Thursday 27 October 2016

Television: All things must not change

*The Irish Pub (RTE1)
* Tour de France (Eurosport)

Published 20/07/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

I think I got out of the drinking game at the right time. This is what I tell myself anyway, whenever I find myself in a pub these days, and I compare it to the pubs I used to know, which of course were much better.

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Then again, when I am in a pub these days I am not drinking alcohol which, as we know, can make anything seem better for a while.

And there is the added complication of the smoking ban, which has contributed enormously to the ruination of the Irish pub, not just because of the inconvenience of having to leave the premises for a smoke, but because of the absence of the smoky atmosphere.

Against this, the ban may help you to stay alive for a while longer, and if that is your wish, you may be willing to trade it for the atmosphere.

So the issues here are complicated, perhaps insoluble. During my drinking days, which were drawing to a close towards the end of the last century, the mere notion that about 15 years later there would be a nostalgic documentary called The Irish Pub would have seemed insane.

Yet we were looking at Alex Fegan's most enjoyable documentary of that name, the way we would be leafing through some lavishly illustrated coffee-table book about a lost civilisation.

The story of each pub was similar - they had all been fine to begin with, and now they are much finer because the owners had somehow resisted the temptation to change. Now they are like archaeological monuments, simply because they stayed the same, while everything around them was destroyed by "improvements".

And the pressures bearing down on them were manifold. Their customers had been mostly men, whose tastes were simple - they wanted pints of porter, and whiskey. But due to societal changes, the Irish were discovering food and wine and electronic music and so forth, and pubs were expected to diversify their portfolio, as it were.

Now the pubs which just kept on being pubs, are visited by camera crews trying to capture this part of our heritage just in case it all changes again and they are turned into amusement arcades or something - which would seem incredible, but then the decline of the Irish pub would have seemed equally incredible only the other day.

And looking at these scenes from Mulligan's, or the Palace, or Curran's of Dingle or Butterfield's of Ballitore, you are left wondering how so few could have been so right, and how so many could have been so wrong.

But of course there was drink involved.


Despite the advances in drugs and medicines and aerodynamics and all that, the Tour de France has actually not changed much in essence since 1904 or thereabouts, when a number of riders were disqualified for hopping trains or taking lifts in cars for reasons which now seem quite understandable - they had figured out quite quickly that you just couldn't do the Tour without a bit of "assistance", or at least you couldn't do it very well.

And yet every year I am watching the Tour on Eurosport, enjoying these glorious pictures of France, and there seems to be this great willingness on the part of the majority to believe in the authenticity of what they are seeing. To suggest that the few who still asking the hard questions are wrong, and that the many who are satisfied are right.

But as we have seen in relation to the Irish pub, and indeed most other things in this life, in any contest between the few and the many it tends to swing the other way. In cycling the few, such as Paul Kimmage, have been right again and again.

I must say though, that I am greatly taken by the latest wild rumours from the world of performance enhancement, which suggest that there are high hopes for a kind of a motorised bike - one that can get you up the Pyrenees without a lot of pain, due to the installation of a discreet device, essentially a kind of an engine.

It seems wonderfully new, and yet in a way it takes us back to 1904, to the guys hopping trains. The principle is broadly similar - they would be "doping" the machine, not the man.

Well, maybe him too.

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