Wednesday 19 December 2018

Peek inside: Broadcaster Michael Murphy's Spain home complete with sea views and swimming pool



On the cover of writer and poet Michael Murphy's new book about dreams, Michael is sitting in an impressive fabric-covered, high-backed chair.

It's appropriate for all sorts of reasons; Michael is very interested in design, and this chair is by world-class furniture designer Hans Wegner. It's a chair that belongs in one of his and his partner Terry's favourite places in the world, the house they live in when they're in Spain; the house, in fact, where he wrote the book, which is titled Book of Dreams. It's also of course, particularly fitting, because it's the kind of chair in which one falls asleep and has dreams.

Book of Dreams, which is Michael's fifth book, makes for fascinating reading; it's full of real dreams - some silly, some sad, all surreal - experienced by real people, and after an account of what happened in each dream, Michael gives an analysis of the significance of the events recalled. He's well qualified to do so, because while most people know Michael as one of the top newscasters for many years in RTE, he is now, by profession, a psychoanalyst, and has been for many years. Indeed, it was his first choice of career, growing up in Castlebar, Co Mayo. "I did arts in UCD, and after graduating, I won a scholarship to study at the university of Nancy, in France, which was attached to the Freudian Institute in Frankfurt, and I did my master's in psychoanalysis there," Michael recalls. "I had already been in analysis myself at that stage. Obviously, if you were gay, it wasn't spoken about then - my being gay contributed to my reasons for going into analysis - but I had also always been interested in human nature; that had always been a passion," Michael says, in the mellifluous tones for which he was famous when he was a newscaster. He goes on to note, "There were no jobs in it, and no-one in Mayo understood psychoanalysis, so I went into RTE instead."

He became a newsreader first, and after about 10 years, he went into TV production. Through his work as a producer, he made what he calls the first reality-TV programmes. "It was Access Community Television; local communities were themselves involved in the stories told and the making of the programmes. It was reality TV with quality - we told real people's real stories," he says with pride, noting that they won many awards.

Michael speaks fondly about those programmes, not least because it was through Access TV that he met his partner of 33 years, Terry, also a psychoanalyst. "Michael came to do an Access programme in the Rutland Centre [for alcohol addiction treatment] which I had set up with some other people," Terry explains. "He wanted to film the process, but we wouldn't allow him do that for confidentiality reasons, so it was agreed the staff would enact the group therapy." Michael adds, "Television is like an X-ray, and within seconds, just by looking, you actually know what a person is like. I had three days of looking at Terry and I thought, 'That's a good guy'. In the end, we all went for a meal, the crew and the Rutland people, and I made sure I was sitting beside Terry," Michael notes.

Sadly, the Access programmes were axed for various reasons, but Michael isn't remotely bitter. "Being the producer-director, It was like I got to play with the train set; it was a wonderful, wonderful privilege. I have to be extraordinarily grateful for that," he volunteers.

Fortunately, the climate around psychoanalysis had changed and people were realising its value, so Michael decided to go back and do further studies, with a view to making it his next career. That was 27 years ago, and he and Terry both still work in the area, starting at seven in the morning, "the executive hour", as Terry calls it with a laugh.

Michael has another career as a writer - he wrote a memoir about his cancer diagnosis and recovery; he's written about the experiences of some of his patients with their illnesses (with their permission, of course) and he writes poetry. He hasn't given up on the performing side developed during his days as a newsreader and he's doing a Speaking of Dreams tour around the country in November, starting with a show in the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire. Terry will be part of the backstage crew, which he enjoys, though it can get fraught when the engaging couple, who got married last month, are working together so closely. "I remember on the last tour I was so transfixed with what was happening on stage that I forgot to change a slide, and Michael hissed at me, 'Push the fucking button'," Terry recalls, adding jokingly/tartly, "not a nice way to speak to your partner, and me a cripple and all."

Terry's reference to being a 'cripple' relates to his childhood polio which has come back to bite in recent years, as polio tends to do. He needs a stick to walk and finds stairs very difficult, which is one reason why they've ended up living in the house they currently enjoy when in Spain. "We bought a lovely apartment between Marbella and Fuengirola 15 years ago but it had 40 steps up to it and I began to find those steps very difficult," Terry says, while Michael takes up the story, "Our friend, Anna Timmerman, kept saying, 'I'm rattling around in this place, why don't you come and live with me?'"

They jumped at the chance, not least because Anna is, by all accounts, a wonderful person.

In the acknowledgments to Book of Dreams, Michael refers to her as an honorary family member - "one of the Murphys of Copenhagen". Anna is originally Danish, and spent a lot of time in Spain with her parents when she was young. She met her husband, an American millionaire, when she was 19, and at one stage lived near Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

When she and her husband divorced, Anna decided to base herself in Spain, and bought a wonderful architect-designed home spanning 10,000 square feet. "The house was built in the 1960s by a famous American architect, a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bob Mosher, who built the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego. He retired to Spain and built four or five houses, and this is one of them."

The house is built of teak, which has a resin that termites can't attack, making it very solid, and it boasts many fabulous features, not least stunning sea views, with Gibraltar and Africa in the distance. The couple fully realise they've landed on their feet - the house comes complete with a swimming pool and gorgeous grounds. "We're so lucky. We have our own wing in the house, a complete apartment, and few parts are more than a few steps up or down," Terry notes, while Michael adds, "All the pieces of furniture are classic Danish designs."

For Michael, the house's most precious possession, however, is a chocolate labrador, Toga. "I arrive at the door, she almost faints with delight and she tranfers allegiance from Anna to me immediately," says Michael, while Terry notes dryly. "I call her a slut, and Anna and I just have walk-on parts in her life from then on." Obviously Michael is the man of her dreams.

'Book of Dreams', published by Gill Books

For details of Michael's 'Speaking of Dreams' shows, see

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by David Duran

Sunday Independent

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