Sunshine boy Gaybo tootles off again


RADIO REVIEW:ASIDE FROM CAUSING an unseasonable outbreak of alabaster limbs protruding incongruously from skimpy clothing, the sunny snap has provided a reminder of how the weather brings out the irrational in most people.

How else, for example, to explain Ireland’s most experienced broadcaster, Gay Byrne, committing the radio equivalent of hara-kiri? “If you are making an effort to stay in and listen to this programme, then you are very foolish indeed,” he said on Sunday With Gay Byrne (Lyric FM). “Get out there and enjoy.”

Then again, it was the last outing in the current series of Byrne’s distinctive mix of swinging jazz and affably dyspeptic patter, so he probably cared less about listeners switching off. (The Lyric hierarchy might have appreciated the veteran presenter building up some brand loyalty for the slot, however.) But other figures also exhibited uncharacteristically illogical behaviour during the warm spell.

Musing about prospects for the summer on Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays), the meteorologist Evelyn Cusack used a methodology rarely glimpsed on her television forecasts: “I hate when the weather gets too good too early,” she told Seán Moncrieff, “because I always feel it has to balance out.”

Lest anyone think the Met Éireann stalwart has swapped atmospheric pressure data for St Swithin’s Day-style soothsaying, Cusack hurriedly gave her observation a scientific gloss, saying it tallied with the concept of climate averages.

It was a surprising lapse by Cusack, who had earlier used her occasional slot on Moncrieff’s show to lament Ireland’s traditional indifference to science.

“It’s because we were all brought up with this Irishy stuff, you know, the Celts,” she grumbled. She bemoaned the classroom hours spent teaching children about Irish myths when the story of the universe was far more interesting, and she suggested the media was biased against science because “most journalists are humanities graduates”.

As she made these astute points, Cusack’s commitment to her vocation was clear. But her manner was less that of an earnest Enlightenment avenger à la Richard Dawkins and more that of smart, opinionated but slightly dotty aunt, alternating between wry detachment and giddy laughter.

Egged on by her host, Cusack also delivered a jaded analysis of Ireland’s feted literary practitioners. “They write about depressing places in the midlands,” she said, adding that as a Laois native she could say such things.

Just like the weather, Cusack’s turn provided a welcome distraction from the increasingly soul-sapping coverage of the household charge and the Mahon report, while underlining Moncrieff’s gift for producing stimulating radio from unexpected sources. It also suggested that, should Cusack ever tire of meteorology, an alternative career as an acerbic cultural critic beckons.

Speaking of new jobs, Charlie Bird’s reinvention as talk-radio host remains a work in progress. On Saturday With Charlie Bird (RTÉ Radio 1), the former news reporter lacks the requisite ease and assurance of a chatshow presenter, much less a current-affairs anchor.

Broadcasting from a new lifeboat station in Kinsale last weekend, Bird had a tendency to repeat his questions or utter well-meaning platitudes.

Sometimes he did both at once, as when quizzing local TDs about the communal solidarity that followed the tragic sinking of Tit Bonhomme in January. Addressing Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil, the host mused, “This is a side of Ireland that really stands out, isn’t it?” Turning his attention to Fine Gael’s Noel Harrington, he wondered whether “this is the good side of this community”. Harrington buckled under the grilling. “It was a positive story, albeit a tragedy,” he agreed.

The main problem with Bird’s show is not the host’s awkwardness but the unwieldy format. As well as moderating a large pool of guests – there were six panellists on last Saturday’s show – Bird has to work the audience floor too. The consequent plethora of voices results in discussions that lack depth and focus. Last weekend’s show hopped between the strength of community spirit, the extent of political corruption and the decline of the fishing industry, without bringing much clarity to any of these subjects.

But Bird can still use his old strengths to good effect, as when he spoke at length to Caitlín Ui hAodha, the widow of Michael Hayes, the skipper of Tit Bonhomme. Ui hAodha expressed gratitude for the support received during the search for the crewmen’s bodies while sounding philosophical about the lure of the sea. “It’s in our blood, it’s beautiful and it’s horrific.”

Her dignity was matched by tart observations about wider Irish life, from the shoddy political treatment of fisherman to complacency about – and complicity in – low standards in public life.“Did we not become immune to a certain amount of political corruption in this country?” she asked. “We allowed it to become part of our lives.”

She may be in a dark place, but, helped by Bird’s sympathetic hand, Ui hAodha was a ray of light.

Radio moment of the week

Talking to Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday), the solicitor Gerald Kean sought to put the outrage about politicians’ expenses in some perspective.

“I remember a few years ago on this programme, I was critical of the publicity surrounding Mary Harney’s hairdo or blow dry,” he said.

Or at least that’s what he meant to say. But instead of “blow dry” Kean used a vernacular term that cannot be reprinted in a family newspaper.

Kean blew it, so to speak.