Friday 19 January 2018

Last night’s TV: Creedon’s Retro Road Trip

Diarmuid Doyle finds John Creedon’s trip down memory lane a good fit for Sunday evening telly

If Creedon’s Retro Road Trip was shown at any time other than 6.30pm on a Sunday evening, it would probably spark off a debate about declining standards in television, complaints about cheapskate public service broadcasting and impatient refusals ever to pay the television license again.

At its worst, it’s twee, sentimental, manufactured, maudlin and idiotic, as its presenter John Creedon, a kind of annoyingly amiable manchild, recreates an old family driving holiday around Ireland in a Mercedes and a rundown old caravan. But in its own honest to goodness, unpretentious way, it’s a perfect fit for that Sunday teatime slot on RTE1 which, thanks to Reeling In The Years, has been almost permanently reserved for nostalgia.

Creedon’s Retro Road Trip is slathered in memories, awash in tearful recollection. Its presenter, better known from the radio, is at that age, around fifty, when mid-life crisis provokes all manner of questions about the purpose and meaning of existence.

Whereas others get such confusion out of their systems by having mad affairs, buying Harley Davisons or taking up Buddhism, Creedon has opted for the much less controversial route of retracing his family’s 1969 tour of Ireland.

Cynics might describe this as self-indulgent, and they’d be right to do so, but Creedon is an easygoing travelling companion. He might want to make connections between the boy then and the man now, but if he’s found any, he’s mostly kept them to himself. His four-part series is not taking on any existential weight it can’t bear. It’s a watchable travel show about Ireland, presented by a likeable host, who’s fond enough of people to make them seem interesting, even when they don’t have a lot of interest to say.

Sometimes, getting unnaturally excited about pulling his own 99 in an ice cream van on Donabate beach, or serving sandwiches in a Drogheda delicatessen, he comes across as one of those bores who insists on inflicting his holiday snaps on his long-suffering neighbours, but generally he’s engaging easily with an Ireland that is getting on with its business despite all the doom and gloom. That’s not the whole story of modern Ireland, by any means, but it is part of the story and , for the most part, Creedon reflects it well enough.

In last night’s programme, he crossed the border into Northern Ireland during the Orange celebrations (the series looks like it was shot last summer), as his family had done in the summer of ’69, just as the Troubles were about to erupt.

This memory seemed to have affected his expectations of his latest trip, which was conducted with a mixture of trepidation and innocence. Part of him expected to be beaten up by loyalist thugs; the more naïve part wondered why we all can’t get along.

The intrusion of politics on such a sentimental journey jarred a little, as did Creedon’s innocent belief that Orange celebrations are just another fascinating Irish tradition, like St Patrick’s Day. Even with signs of triumphalism all around him, he somehow held onto the belief that this was just a good-humoured drinking session with terrible pipe bands.

Only when stones and missiles started raining down on him, courtesy of some local gougers, did he realise that his innocence might have been misplaced. On the weekend that Rory McIlroy, from Hollywood, Co Down, made the thirty-two counties of Ireland very proud, Creedon’s experience was a timely reminder that his road trip isn’t that retro, more of a timely update on the times we live in.

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