Panto-bound Joe Duffy runs the rule over school dress codes; while Ray D’Arcy talks life, the uni­verse and ev­ery­thing with Lucy Hawk­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS -

On the face of it, the news that Joe Duffy is to ap­pear in a pan­tomime is in dan­ger of caus­ing re­al­ity to col­lapse in on it­self un­der the weight of too many ex­quis­ite ironies. Never mind that

Live­line (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) can make even the most crazily chaotic Christ­mas show look like Ib­sen in com­par­i­son, Duffy’s forth­com­ing role as the Magic Mir­ror in Snow White prompts a flurry of lines about his pro­gramme re­flect­ing Ir­ish life. Still, it’s prob­a­bly the best part he could hope for – the dra­matic sigh­ing, groan­ing and wail­ing of his on-air per­for­mances rule out play­ing the panto dame on the grounds of lack­ing be­liev­abil­ity.

Then again, rare is the Live­line that doesn’t stretch the lis­tener’s credulity. Tues­day’s edi­tion runs the gamut of hu­man prob­lems, from the car­nage and suf­fer­ing be­ing in­flicted on the peo­ple of Ye­men to the strin­gency of school dress codes. Al­most in­evitably, the lat­ter sub­ject gen­er­ates the greater emo­tional re­sponse.

If Alex Dunne of Médicins Sans Fron­tières is grimly calm as he re­counts his re­cent ex­pe­ri­ences on the ground in Ye­men, Ma­jella sounds par­tic­u­larly vexed by the “fin­ger­tip rule” on cloth­ing at her child’s Ed­u­cate To­gether sec­ondary school. The omi­nous-sound­ing rule re­lates to the length of tops worn over leg­gings or tight jeans: in or­der to cover pupils’ back­sides, the top has to reach the end of their hands at the side.

Ma­jella tells Duffy that strict im­ple­men­ta­tion of this reg­u­la­tion is hav­ing a dis­rup­tive ef­fect at the school, with pupils taken out of class if their tops are deemed too short. This might ap­pear the epit­ome of a first world prob­lem, though Ma­jella’s con­cerns have a wider con­text. “Ba­si­cally, they’re mak­ing an is­sue of the chil­dren’s bod­ies,” she says, “It shames the girls and it sends the wrong mes­sage to the boys.”

Ma­jella feels that the school is in­fring­ing Ed­u­cate To­gether’s ethos that “what you wear is an ex­pres­sion of who you are”. Per­haps wisely, Duffy re­sists the temp­ta­tion to sug­gest this is why most schools have uni­forms. But the longer the dis­cus­sion goes on, the more the broader point gets lost. By the end, Ma­jella re­counts how she and oth­ers re­signed from the board of the par­ents’ as­so­ci­a­tion in protest at the school’s ac­tions.

Her an­noy­ance as a par­ent is un­der­stand­able, but for an in­ter­nal school spat to end up on na­tional ra­dio seems ex­ces­sive. It’s no prob­lem for Duffy, how­ever, who spins the con­ver­sa­tion out for 15 min­utes, with the help of some lame quips: “The rules are get­ting tighter and tighter, par­don the pun.” He’ll need bet­ter lines than that if his mir­ror isn’t to be belted with rot­ten toma­toes come Christ­mas.


Things are wit­tier over on The Ray D’Arcy

Show (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days), when Gra­ham Nor­ton joins the host for an en­joy­able chat. The BBC star is pro­mot­ing his new novel, but thank­fully doesn’t shed his imp­ish broad­cast­ing tal­ents for a more earnest lit­er­ary per­sona. In­stead, the en­counter is dot­ted with teas­ing asides, as Nor­ton par­ries his host’s ques­tions with know­ing wit.

When D’Arcy says that he has ac­tu­ally read Nor­ton’s novel, he re­sponds, “Well done you!”, adding that he rarely reads books by guests on his own show. Nor­ton’s tone is so light as to pre­clude any snark­i­ness, but the gen­tly com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the ex­change is un­mis­tak­able. It’s very en­ter­tain­ing, but also de­flects any overly in­tru­sive ques­tion­ing. Nor­ton the in­ter­vie­wee is as ef­fort­lessly pro­fes­sional as Nor­ton the in­ter­viewer.

A less-jostling at­mos­phere per­vades D’Arcy’s in­ter­view with Lucy Hawk­ing, daugh­ter of the late physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing. Al­lowed more time on the ball, as it were, the pre­sen­ter turns what could be a fairly generic dis­cus­sion about the celebrity sci­en­tist’s work and im­pact into some­thing more thoughtful. Hawk­ing in­dulges her host when he clunkily asks if she only knew her fa­ther “in a wheel­chair”. She re­counts that he said he felt quite lonely, be­cause his in­tel­lect, fame and trade­mark speech ma­chine made peo­ple feel awk­ward. “Isn’t that sad?” D’Arcy muses.

Amid such plat­i­tudes, the ex­change tog­gles be­tween the lit­er­ally univer­sal – “There’s no point in ask­ing what hap­pened be­fore the big bang, as time didn’t ex­ist,” Hawk­ing says – and the al­most un­bear­ably per­sonal, with D’Arcy gen­tly in­quir­ing about Lucy’s last con­ver­sa­tion with her fa­ther. D’Arcy’s phras­ing can jar – “Was he a bit of a lu­natic in the wheel­chair?” he asks – but over­all, it’s a stim­u­lat­ing in­ter­view, by turns in­for­ma­tive, philo­soph­i­cal and re­veal­ing, as much about the late sci­en­tist as his ap­peal­ingly open and ar­tic­u­late daugh­ter.

D’Arcy’s repar­tee may not be as sharp as some of his guests, but it doesn’t mat­ter at times like this.


On Wed­nes­day, The Pat Kenny Show (New­stalk, week­days) car­ries an item with a bit too much bite for com­fort as Henry McKean re­ports on rat in­fes­ta­tions in some Dublin City Coun­cil apart­ment com­plexes. Prefac­ing the re­port with a burst of Rat Trap by The Boom­town Rats, Kenny baf­flingly re­counts the song’s chart his­tory be­fore get­ting to the sub­ject at hand – and quite the skin-crawl­ing sub­ject it is too.

McKean hears south in­ner city Dublin res­i­dent Court­ney tell of rats gnaw­ing their way through pipes to emerge in her neigh­bours’ flats, while pest con­troller John re­counts see­ing a ro­dent make off with – sorry about this – a kit­ten. But it’s not an ex­er­cise in gra­tu­itous shock. McKean ex­plores the fac­tors be­hind the surge in the rat pop­u­la­tion, from in­creased con­struc­tion work to more pro­saic causes like apart­ment block bins lack­ing cov­ers. Still, the last­ing im­pres­sion is one of re­pul­sion. By the time McKean is heard brav­ing a rat-in­fested garage, sea­sonal hor­ror movies like Hal­loween seem like sweet re­lief.

Roll on the Christ­mas panto sea­son.

‘‘ For an in­ter­nal school spat to end up on na­tional ra­dio seems ex­ces­sive. It’s no prob­lem for Duffy, how­ever, who spins the con­ver­sa­tion out for 15 min­utes, with the help of some lame quips: “The rules are get­ting tighter and tighter, par­don the pun”


Oh yes he is: Joe Duffy.

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