Iron will, a raw nerve and all that jazz

Sat, Oct 20, 2012, 01:00

RADIO REVIEW: BE IT DUTY, honour or toughness, the robustly male values of military service can appear anachronistic in a civilian society in which the ability to tweet has become a life skill.

But, judging by The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), a stint in the forces yields at least one skill that can be parlayed in today’s more empathetic, metrosexual world. To paraphrase the old recruitment slogan, join the army, see the world and learn to iron.

This hitherto unheralded martial virtue came to light on Wednesday, as Murray launched his “All Ireland Ironing Men” contest. Prompted by Senator Martin McAleese’s weekend bombshell on CountryWide (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) that his housekeeping skills were rusty, Murray wanted to know whether all Irish males were as helpless in the face of an ironing board. A few good men stepped up to the challenge.

Ciaran, from Dublin, said he learned to wield an iron when in An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, as he attempted to put creases into the heavy wool uniform, a revelation that only added to the popular reputation of the Irish Army Reserve as a less-than-elite combat unit.

Martin, from Cork, then told of how his prowess came from his time as a squaddie in the British army, where a sharply pressed uniform was an asset that could even help you avoid arduous tasks. Murray tried to press his guests on this common theme, with little success, Martin being more interested in telling how he combined ironing and babysitting duties for his grandchildren.

It was a typically sombre and heavyweight item from the perennially chuckling Murray, who continues to revel in his self-appointed role as the jester in RTÉ Radio 1’s morning schedule, to mixed effect. But for all the flippancy in this instance, Wednesday’s sequence gave a peek at people’s lives from a novel angle.

The entrants all referred to the relaxation of ironing. Paul, an Aer Lingus flight attendant, even took his linen on overnight trips abroad, the better to indulge his pastime. With so much to get agitated about these days, promoting the Zen-like qualities of the humble iron was not as silly as it seemed.

Callers on Tuesday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) sounded as if they could do with a soothing pile of wrinkly laundry, so worked up were they about the plight of Joe Purcell, the unemployed actor recently convicted of shoplifting. It was easy to share the sense of outrage – not always the case with grievances aired on Joe Duffy’s programme.

Purcell told how, faced with an unforeseen glitch in social-welfare payments, he stole bread and cornflakes for his children’s breakfast. He was caught by a shop manager, arrested and locked up in a Garda cell, before his eventual sentence of community service. Articulate and thoughtful, Purcell sounded chastened by his experience, particularly the realisation that his actions had made him a thief, no matter if that was not how he saw himself.

Nonetheless, as someone with weekly income of €10 after bills and groceries, he did not feel ashamed by thus acting to prevent his children going hungry.

Purcell’s story hit a nerve. Callers queued up to offer support, adding their own tales of financial troubles. Trish, a former businesswoman, said she now used teabags three times to save cash.

Where Purcell had studiously avoided contrasting his treatment with the negligible consequences faced by bankers, builders and politicians, other guests were less reserved. Depending on who was speaking, the country lacked leadership, had lost the plot or was being bled dry.

As is his wont, Duffy affected the guise of the dispassionate host while expertly stoking the atmosphere. He repeatedly solicited his callers’ opinions on Time magazine’s cover story that conditions were getting better in Ireland, to predictably spluttering responses. But, in this case, his approach did not seem manipulative. With Purcell’s case highlighting the inequality that pervades so much of Irish life, Duffy fulfilled his remit as a public-service broadcaster by allowing people to vent rather than resort to more drastic action.

But it will take more than despairing fury to improve matters. According to the thesis propounded on The Business (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), creativity is vital for a healthy economy, even if it is not a quality normally associated with the hard-nosed world of commerce. George Lee sought to show how the business world might learn from the realm of imaginative arts, to intriguing if not always convincing effect.

A report on the previous entrepreneurial life of Paul Linehan, of the Cork indie group The Frank and Walters, was affectionate but somewhat pointless, and a panel discussion brought forth wisdom such as “creativity comes from interfacing with customers”, not the usual artistic mantra.

But there was one stimulating moment. A US academic, Frank Barrett, suggested large organisations could learn from the “provocative competence” of the jazz musician Miles Davis, who jolted his band out of their routines to produce the seminal Kind of Blue album. “What jazz players have learned to do is disrupt their own comfort level to make lifelong learning a personal mission,” he said.

Unfortunately, it may take more than classic jazz to shock Ireland out of its institutional complacency.

Radio moment of the week

Given his courteous-to-the-point-of- formality interviewing style, it was jarring to hear the reporter Henry McKean branded as misogynistic in a text to Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays). True, the criticism was about McKean’s item on bra size, but the real problem was his constant description of women as “girls”. Sean Moncrieff stood by his colleague, if not his archaic language. “Henry is not misogynistic; it’s where he lives is the problem. He lives in 1953.” What a pal.

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