Monday 26 September 2016

Television review: After 100 years you start to get a bit of perspective

* Older Than Ireland, RTE 1
* Keeping Ireland Alive, RTE 1

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Film stars: May Spain (101, far left) and Bessie Nolan (104) appear in Older than Ireland. Picture: Frank McGrath
Film stars: May Spain (101, far left) and Bessie Nolan (104) appear in Older than Ireland. Picture: Frank McGrath

Perspective can be a good thing and it can also be a bad thing. It depends, I suppose, on your perspective.

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One of the great problems of the modern world is that we tend to view our personal situation, not on its own merits, but by comparing ourselves with others who seem to be more fortunate - helped by the fact that we have the technology which lets us know so much about others, and the way that they live.

It is a guarantee of unhappiness, this constant comparing, and yet we seem to crave it as our daily entertainment, with a whole genre of TV programmes about the lifestyles of the ludicrously rich, the more disturbing of which are telling us that about a hundred people seem to have all the money in the world - though they can be uplifting too, like when they show us a bit of cosmetic surgery that hints at the deep unhappiness which is burning behind the golden facade. Or perhaps when we see a grisly facelift operation that we didn't think was required in the first place, which makes it inherently wrong.

This is how we spend our days now, feeling bad about the 40 mansions owned by some Russian billionaire, but feeling good that for some strange reason he is getting a hair transplant that doesn't suit him at all.

So it was right of RTE to up the stakes somewhat last week, with two programmes which made you feel lucky to be alive and walking around at all, given that there are so many who are no longer in that happy situation.

Keeping Ireland Alive: The Health Service In a Day, brought us to those places where none of us ever wants to go - they're called hospitals, I believe - and Older Than Ireland featured the reminiscences of men and women who are more than 100-years-old, an experience which was not just excellent in itself, but which made most of us feel that our journey in life is only just beginning.

Everything in our culture is telling us that no matter what age we are, we are probably too old - but again this is only because we insist on comparing ourselves with others who seem to have got a better deal, with people who are younger than us, whereas in fact the centenarians in this documentary would probably view anyone under the age of 75 as a mere adolescent.

Keeping Ireland Alive ... would also blow away most of your everyday cares, reminding you that there are things in life more troubling even than the fact that "The Dubs" are doing so well at the moment.

There may even be issues that are more significant for some people at least, than the fact that we are increasingly hearing rumours that the Premier League is thinking of introducing the dreaded "winter break" - the argument can be made at least, that if you are facing major surgery, you may be justified to a certain extent in taking the view that as regards the "winter break", well, you'll cross that bridge when you come to it.

The rest of us cannot be so lackadaisacal, but in certain circumstances we do accept that for a while at least, one's priorities may be a little, shall we say, distorted.

In this series we are also forced to review our position on hospital consultants, specifically the concern that many of them are coming from the same schools as the chaps who brought us the Great Crash, and who will no doubt soon be bringing us an Even Greater Crash. It is never easy to be in hospital, but is made no easier by the notion that the man operating on you may well have spent his formative years engaging in such unsavoury practices as cleaning out the ruck and deliberately collapsing the maul.

There is also a widespread worry that these people are getting paid far too much, or at least far more than ourselves, but here too this series gives us a vital perspective.

In fact the surgeons we have seen so far are men of genius who are getting paid far too little, who themselves would be entitled to feel bad about the grotesque remuneration of old schoolmates who are even more fortunate than themselves.

But they're better than that.

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