Tuesday 22 October 2019

Gay Byrne: Tasty bonus for the Stella cinema crowd

Gay Byrne recalls a mum taking a casserole to the cinema to feed her hungry brood - then accidentally sharing it with the audience

Gay Byrne. Photo: Kip Carroll
Gay Byrne. Photo: Kip Carroll

You see, when I was a young fellow there was a convention about these things. And everyone understood the convention and observed it.

When I was a young, handsome, very much in demand show compere/MC/host or whatever the hell you called our sort of people - and there's no need to be rude - you turned up to introduce a show.

And, after your nice introduction, the performer got a tentative round of applause as a welcome, just to make him or her feel welcome, pending the performance.

And at performance end they got more applause, weak or strong as the audience in their wisdom saw fit. And I, as MC, waited for that applause to end and then made my next announcement or introduced the next performer. (Note: I waited until the applause had died away and THEN made my carefully-honed jewel of verbal wisdom.)

That's all gone now.

Think Strictly, or the Albert Hall Proms, or Michael McIntyre or Championship Snooker or any other telly show with a big live audience, and there is no question of waiting for the shouts and yells and applause to cease - the next announcement is roared at you over the whole damn scene.

Most television shows now seem to me to consist of people shrieking at me. With the result that I cannot hear a word they say, THEY cannot hear a word they're saying, and the audience are so busy sending themselves into raptures that they cannot hear a word that's said either.

I feel a severe headache coming on, so I go to the lavatory to relieve the tension and I hope by the time I get back they've all cooled down.

Yes, I know it's all to do with the accursed auto-cue and every word of script being written for these people, some of whom couldn't ad-lib "good evening" if it wasn't written in front of them.

And, as soon as the light goes on, they speak whatever is up there for them. Or, rather, they bellow it in the hope that they can hear themselves.

Yes, I know, I'm a cranky old git of 84, and the hearing being quite dodgy could have something to do with it.

But I know we've lost the word "news". We now have a thing on radio and television called "the nooz" - the RTE Nooz, the Virgin Two Nooz and they've caught the bug all over the country.

Do NOT start me on the soft Irish T. I just get worked up.

*******

Anyway, the Donegal gang came to town for our annual get-together and we decided to go to the Stella Cinema in Rathmines. The NEW Stella cinema.

This has been on our bucket list for quite some time, because everyone spoke of it with great wonder, but every time the day dawned, four other things fell out of the top of the wardrobe just to surprise us, and they had to be attended to.

But, with the gang in town and arrangements made, it was not a day for cancellations. So, a quick beans-on-toast kinda thing in the Diner, right next door to the cinema and then into the quiet relaxation of the movie house.

There's something very appealing about sauntering into a silent and darkened cinema and being shown to your seat which can only be described as sumptuous.

With a leather-topped stool on which to rest your weary feet, and your drink ALREADY WAITING FOR YOU on your own private table beside the bedside lamp.

And at the appointed time and not a minute later, all the lamps went out and we were straight into the movie.

No commercials, no trailers, no announcements no reminders. Lights out and bang!

Bohemian Rhapsody, straight in. Good movie, not a great movie, and the sound was too loud - I could have done with a few decibels down. Or even five. But this is a mere quibble.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience, made even more so by the knowledge that we were going on to a nice meal in someone's house, where you stood a good chance of being offered a drink and the food would be pretty good.

And we were, and it was.

And I thought again about June Levine, who worked with us for a few seasons on The Late Late Show. And what happened to her in The Stella.

She told us that when she was a young girl, it was her mother's practice to take her brood and a few pals to the pictures - always The Stella because it was their local. And she insisted that they all had to sit in the front row of the balcony.

Not only that, but being the fine Jewish mother she was, she was utterly convinced that her entire brood would drop dead of starvation some day between 9am and 6pm unless she kept them stoked up with nourishing victuals.

So she brought grub with her to the cinema and lined it up on the balcony parapet.

It was in the days when there was, probably, a feature film, a B-picture, maybe a travelogue or other short, and a few trailers, so the gang had plenty of chances to tuck in.

Although June and a few of her pals did not approve of this travelling roadshow, there was never any grub left when they were going home.

Until the day her mother decided to make a casserole. For the nourishment, don't you know.

How she got it past the cinema doormen we will never know, but it ended up - a superb and very large dish, still hot - on the parapet of the balcony, and she had brought plates and spoons and the like to dish it up.

So everyone settled down to enjoy the day. Except that somebody's elbow got in the way, or someone trying to find a seat was fatter than they thought, or someone was just kinda careless, or curious, and the beautiful heavy casserole pot was hit.

And it fell straight down on those below.

It was the mercy of God that there was no one seated DIRECTLY below where the pot was: if there had been there would've been a funeral to arrange. But people were still coming in and the lights were still up and the casserole pot made quite a bang when it landed.

There were many shouts and screams of fright and anguish, for people in a cinema generally do not like to be sprayed with onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and whatever else June's mother saw fit to include in her recipe. Very rarely, at the cinema, do you get the feeling that it's raining soup.

Nowadays, there would probably be a series of High Court cases arising from this adventure, but I got the impression from June that her mother stood up and apologised to all present and everyone settled down to enjoy the show.

After which, presumably, they went home and got their clothes cleaned.

But no one made any great fuss about it. The cinema staff were picking up bits of onion and potato and other delicious morsels for quite some time afterwards.

And during the recently completed refurbishment of The Stella, I'm sure the builders were picking up stray and very old bits of parsnip, turnip, spuds and cabbage, and wondering about the strange things people put in sandwiches these days.

But those bits all belong to June Levine's mother. Although 'tis many years since and neither she nor June wanted anything.

And was Ma banned from The Stella? Of course not. She was just watched.

Closely.

*******

When I was a young fella and had notions at one time of becoming a world famous newspaper journalist, I became a great fan of AJ Liebling of The New Yorker, one of the outstanding world hacks of his day.

A born-and-raised Nu Yoiker, he knew the city and its inhabitants intimately. And he always maintained that when you heard natives of The Big Apple speak of dis, dat, dem and dose, that that was merely the speech of 19th Century Cork - transplanted during the mass immigration of the Southern Irish 100 years and more ago.

And because the 'th' sound is very difficult also for the French, Germans and Italians, they happily took to it.

And so it became Nu Yoick-ese. Did you know that? I never knew that.

To which I can only add that the Corkonians tried to pull off that trick in Dublin, too, but we didn't let them get away with it. They took our jobs, but not our native tongue.

There isn't a Dub who doesn't think about this with bitterness. We shall all now retire to the nearest slosher, we'll have 10 pints each and we'll take on the first five Corkmen we meet.

That'll teach them.

'Staff were picking up bits of onion and potato and other delicious morsels for quite some time'

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