A minor squall in teacup blows up this week, with howls of exasperation from those wary of the creeping “nanny state”.
A proposed new law would fine parents who allow their children to own mobile devices with unrestricted internet access. This raises a pertinent question: how do we shield our children from the explicit and disturbing material that's only a click away, for instance when we turn on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays).
On Wednesday, Kenny discusses teenage sex with psychotherapist Trish Murphy in occasionally alarming detail (the icky phrase "spit or swallow" features prominently). He also plays a graphic (if funny) scene from the movie American Pie, in which a father shows his son a succession of porn mags. "It is cringe-inducing," the presenter says of the clip. The term might be better applied to Kenny's earlier item about the topic du jour, the supposed growth of the nanny state in Ireland.
Kenny hosts a mutual griping session with independent councillor Keith Redmond. Redmond opposes legislative efforts to regulate personal actions in the realm of food, alcohol, transport and parenting, arguing it’s not the State’s role to police individual lifestyle choices. Rather than raise counter-arguments, Kenny lobs one softball question after another, asking his guest for his opinion on such petty outrages as the lack of public toilet facilities in the proposed pedestrianised plaza on Dublin’s College Green.
Redmond raises interesting points, such as his assertion that adults should be free to make not just their own choices but also their own mistakes. But the longer the discussion continues, the more Redmond becomes a marginal figure, as Kenny uses the opportunity to vent grievances of his own.
Kenny asks about slower speed limits in the city centre “allegedly to protect the pedestrian”, then continues to talk over Redmond, recounting how a surly headphone-wearing student walked in front of his car that morning: “He glared at me when I honked at him, as if I was the offender.” On the basis of this anecdote, he triumphantly concludes that traffic restrictions actually encourage jaywalking.
Kenny’s gormlessly graphic hypothesising has made him a cult figure with connoisseurs of cringe. Discussing whether seatbelt laws constitute intrusive do-goodery or prudent policy, he seems to plump for the latter: “If you go through a windscreen you’ll be costing the State a lot of money for what’s left of you.” Talk about car-crash radio.
Still, it’s a strangely hypnotic performance, at least if you can get over your embarrassment at his cackhandedness. It’s tempting to ask if there’s a way to protect the presenter from himself.
Garech Browne, aristocratic patron of the arts and founder of Claddagh Records, seems not so much libertarian as libertine, judging by the stories told on Sunday With Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1). Miriam O'Callaghan interviews her guest, a member of the Guinness family, in his ancestral family estate of Luggala, which has recently been put up for sale. Accordingly, an elegiac mood occasionally prevails as the presenter talks to Browne and his friends, film director John Boorman and Chieftains musician Paddy Moloney.
O’Callaghan is clearly entranced by the estate’s lakeside setting, but struggles somewhat in her interview with Browne (or a Brún, to use the Gaelicised form she calls him by), who prefers pithy remarks to emotive anecdotes. “Through entertaining, everything comes out – if you have people who are interesting you learn everything,” is a typical answer.
Luckily, Boorman provides some colour. The director runs through the differences between himself and Browne: “I’m a workaholic, he’s an alcoholic.” Such gleeful revelations – including an impish tale about Boorman’s hungover son cycling miles to apologise for vomiting at Luggala – give an inadvertent twist to Browne’s verdict on his distinguished family background: “I feel in many ways I am a Guinness.”
There are tales about the famous figures who passed through Luggala, not to mention the licentious behaviour that occurred at the frequent “hooleys”, as Moloney calls them. “Whatever happened in this house didn’t count in the outside world,” chuckles Boorman.
This could come across as privileged ascendency lotus-eating, were it not for Browne’s artistic legacy. He started Claddagh because no record company would issue an album of the uileann pipers who regularly played at his home.
There's also an undertow of tragedy. Browne talks about the small family cemetery on the grounds, containing two sisters who died prematurely (one shortly after birth, the other at age 14) as well as his brother Tara, whose death in a 1966 car crash inspired the Beatles' song A Day In The Life. His account of waiting to tell his mother about Tara's death is as heartbreaking as it is understated and economical.
Even O’Callaghan’s formidable reservoir of sympathy is tested. “That’s a lot of loss,” she says forlornly (Boorman also talks about the death of his daughter, Telsche). But if the presenter is at times slightly superfluous to proceedings, she deserves kudos for bringing to air a portrait of a group of friends who helped sustain and renew Ireland’s cultural life, even as they had enough fun to make a nanny state blush.
Radio Moment of the Week: Porter’s French miss
On Monday, as Today FM's Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore hand over to Al Porter, they make reference to their comedian colleague's recent UK gigs, saying he has just returned from a "sojourn" in London. It's all a bit highfalutin for Porter, who seems puzzled by the term. "Sejour?" the saucy comic-cum-presenter responds. "Thank you, I've never had that." Pardon my French, indeed.