Sunday 4 December 2016

Radio: Getting up close with nasty brutes and scary nukes

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Neil Delamere
Neil Delamere

I tried to get back on board the election bandwagon this week (post-election bandwagon, to be more accurate) - honestly, I did. I lasted a few minutes of the "what's in the papers" bit on Neil Delamere's Sunday Best (Today FM, Sun 11am) before I started to feel my will to live seeping away.

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It wasn't their fault, really. I quite like Delamere's show, and he's fine as a presenter. Senator Katherine Zappone seems like a nice person, albeit she also seems to speak and think in terms so vague and broad that they're essentially meaningless on a practical level.

The other guest was a barrister called Fergal - why does radio have this obsession with legal people? - who spoke with the exact accent and tone of voice you'd expect from a barrister, almost to the point of sounding like a caricature. A nasally/pinched drawl, very precise, a little supercilious but not drastically unpleasant: you know how they talk.

Anyway, it was all very boring. Coalition, the numbers, Enda, talks, what I felt, coalition, seats, big ask, my initial reaction, coalition… You feel like you've heard this same conversation a thousand times already. You probably have heard it a thousand times already.

I give up. I yield. No mas. Someone email me when there's a new government.

It's not that all politics is boring, mind you. The life and work of Thomas Hobbes, as explored on Talking History (Newstalk, Sun 7pm) was absolutely riveting.

Who's Thomas Hobbes, I hear the poorly-read among you ask? Tut, tut. He's the guy who coined that term about the life of man being "nasty, brutish, and short", which people like me love to throw into articles like this.

Normally, it's used to sneeringly describe Phil Collins, or something equally stupid, but it actually comes from Leviathan, Hobbes' famous treatise on political science. The original, full description was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"; Hobbes was arguing that we need a social contract, and life without structure, mass agreement and state control would be chaotic and unbearable. (I'm going to reference that the next time someone starts moaning about having to pay water charges or tax.)

Hobbes was described here as a "controversial" figure during his lifetime; his own university even burned his books after his death. Shame on you, Oxford. Although having said that, it's still a better response than what most of us writers will ever receive. Futureproof (Newstalk, Sat 12pm) had a fascinating interview with a chap by the name of Tim Jorgensen, who's written a book called Strange Glow. It's about radioactivity, radiation and the science of nuclear power.

Guided along nicely by host Jonathan McCrea, Jorgensen explained why, despite its many uses, we remain profoundly scared of nuclear power. We associate it with A-bombs and cancer, first off. And on a more elemental level, we can't see it or touch it - like we can coal or oil - so it seems mysterious and frightening to us.

Really interesting stuff for a science nerd like me. And, in the week of International Women's Day, a nice nod to Marie Curie's pioneering work in the field.

Staying with science, The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, Mon-Fri 9am) had one of those slightly daft but rather entertaining pieces on unusual animals t'other day. Shows like Savage's often get criticised for being overly trivial, but there's a place for triviality on radio; not everything can be serious current affairs, nor should it be. So long as an item is well-made and suited to the show overall, it's done its job.

In this case, the item in question was about a moray eel which has been washed ashore in Co Kerry. These are nasty little beggars in some ways, which have been known to bite people. The eels are toxic, furthermore, and the aforesaid bites can become septic, which can be fatal.

However, there's no need to cancel that week's holidays in Ballybunion just yet. As explained by marine biologist Kevin Flannery - he's also the director of Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium - we're not "doomed" unless "global warming increases rapidly", in which case "we might get a bite here and there". Also, this one was dead - therefore incapable of attacking anyone.

Callan's Kicks (Radio 1, Fri 6.30pm), meanwhile, continues to knock it out of the park. This really is just great comedy - has there ever been a funnier show on Irish radio?

Callan is a brilliant impersonator, he's assembled a top-notch team of writers, and together, they're, well, perhaps "magic" is overstating it, but it's pretty damn great. What's most impressive is how Callan's Kicks has escaped the ghetto of simply "doing impressions" to carve out a distinctive, influential and very entertaining space for itself as serious, and seriously funny, satire.

His Michael D is especially good. Weirdly enough, it's now started to affect how I respond to the real President. It's that voice: so distinctive yet so ridiculous. And don't get me started on how I've begun using "Shamone, Ringer!" as an expression of happiness.

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