Monday 17 June 2019

John Boland: Mairead and Tommy as trip advisers? Ah, get away with yourselves


All aboard: Tommy and Mairéad took us to Porto this week on Getaways
All aboard: Tommy and Mairéad took us to Porto this week on Getaways

John Boland

Lisbon is the city I most love in Europe, but I haven't yet been to Porto, so maybe Mairéad Ronan and Tommy Bowe would tell me all about it in this week's edition of Getaways (RTÉ1).

Well, I discovered from Mairéad that Porto is "full of really old buildings" and that it's also "busier than you might think". She also showed me a spot where I could take a "perfect selfie".

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Meanwhile Tommy, who had qualified as a construction engineer, was pointing out that the place was full of bridges, which apparently are handy for getting across the Douro river. He was also fascinated by a bookshop's ornate staircase which, he informed me, had inspired JK Rowling when she was dreaming up Hogwarts.

Mairéad, though, was more interested in a modern concert hall she visited, marvelling at how bright it was. "Normally concert halls are very dark", she said, which was news to me, just as basic facts about one of the region's most famous products were news to Tommy. "Did you know", he asked, "that you can have red port and white port? I didn't". He must have been too busy playing rugby.

For reasons best known to the people behind Getaways, Tommy and Mairéad stayed in a 170-room hotel 30 minutes outside Porto rather than in the city itself, though for all that I learnt from their trip, they might as well have stayed at home.

I learned a lot, though, from the first episode of Inside Europe (BBC2), which was subtitled 'Ten Years of Turmoil' and which depicted the Tory infighting that led to David Cameron's catastrophic EU referendum in 2016.

The producer of this three-part series is veteran American filmmaker Norma Percy, whose 1995 documentary series, The Death of Yugoslavia, was outstanding for its clarity and even-handedness, and for the recollections it elicited from all the main political players to that dreadful conflict.

Here the only players who haven't consented to being interviewed are Cameron and Theresa May, but there was more than enough in this week's opener for viewers not to miss them.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy recalled telling the newly elected Cameron in 2010 that "if you want any influence in Europe, you must work from within, not outside". This, he said, was "always the problem with the English - they think that alone they have more influence than by working with Europe. They're wrong".

But Cameron had his Eurosceptic wing with which to deal, more than 80 of his MPs demanding a referendum, as well as with UKIP gaining electoral ground outside the party by stirring up fears about immigration.

Cameron tried all kinds of tactics to appease both the rebels in his own party and his colleagues in the EU, but to no avail - Germany's Angela Merkel declaring "No, no way, never" to measures aimed at curbing immigration to the UK, and Sarkozy and successor François Hollande just as unsympathetic.

European Council president Donald Tusk recalled telling Cameron to "get real" about his "stupid referendum", with Cameron admitting that the only reason for it was "his own party". Tusk also noted "fear" in Cameron's eyes, even though the British prime minister was buoyed by his recent re-election win. But he "became the victim of his own victory", Tusk said, "in the biggest mistake of his life".

Next Monday night's instalment turns its focus to mainland Europe, with particular attention paid to turmoil in Greece. I'll be watching it.

The Last Survivors (BBC2) was an arresting programme, too, though not easy to watch, as elderly Jewish people who had lived through the Holocaust as children and had ended up in Britain told their terrible stories.

Some even didn't want to. "This is a private matter," said Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, whose life had been spared because the Nazis wanted a cellist for their Auschwitz orchestra.

"People always want to see emotions," she said. "Forget it. I'm not giving people the pleasure of seeing my emotions." And she was dismissive of the "second-generation trauma" expressed by family descendants who hadn't been there.

Yet again, it was all happening in the penultimate episode of Resistance (RTÉ1). Ursula got rumbled as the spy in Dublin Castle and fled to the countryside, where she kidnapped back the son from the IRA guys who'd kidnapped him earlier. The son now looked about 10. Maybe it was the country air.

Horrible Harry got locked up by General Winter, despite angrily declaring "I'm a bank manager. What do you mean arresting me like a common criminal? It's an outrage!"

American senator Shea got arrested, too, even though he was a friend of the US president, while treacherous Brit journalist Lennox arrived seconds too late in his bid to assassinate Michael Collins.

Meanwhile, down in Cork, IRA firebrand Jimmy rescued RIC brother Patrick from his Brit captors, and back in Dublin the lads shot every dastardly Brit agent they could find, along with their wives and anyone else who had the misfortune to be there when the boys came calling. Ah shure, war's a terrible thing.

In Jo Brand: No Holds Barred (BBC1), Alan Yentob interviewed the funniest woman on British television, even though she's of the opinion that "I probably am an acquired taste" and that people either think "Oh, she's great or, god, I can't bear her". Well, I think she's great.

In the second-last episode of Catastrophe (Channel 4), Sharon contemplated her future as "the wife of a dry drunk", while hubby Rob had to cope with her awful brother Fergal. It's still funny most of the time.

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