 January 2018

A little gentle chatter is just perfect for Sundays

WHEN drowning in the babbling ocean of chatter and noise that is Irish radio, I frequently find myself praying (to the broadcasting gods) for a solid signal to cling to.

A substantial something to keep my flagging spirits afloat.

When such 'life buoys' do drift by they tend to be, well, documentary-shaped. The only trouble is, they don't drift by all that often. And before you know it, you're like Jack Dawson in Titanic, sinking into a gloom of endless blather.

Newstalk's Different Voices series may not be as consistently well- crafted as Documentary On One, but it's still substantial enough to hold the attention of listeners in need.

Saturday's Shelf-Life (the latest entry in the series) promised to paint an "entertaining, and occasionally poignant, portrait of Louth County Library, its staff, its regulars, and its importance to the community".

Were contemporary libraries, producer Francesca Lalor wondered, still silent places filled with "cobwebbed tomes", controlled "by stern, horn-rimmed librarians saying 'Shh!'"? Bernadette Fennell, the county librarian, assured her that those days were "long gone", emphasising the library's importance as a "multi-functional... free public space".


That sense of libraries as social centres, as community hubs, was articulated throughout. Christy, a local retiree, said he'd "call into the library... five days out of the seven". Mainly to "read the papers", but also to "meet somebody with whom you [could] have a conversation".

Seamus, his neighbour, called it "a home from home". Local councillor Mark Dearey described it as a "sanctuary" for those who might be "struggling with their mental health". People who might "find the days... very long".

Inclusive and welcoming they may be, but librarian Alan Hand felt that online technologies would soon render public libraries (and librarians) obsolete. "Everything has a time and a place," he concluded, elegiacally. The rest of Shelf-Life was a mix of mildly amusing anecdotes and nuggets of insight into the library's secret world. Long-serving librarian Isabelle recalled an outraged, elderly woman hurling a copy of Sidney Sheldon's ("absolutely filthy") A Stranger in the Mirror at her, only for an intrigued older man to discreetly inquire if he could have "the book the woman threw"?

We also learned that avid consumers of "Mills and Boon(s) and Westerns" routinely mark the volumes they read with their initials (or, even, the names of their dogs). Thereby ensuring "they don't re-read the same book".

Enjoyable stuff, overall, even if there wasn't really enough meaty material to justify a full hour. A tight 15 minutes would have packed a bigger punch.

Sunday isn't traditionally a day for punchy radio, but it's often a happy hunting ground for those in search of soothing sounds. John Bowman led the way in the a.m. with a warm 'n' fuzzy tribute to Micheal O'Hehir, broadcast to mark "the 75th anniversary of... O'Hehir's first radio commentary". Through archival audio we heard how, in those days of communal radio listening, O'Hehir could transform even mediocre matches into spellbinding affairs. How he "mitched" off school to secure his first commentary gig.

How he overcame the commentator's terror – namely "the feeling that he is talking to thousands and thousands of people" – by imagining that he was speaking directly to a single Clareman – one Patrick Garry, a devoted GAA fan who'd been bedridden for years (and who depended on O'Hehir's vivid descriptions to remain connected to the game he loved).

If the dulcet tones of Micheal O'Hehir left you soothed, then Philip King's South Wind Blows probably pushed you over the edge into blissful somnolence.


Philip brings you, he says, "songs of love, loss and longing" from "the most westerly tip of the Dingle peninsula, the very edge of Europe". Songs like those of The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, a groovy cat who once taught King a "couple of licks on the harmonica" in Lisdoonvarna.

At his most forceful, Philip is seductively whispery. At his softest, he's barely audible. Sounding less on the "very edge of Europe" and more on the very edge of the known universe. A show of quiet (and quite considerable) charm.

And, finally, there's nobody quite like Colm Hayes for dragging the arse out of a non-topic. On Monday, Hayes surpassed even himself, squeezing a full 25 minutes out of a discussion on the morality (or otherwise) of his failure to stop someone from stealing a Viennetta. It was almost heroic. Almost.

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