Tag Archives: RTE

The man on the Dublin omnibus

As I have virtually no time to write a blog today, here is an extract from my diary on this day in 1999. I was working at television station RTÉ in Dublin. I have changed the names:

Siobhan started talking about how her 10-year-old son who, she says, is uncoordinated with absolutely no sense of direction. Then she got a tea and some toast on a plate and sat down on the settee in Reception; she put the plate on the arm of the settee but was unable to hold the cup without spilling tea, so had to stand up: co-ordinating a cup in her hand while sitting static on a couch was too much for her.

We went into the RTÉ canteen at around 1115 and it was full. Apparently everyone takes a 30-minute tea-break at 1100 and a 30-minute tea-break at 1530, as well as their one-hour lunch break.

Siobhan told me that, last night, she dreamt she had run away from RTÉ and from her family and become a freelance earning a lot of money. She met film star Tom Cruise (to whom she claimed she’d never particularly been attracted before this dream) and he was very interested in how much she earned.

Over lunch, Sean told a story about someone he knew who, when in a bus which stopped next to another at traffic lights would attract the attention of a passenger in the other bus, then motion as if he knew and wanted to contact the person sitting in front of the stranger. Invariably, the stranger would tap the shoulder of the person in front, who would turn round and Sean’s friend would turn his head to look directly forward as if he had never even noticed the other bus let alone encouraged one stranger to tap another’s shoulder.

Taking off from Dublin Airport late, at about 2140, I had a window seat and, over England, I could see all the towns and cities below me: electronic spiders’ web nerve centres spreading delicate orange fibres outwards into a sea of blue-grey black.

Arriving back home in Borehamwood, I found a postcard from David Jenkins. It showed: “Oil platforms and the Cromarty Firth at dusk”…. That’s what comes of being a Socialist like David. You think postcards of Albanian electricity sub-generating stations are glamorous.

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At what point does ‘being famous’ start? Take these three comedians… Please.

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer publicising his Leicester Square Theatre show

Is American comedian Lewis Schaffer famous? He has been performing his free show – Free Until Famous – for so long that it has become the longest-running solo comedy show in London.

He usually starts his shows by saying they will be free until he is famous.

In a fortnight, he begins an eight-week run of his new show – Lewis Schaffer’s American Guide to England – at the Leicester Square Theatre (every Sunday) at £10 per ticket. Does this, as mind-reader Doug Segal has suggested, mean that Lewis Schaffer is now famous because he is charging admission? And will his ongoing Free Until Famous shows affect or enhance audiences for his paid shows?

Who knows but, last night, he lost the shirt off his back.

Lewis Schaffer performing in London last night

Lewis Schaffer performing semi-naked in London last night

A woman in the audience told him she was disappointed he was wearing clothes because she had seen the publicity for his Leicester Square shows (in which he is seen, naked, under an American flag) and thought that was the show she had come to see.

So he took his shirt off and did half his show half naked,

I am not sure if this is a sign of successful publicity or fame or desperation or not.

Scór Encore with Aindrias de Staic (left)

Scór Encore with the newly respectable Aindrias de Staic (left)

Yesterday, I also got a publicity blurb from Irish broadcaster RTÉ which informed me that Aindrias de Staic is one of the judges on the new talent show Scór Encore starting on their TG4 channel this Sunday.

Just a few years ago, Aindrias was performing an autobiographical Edinburgh Fringe show called Around The World on 80 Quid. He had done exactly what it said in the title. When I contacted him yesterday, he told me: “You could say I’ve been appearing on all sides of the globe lately…

Aindrias de Staic - his normal look

Aindrias de Staic – his more well-known, for-him-normal look

“Last Friday, I was appearing in the UK premiere of Songs for Amy at the Glasgow Film Festival. This week I’m in Toronto, appearing in the first ever Spoken Word Symposium at the Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto – don’t forget to say I’m performing my ‘unique brand of gaelic-hiphop’ – and this coming weekend I’m back on Irish screens as a judge on Scór Encore.

“Having been up before the judge myself many times, it will be an interesting turn-around for this Galway boy to sit in a judge’s chair. I’ll tell you more soon.”

But does all this big screen/stage/small screen work mean he is famous?

At a certain level, it must mean that.

But, as yet, people are not selling or buying Aindrias de Staic face masks or costumes.

You too can buy a Mr Methane costume

Buy your own Methane costume

My chum Mr Methane – the Farter of Alternative Comedy – told me yesterday that ‘officially-licensed Mr Methane costumes’ are currently on sale at the very reasonable asking price of £14.95 – a saving of £15.04. And, for only £1.99 extra, you can also buy “a realistic-looking silver glitter microphone with a black handle” to “complete the desired look”.

Does the fact a company wants to buy a licence to sell copies of your costume to the public mean you are famous?

Mr Methane told me that it set him wondering how many other UK comics market their image via costumes. Sasha Baron Cohen’s ‘mankini’ costume seems to be out there for around £5 but, says Mr Methane, “generally people’s marketing seems to be mostly via those likelife celebrity masks as opposed to a fully-blown costume.

Alan Partridge, as work by Mr Methane

Alan Partridge mask as worn by Mr Methane

“I myself,” confided Mr Methane, “own an Alan Partiridge mask. It was on offer in a local charity shop, unused and still bagged for 50p, so my sister bought it for me with the idea that I could annoy everyone on Christmas Day with Alan Partridge impressions.”

I think everyone in the UK would admit Alan Partridge is famous.

But he does not exist. What about fame?

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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