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Despite the sunshine, it rained on my parade


During the 1997 St Patrick's Day festivities in Springfield (much funnier than this week's Irish episode on Sky One), Marge Simpson enthused: "Parades bring out so many emotions in me -- joy, excitement, looking."

While guiding us through this year's St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin (RTE1), Derek Mooney did lots of looking, mostly at brass bands, about which he seemed inordinately enthused, if occasionally a bit bewildered. "I'm not sure if this is the Garda Band or the Army Band," he said at one point, even though a quick glance at their uniforms might have told him.

Perhaps he was distracted by the unseasonable weather. At the outset he assured us that "it is a really beautiful day for this parade" -- just in case we were of the opinion that the sun and the blue sky behind his shoulder were harbingers of an Arctic blizzard. "We're absolutely blessed with the weather," he said a few seconds later as if he couldn't believe the luck of the Irish.

The weather wasn't all that struck Derek as worth raving about. President McAleese, he informed us, was wearing a Louise Kennedy coat and a Celtic scarf "and she does look absolutely beautiful". Steady on there, Derek. But he was plainly smitten by our First Lady. "So informal, the President," he purred, "always happy to stop and say hello."

Soon, though, it was back to the beautiful weather. "Donal Shiels, CEO of the St Patrick's Festival, you are blessed!" Derek dramatically declaimed. "Fantastic day, blue skies," Donal agreed.

Down among the crowd, a pink-coated Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh was chatting to a young boy. "Do you want a kiss?" she asked. "No!" he retorted forcefully. She followed this by demanding of a young girl "Do you love the parade? Do you love it to bits?" The girl had no alternative but to agree. Then Blathnaid shrieked for rescue: "Derek! Speak to me!"

Derek responded by pointing out to us that "it really is a spectacular day". Then, as an accompaniment to the music passing along the street behind him, he gave us the history of the Garda Band, the Army Band, the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band, the Artane Band and the Clondalkin Youth Band. The latter, according to Derek, is "one of the finest marching bands, not only in Ireland but in Europe -- if not the world." And furthermore it was "founded by a nephew of Joe Dolan." Bet you didn't know that.

Ten minutes later, with half of the floats still to reach O'Connell Street and with Derek reminding me for the trillionth time that the weather was "absolutely spectacular", I pondered that the life of a parade commentator wasn't an easy one but that I, for one, had had enough of Blathnaid's blather and Derek's drivellings.

Blathnaid wasn't to be avoided, though, adding her tuppence worth to the final of The All-Ireland Talent Show (RTE1), which was as ridiculous a competition as I've seen on television -- not just because Blathnaid and a couple of the other judges plainly regarded themselves as the real stars of the show, but also because all of the commonly accepted criteria for such contests had been ignored.

How else to explain a competition in which adult performers of serious intent and obvious quality regularly lost out to children who had little going for them other than their exceptionally young age? Thus, in the final we were asked to take seriously two young Dublin brothers whose voices haven't yet broken and an infant from Cork who should have been tucked in bed rather than given the freedom to go lepping around a stage.

At the very end Blathnaid sagely announced that, even though only one entrant -- a trio of children -- had got the €50,000 prize, "everyone was a winner." Well, the hapless viewer wasn't.

Thank God for Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle (BBC2), in which the comic took a wry and often very funny look at books written by celebrities. His demolition job on the second volume of memoirs by BBC radio DJ Chris Moyles was bracingly savage -- especially when he pondered Moyles's approving description of it as a book to be read in the toilet. "What kind of civilisation can put the word 'toilet' and the word 'book' in the same phrase?" he asked.

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And his riposte to all those who've asked him if he's read the latest Harry Potter was equally cheering: "No, I haven't read it because I'm a 40-year-old man, but I've read the romantic visionary and poet William Blake, so f..k off!"

Lee has an endearingly hungover look to him, but there's nothing unfocused about his comedy.

Two fine documentaries added genuine substance to the week. Pakistan's Taliban Generation was the subject of Dispatches on Channel 4 and it featured brave reporter Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy going undercover to find out exactly what tyrannies are being enforced by the Taliban on women, children and anyone foolish enough to voice dissent.

She learned of Taliban schools where children are being taught how to become suicide bombers.

"God is happy when children go and fight," a Taliban leader gravely told her. Meanwhile, he and his murderous cohorts are busily knocking down girls' schools, exercising a reign of terror in regions over which they have control and publicly executing those who disagree with them.

In BBC2's The Lost World of Communism, life was hardly better. In 1945, East German schoolgirl Erika put lipstick on a picture of Stalin because she thought he "looked sad". That earned her 10 years in prison where she was repeatedly abused sexually. "I'm now a mother and a grandmother," she said, "but I still feel dirty and degraded".

In 1953, scriptwriter Ursula, who hadn't bothered joining the communist party, was charged with espionage and sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Siberia. She was released after two years, her accusers unaware that she actually had been spying for the British.

Hitherto unseen archival footage from the '40s to the '80s added greatly to the reminiscences of those East Germans who'd lived through a regime in which one out of every six people informed on their neighbours.

The lives of others, though not all of them were unhappy with their lot.

This was the first installment in a series that promises to be first-rate.


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