Friday 24 November 2017

Oh Moncrieff! how i fell in love with a newstalk presenter . . .

Oh Sean Moncrieff, how could I have doubted you so? I used to hate the host of Newstalk's afternoon magazine show, you see.

Well, hate is too strong a word; but I used to find him really annoying on TV, back in the day, at the helm of such atrocities as Don't Feed the Gondolas.

Now I realise the error of my ways: it wasn't Moncrieff I disliked, it was the programmes. The man himself, contrariwise, is one of the most talented broadcasters on Irish radio.

He's brilliant in some ways, and more so because he makes it look so easy.

Sean's programme is one of those devilishly difficult things to get right: you must strike the exact balance between light and substantial, funny and serious, trivial but not insignificant.

And he -- and his team -- do so perfectly. Moncrieff (the programme, not the fella from Galway) is almost too good, it's so hugely, consistently, ridiculously entertaining. There's some sort of magical alchemy at work here, taking the base element of chatting informally about a range of seemingly unimportant subjects, and transmuting it into pure radio gold.

In just one sample day this week, for example, we had highly interesting and enjoyable slots on prototype batteries from the ancient world, marital infidelity, Facebook love stories, why Irish writers are obsessed with the past, and a whole lot else. It was all great stuff, casual and easy but not ephemeral, like sitting in the pub surrounded by a bunch of really interesting people with really interesting things to say.

And they're buying.

Newstalk has also been impressing me with 'Why We Write', a strand in their fine Different Voices documentary series that has been running for the last month. It does what the title suggests, examining the reasons, means and results of the nation's love affair with the pen.

It's not been all waffly poets and pompous 'artistes', either, and thank God for that. We've had investigations into adult literacy classes, a schizophrenic writers' group, the use of writing as therapy and creative writing courses.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I found the third of those the least engaging; if I hear just one more person say "everyone has a book in them", I'll beat them to death with a hardback copy of Proust. Everyone may have a book in them, but it's usually a bad one.

Irish Independent

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