Sunday 19 November 2017

Better Off Abroad television review: Paddy with the sun on his back

* Better Off Abroad (RTE1)

Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

My curiosity about Dubai was first aroused when I started to notice that a lot of highly paid professional sportsmen, footballers and even rugby players, tend to go there on their holidays.

What could be out there, I wondered, that could be so attractive to them? The weather obviously is excellent, if you like it hot all the time. And it is a very rich part of the world, so they have plenty of five-star hotels, six-star hotels and maybe even a seven-star hotel, in which the weary Premier League footballer or rugby international can relax.

Moreover, due to the strictly-observed pecking order in society in the Emirates, it is unlikely that your sportsman will encounter anything that might make him stop relaxing - he wouldn't be approached in the street by some member of the Dubai Socialist Workers Movement handing him a leaflet and inviting him to a march on Government Buildings the following Saturday starting at 2pm in whatever is the Dubai equivalent of Parnell Square.

But what the holidaying footballer wants more than anything else, is that deep sense of peace that is only to be found in a certain type of place - a place that has none of that stuff which sentimentalists would describe as "soul".

None of that stuff, no medieval churches to explore, very little exploring of any kind. Just money, and more money, gargantuan quantities of money. And not much else, thank you very much, no guided tours of the Old Walled City, very little walking in general, except on the golf course.

And I completely understand this, and empathise with it.

What I don't quite understand is their love of the Dubai Duty Free, since they have more money than God, or at least God as they understand him. But otherwise I am with them all the way, these men who do so much to entertain us, to give meaning to our lives, it is only right that when they take a richly-deserved break from their work, they don't want to be messing around with much in the way of "reality".

And sure enough, most of the houses that we see in Dubai look like the houses of Premier League footballers - apart from their largeness, they have that unlived in look, the ambiance of the car showroom, the refreshing lack of anything old, anything that might be called "character".

All of this was confirmed to me as I was watching George Lee's Better Off Abroad last Sunday. Indeed there was not a house that George entered that I wouldn't gladly live in, if I was playing for Manchester City and earning 120 grand a week. I would add that almost everything else that I know about Dubai, I have also learned from watching George's programme. And I am satisfied, as I usually am when I have seen George in action, that there is nothing else to know.

I would perhaps question the allocation of approximately eight seconds for George to say that "Dubai once again looked abroad for cheap labour. Hundreds of thousands of immigrant construction workers live in camps dotted around the city. Their living and working conditions have been heavily criticised in the past".

But then if it was "in the past" I guess that must be a long time ago, and now it is time to move on.

And anyway George was not over there looking for trouble, he was looking for something that we all want to see. He was looking for Paddy.

I should tell you that apart from all the Irish business people who are making heaps of money, and talking a lot about "lifestyle", there are Irish nurses and teachers and construction workers who meet every Thursday in Fibber Magee's to have the few pints and the "craic", the sing-song and the bit of river-dancing, many of them wearing their county colours and green wigs.

I should also tell you that the top act on the circuit is Paddyman, a guitar-playing singer and all round entertainer who is everything that the name suggests, and more.

Paddyman, bringing a little bit of "home" to the Middle East, has a fine house with a pool - which is probably more than George Lee himself has, after a lifetime in showbusiness.

I think of the words of Christy Moore - this is heaven, this is hell.

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