Taboo or not taboo: listening to stories of domestic violence
Radio Review: Ryan Tubridy, incensed by what he hears, and Tom Dunne, as Peter Hook talks about Caroline Aherne, handle the topic sensitively
Peter Hook: The New Order bassist was challenged by Tom Dunne about including highly personal details about his marriage in recent memoirs. Photgraph: Lorne Thomson/Redferns
Just as the word “literally” is now used instead of “metaphorically” by so many people that its dictionary definition has changed, so “taboo subject” merely means “radio gold” to many broadcasters. Prefacing discussions with warnings about controversial subject matter is intended to have the same deterrent effect as parental injunctions against sticking peas up the nose.
So when Monday’s edition of The Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) carries an email about a “taboo” topic that “few want to discuss” the audience could be forgiven a frisson of world-weary deja vu. But what follows is tough. Tubridy reads out a note from the mother of a young child, telling how her husband had “flipped last night” and “got violent towards me”.
Having previously put up with her husband’s temper, the author now knows that she and her child need to get away, but her options are limited. “I see myself as a strong independent woman,” she writes. “How did I get into this?”
There is a real air of conviction as Tubridy says that “women like this need to be heard”. It is a bracing item, for sure. Then, having broached the difficult subject of domestic abuse, the host comperes an on-air quiz to win a trip to New York.
But the following day sees Tubridy, whose blokeish persona has a spine of innate decency and propriety, return to the subject with ardour. He reads emails from female listeners living with spouses who terrorise them verbally, psychologically and physically.
But it is on-air testimony that really brings the horrible issue alive. There is Sinéad, who was left with a black eye and bruised back when her husband attacked her, prompting her to leave with their baby son. Eight years later Sinéad offers encouragement and practical advice to the mother who wrote in about her assault. She adds that by sending her email the woman has taken the first step out: “You get clarity.”
Even more jolting is the call from Orla, who saw a man punch his partner in a park. “She was sprawled on ground, her nose pumping blood, her two beautiful children hysterical,” Orla says. She and her husband confronted the man, but no action was taken.
Tubridy sounds by turns incensed and frustrated. To the accompaniment of what sounds like the desk being pounded the presenter declares that “these are our sisters and daughters”. These stories are important, “otherwise we just hear the abstract expression ‘domestic violence’, and it means nothing”.
But there also is something like despair in his voice as he asks, “What do we do as civilised members of society?”
Even as Tubridy lifts a veil on a shameful matter, bringing out his best gifts as a presenter in the process, he seems aware that airing such subjects without being able to act on them may be a futile exercise. Talking about taboo subjects is one thing. Doing something about them is another.
As a corollary it’s worth asking whether such matters would be quite so unmentionable if more women were hosting high-profile slots. It’s maybe telling that difficult topics such as miscarriage and prostitution – which women tend to view differently from men – are covered on a weekend programme such as Talking Point with Sarah Carey (Newstalk, Saturday) more regularly than on male-fronted daily shows. Even so, Tubridy deserves credit for his treatment of the issue.
On Tuesday stories of domestic violence bring a sombre note to the normally jocular atmosphere of The Tom Dunne Show (Newstalk, weeknights). Dunne talks to Peter Hook, the former New Order bassist, about his new memoir, with the conversation initially full of the easygoing banter and musical anecdotes that make his programme an enjoyable late-night destination.
True, Hook recounts his “dark days” of drink and drug excess while falling out with his fellow bandmates, whom he is suing. By the standards of the classic rock’n’roll mythos it’s a pretty familiar tale. But Dunne then brings up his guest’s marriage to the late comedian Caroline Aherne. Hook has said that Aherne, who died in July, attacked him with knives, bottles and chairs, claims that drew condemnation from his ex-wife’s family.
There’s an air of trepidation as Dunne asks if his guest regrets including these stories in his memoir, because they “overshadowed the book”. Notwithstanding the narrow frame of the question, Hook seems genuinely anguished when he replies that “I could have, but I wouldn’t have been very true to myself”, adding that he was “very ill” after the marriage.
Dunne empathises with his guest’s desire for closure but doesn’t sound convinced that such full disclosure is necessary. By way of reasoning, the host recounts a personal tale about the break-up of his first marriage.
“When I was in court,” Dunne says, “there was that horrible moment when the judge looked at my barrister, and I said to myself, ‘What’s he going to say?’ The barrister said ‘unhappy differences’, and they left it at that. And I just felt this relief.”
Although he says no more, it’s a revealing moment from Dunne, just on the right side of oversharing. Sometimes what’s unsaid is as effective as what’s said.