Monday 21 August 2017

Maeve Higgins: Love on air

I am so familiar with Irish daytime radio that it feels like being home at my parents' house -- trapped, but also very comfortable, says Maeve Higgins

Maeve Higgins

I'm sad that Donal Dineen's radio show has come to an end. 'The Small Hours' was such a great show. I started listening to it when I was about 18, and felt as if I'd uncovered some kind of treasure chest with all the glimmering music arranged lovingly inside by some scatty pirate.





What I heard was so foreign and intriguing to me. I used to get this weird feeling of being on a magic carpet as I listened, hovering over Cork city.

I don't know why I chose Cork. In theory, magic carpets can take you anywhere, and I was already in Cork, but that's where I'd sit, happy out.

I will now have to find a replacement show, which I suspect will be impossible, even though I listen to the radio almost 100pc more than I watch television. Isn't that fascinating?

Speaking of my endlessly interesting nature and habits, I was getting my teeth cleaned last week. I know, you're thinking 'Incredible -- will we ever get to the end of Maeve?'

That's how I roll; a beautiful enigma, doling out little revelations like breadcrumbs. There's one -- I love dental hygiene.

Look for me on a Saturday night, drinking Kahlua and shaking my thing, and you'll be looking.

Look for me hunched over my bathroom mirror, the one with the broken lights, frantically scrubbing off the residue from a series of plaque-disclosing tablets and there I'll be; staring back at you happily, with bloody gums and a sense of achievement.

As a biannual treat, I go and see the professionals. I get them to scrub my mouth out and I quiz them on what more I can do to promote my oral health. They hear my enthusiasm and see my damaged brushes, and they answer me.

Last week, we talked about how regularly I should use dental floss's brutish cousins, those satisfyingly vicious stick things that look like miniature bottle brushes.

"Every day?" I asked, hopefully. "No," said the hygienist and then, "Okay, Maeve, do you watch the soaps?" I said I didn't, and wondered what that had to do with anything.

A thought flicked through my head that maybe 'EastEnders' was finally doing a storyline about the preventative measures one can take against gum disease.

Dot Cotton wailing, "I fink it's gingivitis, it sure ain't fun darlin'!" before the drums kicked in would be a powerful cliffhanger.

Not so. Turns out that soap operas are generally on every second day and the hygienist's theory was that if one flossed and used the mini bottle-brushes as you watched them, that'd be an ideal routine.

She was flummoxed when I said I didn't watch them. She looked at me sadly and said, "I don't know, you'll just have to think of something else to do, unless you can commit to at least one of the soaps".

The thing is, though, I don't like watching television. That's not elitist of me, I hope. I don't have a pastime with more gravitas or cultural value than television watching.

I cannot honestly say that in lieu of watching 'Home and Away' I have written haikus or learned to body pop.

I don't know what I do when everyone else is watching TV. I fear that I just sit on my bed and look at the ground a lot.

There are afternoons where I come to and realise I've been sitting on my bed for 40 minutes, spacing out but sort of imagining organising my clothes at the same time.

I've asked my sister to try and catch me doing that and make a logbook, so we can track it properly. Unfortunately, she's too busy with work to do so comprehensively.

I know that I listen to the radio a lot. I am so familiar with Irish daytime radio that it feels like being home at my parents' house -- trapped, but also very comfortable.

Radio is a place where you don't have to smile and you can slam the door without fear of recrimination, because you're just being yourself.

It gives you a bit of extra space, unlike television, which takes up your eyes and ears -- most of your face, really -- and demands a lot in return.

When there's a television on in a room, all attention is drawn to it. Even if you don't want to look, its flickering ways will make your speech slow down, your head turn and your concentration waver.

Television is really self-important, and makes you agree.

After flicking through all of the channels one evening, my housemate let out a big, exasperated cry to the universe: "And these are my only options?"

She wasn't tethered to the box with her eyes pinned open at the time. She was able to move around and was in possession of full cognitive ability.

I, being a clever and a kind little creature, pointed this out to her. It didn't go down well. I sounded 'preachy', apparently. I checked and she did not mean like a cool Mississippi preacher with a drawl, she meant more like an uptight Carlow priest who never got off with anyone.

Saying you don't watch television sounds dangerously close to saying: "Hi! Hi there. I'm a dry-balls and I've come to ask you to please stop having fun. It's time to be intense and to spend time looking at each other and talk. Just talk and, you know, just BE."

And that is terrifying.

My favourite station is Lyric FM. I particularly enjoy hearing the presenters trying to explain to themselves and their listeners what Twitter is.

They usually end up saying brightly, "Or, of course, you could just phone in and leave your request that way".

Lyric FM phone requests are the best -- anyone can leave a message on an automated machine, which is then played, as far as I can tell, unedited.

There are often odd noises in the background, and hesitant callers who get tangled up between speaking to the radio station and directly addressing the people they are making the request for.

They say things such as: "Hello? Hello this is Barbara Hurley and I'd like to make a request please for my daughter Sylvia in Rathmines. Hi Sylvia. (A saucepan falls nearby.) Oh! (Pause.) I'm sorry we can't make it out to you later, but JP isn't up to the drive, but we're thinking of you and the boys and please would you play any anything from 'Rigoletto'. (Long pause.) Thank you. (Shuffling sounds.) Goodbye. (Pause.) Bye love."

You go Barbara! We all love to hear a request for ourselves on the radio, don't we?

It's one of life's bonus pleasures, like remembering to pack a phone charger in your weekend bag or finding some chocolate on the ground.

When I was on tour last year, spending hours in the car with my co-comedian Gearoid, I got hooked on hearing requests for us on regional radio.

I even started to send in requests containing falsehoods so as to guarantee a mention, asking for classics such as 'I Will Always Love You' "for Maeve and Gearoid, who just got engaged". I would laugh and laugh and Gearoid would almost crash, every time.

I felt a little bit guilty and I felt a little bit like the mad woman in 'Fight Club' who goes to support groups just for the emotional kick, but I also felt popular and powerful.

Psychiatrist please, and make it snappy!

Radio will do that; it will make you feel things and, if you're lucky, it will make your day. A radio show worth its salt manages to get through to individual people in ways television, for all its flashing lights, just can't.

I listen to 'This American Life' a lot. It's a wonderful documentary show made by some good and thoughtful people at Chicago Public Radio in the US. Each week, they take a topic and explore it in varied ways. It's hard to describe why it's great; you should listen, if you don't already. It's often funny, and sometimes sad.

I listened to an episode last week where one of the producers spent the night in a 24-hour garage and it made me cry for a minute.

I don't think emotive necessarily means good, but when the Tiger Lady sheds a tear? She knows it's the real deal and is not afraid to say so.

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