‘I just wish people would stop moaning and giving out.’ But what would Liveline do then?

Review: Joe Duffy presides over tetchy debates on bungalows and masks in schools

The subjects exercising Joe Duffy’s guests seem so trivial that one almost forgets we’re in the middle of an epoch-defining global pandemic

The subjects exercising Joe Duffy’s guests seem so trivial that one almost forgets we’re in the middle of an epoch-defining global pandemic

 

For a couple of days, it’s almost like old times on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Whether callers are taking umbrage at television shows they haven’t yet seen or expressing annoyance at insufficient religious imagery on seasonal stamps, the subjects exercising Joe Duffy’s guests seem so trivial that one almost forgets we’re in the middle of an epoch-defining global pandemic.

Then, on Wednesday, the virus reminds listeners it hasn’t gone away, as new Covid restrictions for primary schools spark fury bordering on farce.

School should be a 'neutral space', Jenny says, opining that compulsory mask-wearing is an ominous development

Duffy hears from Jenny, who’s “shocked and disgusted” at the requirement that masks be worn by older pupils. “For a child who decides for whatever reason that they don’t want to wear a mask, where is the choice?” she asks indignantly. Her own son having gone into school without a mask, Jenny – who stresses she’s vaccinated – says she will “make a stand” against this “step too far”. 

Others share her frustration. Orla is incandescent at “lobby groups” who pushed for reopening, and criticises the Government’s “confusing” messaging on the issue. (Her children will wear masks, however.)

Darren, on the other hand, favours the mask mandate; no surprise, as he is suffering from Covid and his father died from the disease. 

This proves too much for Jenny. “Can I bring the conversation back a little bit?” she interjects sharply. School should be a “neutral space”, she says, opining that compulsory mask-wearing is an ominous development. “Where does it all end?” she asks. “I can tell you where it all ended for my dad,” Darren replies. 

Others pile in, with Ann, a nurse, especially critical. “I just wish people would stop moaning, complaining and giving out,” she says. Perhaps mindful that such an eventuality would rob Liveline of its raison d’etre, Duffy keeps his counsel. But he’s more vocal about the notion of children’s rights being violated by masks in schools. “Adults make decisions about children all the time,” he notes. After all, how many children would be in school if it was their choice? 

The prevailing tetchy mood seems as indicative of Covid weariness as of wilful scepticism, but either way it keeps the listener engaged, if not uplifted. In contrast, Monday’s programme is as guiltlessly enjoyable as it is ostensibly inconsequential, as Duffy hears Patricia decry the trailer for RTÉ’s new home-makeover TV show, My Bungalow Bliss. She thinks the show is an insult to those who own single-storey homes based on plans from the eponymous pattern book. “The whole thing is a load of cobblers,” Patricia says of the programme, as yet unaired at that stage. 

Sunday Miscellany doesn’t do a straightforward homage to Dervla Murphy, but somehow this seems appropriate for a travel writer as low-key as she is curious and perceptive

It’s a promising opening salvo, but the conversation doesn’t follow the hoped-for path of barmy outrage. While callers voice irritation at the TV show’s apparent characterisation of the generic bungalows as “bog standard”, they also recall how their own one-off residences, often self-built, provided them with affordable homes. “It saved us a fortune,” says Deirdre of her house, “We still live in it.”

What starts as a gripe ends up as an intriguing slice of overlooked social history. (Tuesday’s lengthy discussion on the dearth of Nativity scenes on standard Christmas stamps isn’t as instructive, however.) Perhaps Covid discussions will be as unexpectedly fruitful once the pandemic is in the past. But it’ll be a while yet.

The 90th birthday of one of Ireland’s greatest writers, and unquestionably its most fearless, is marked on Sunday Miscellany (RTÉ Radio 1), as the long-running new-writing compendium pays tribute to Dervla Murphy. Given the programme’s format of different voices sharing diverse stories, it’s not a straightforward homage, but somehow it seems appropriate for Murphy, a travel writer as low-key as she is curious and perceptive.

So the trailblazing television producer Lelia Doolan looks back on Ireland’s relationship with the bicycle, Murphy’s favoured mode of transport, celebrating the bike’s “revolutionary possibilities, zero emissions and egalitarian credentials”. Clare O’Grady Walshe fondly recounts her friendship with a writer who is “rooted in Ireland but always looking outward”. And the Palestinian human-rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh admiringly recalls Murphy’s indefatigability as she navigated the West Bank,  so as “to understand and make the world better understand”.

As is perennially the way with Sunday Miscellany’s format, not every contribution is equally striking, but all are heartfelt. So venerable a fixture is the show that it can be taken for granted (not least by this column), but as this edition proves, it still has the ability to ramble, reflect and enchant. Much like the remarkable Dervla Murphy herself.

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