Joe Duffy offers hope to a 50-year-old woman trapped in a nursing home

Moving tale of quiet desperation on ‘Liveline’, while Moby is an antidote to gloom on digital

Moby interviewed by Donal Scannell on Born Optimistic (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, Monday).

Moby interviewed by Donal Scannell on Born Optimistic (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, Monday).

 

We live in interesting times, with civil liberties across the world coming under threat, but judging by some of the callers to Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) a new Gulag-era is already upon us. Ever the champion of the underdog, Joe Duffy kicks off the week by invoking freedom for two women who feel they have been unjustly constrained by the authorities. Their stories, however, could not be more different.

On Monday, Margaret phones in to complain that her car was clamped exactly 21 minutes after she parked it in the town square of Ballincollig, Co Cork, when she thought she had four hours of free parking. What follows is a confusing and, for the listener, interminable discussion on local bylaws about obtaining shopping receipts to avail of parking privileges. As a casual conversation between pals, this topic would strain the limits of friendship within a couple of minutes: as a 10-minute item on national radio, it is mind-meltingly banal. 

Even Duffy, who can do a mean impression of a tut-tutting auld wan when the occasion demands, begins to sound uncharacteristically curt as the story drags on. He nonetheless poses the dramatic question, “How much did you have to pay for your freedom?” The cost of unshackling the tyrannical bonds of the clamp from Margaret’s car turns out to be €125. Not cheap, and quite possibly unfair, but hardly the stuff of Amnesty campaigns. 

Trish’s story

If Duffy seems peeved, it may be because he has just heard from Trish, who is unable to move from the nursing home she has lived in for the past five years despite being only 50 years-old. Trish explains how her current location was intended as a temporary measure: a wheelchair-user thanks to multiple sclerosis, she had hoped to get a place in a rehab centre. Geared towards the elderly, the nursing home is “woefully inadequate for someone who is younger and who can work”, but Trish has been unable to find somewhere else, despite her best efforts. “There is no progression system whereby people who have been inappropriately housed would be able to reintegrate into society,” she says.

In a week when the “Grace” case once again highlights the horrific abuse suffered by some in State care, Trish’s situation is less urgent. But her articulate manner underlines her own quiet desperation at being “trapped” in a logjam of official indifference. Her voice cracks as she compares her plight to the opening lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s song First We Take Manhattan: “They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom.”

Duffy, for his part, is audibly moved. “It sounds like you’re looking for your freedom,” he says and this time his use of the emotive noun is merited. Such is the Liveline lottery, where accounts of life-changing confinement compete for our attention with gripes about everyday inconveniences. Much like everyday conversation, really.

Happy-clappy

Those seeking respite from the downcast air of Duffy’s show should seek out Born Optimistic (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, Monday). As the title suggests, this interview series is unabashedly positive in tone – the optimism of presenter and producer Donal Scannell is such that the entire medical profession would strain to find a cure for it. “I share my optimism with the world,” he says at one point, with a sincerity as strong as it is sweet.

But there is more to the show than happy-clappy vibes. It consists of in-depth interviews with musicians who have inspired Scannell, and his guests to date are more notable for their open manner and revelatory answers than for their upbeat attitudes.

The opening episode, featuring American singer and musician Moby, is as compelling and wide-ranging as one would expect from a vegan Christian and sometime hedonist who left his punk and techno roots to become a global star. Whether he is musing on the impossibility of knowing the divine, the ethics of not eating meat or the effects of drinking steadily for 20 years, Moby makes for a thoughtful yet wryly self-aware guest. 

From Scannell’s casual manner to his tendency to talk about his own life, his approach is more in keeping with a podcast than a formal radio programme, but it sets his guests at ease. Moreover, it helps ensure an afterlife for his show as a podcast, rather than have it disappear into the ether after transmission on a digital radio station.

Scannell’s encounter with Tim Booth, singer with Manchester indie band James, is if anything more memorable than the Moby episode, as his guest mixes disarming candour with unintentional humour. Booth says he avoids talking about his life, only to give a startlingly honest account of his upbringing which even the perpetually sunny Scannell describes as “miserable”. 

Meanwhile, there is surprisingly little about Booth’s musical career – a bonus of non-fans of his band – but rather a lot about his worldview. Now based in California, Booth discusses the unconventional paths he has followed in medicine, spirituality and even food. Having once been vegetarian, he now eats meat again, on the basis that animals and plants are all living entities. “I don’t know if eating an animal is any higher a spiritual choice than eating a carrot,” he says, displaying either a wide-eyed earnestness or a talent for deadpan satire, though the former seems more likely. 

Such moments only add to the enjoyment of a programme that has far more substance and appeal than its pitch might suggest. But don’t be surprised if Duffy gets a call demanding freedom for carrots some day soon.

Radio Moment of the Week: Jordan defuses O’Rourke

Film director Neil Jordan appears on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to discuss his new novel, but achieves something more notable. Normally an indefatigable interrogator, O’Rourke is bested by the perpetually surly Jordan. When the director says he can’t discuss a new movie project because “it’s a big secret”, the host demurs. And when O’Rourke suggests that a car-bomb scene in Jordan’s movie Michael Collins made the director laugh, he is told off. “No, that’s rubbish,” says Jordan, with such conviction that O’Rourke backs off the question. The nation’s politicians listen on in envy.

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