independent

Friday 20 July 2018

Driving hard with PJ Sitter

David Medcalf

Question: 'Medders, dear, would you mind terribly going on a pointless 150 kilometre drive for me on Saturday? I would consider it a big favour if you could see whether the garden centre in Out-of-the-Way has any blue flowering hurdy-gurdy plants. The chances are ten to one that they will be out of hurdy-gurdy plants and that you will have a totally wasted trip but it is always best to check. '

A month ago the answer to Hermione's request would have been: 'Darling, no trouble is too great if it raises the possibility - however slim - that I may garland you in freshly cut hurdy-gurdy flowers of a hue which matches the turquoise of your mesmerising eyes. And if you wish me to take a laborious detour on the way home through the everlasting roadworks on the N99 to Obscureville DIY, so that I may check out wallpaper availability for that bedroom refurbishment we will never quite get around to, then you only have to say the word.'

But nowadays I am be more likely to respond cravenly: 'Ah, nice of you to ask but The Jalopy has been playing up recently. It might just about be capable of making it as far as the golf club but there's a nasty clanking noise coming from the engine every time it goes past the Our Town urban district boundary. Anyway, I think I heard something the other day about a South American beetle which is devouring hurdy-gurdy plants wholesale and pushing them to the edge of extinction.' Yes, the rugby season is over and the desire to meander aimlessly around Ireland has evaporated, at least for remainder of the summer.

Though I played as a schoolboy, I have no current interest in looking at the sport. The last senior fixture I attended in the flesh took place more than two decades ago, back in the days when a Leinster crowd could be handily accommodated in the cosy stand at Donnybrook. Rugby has since adapted to the television age, the perfect game for following in a pub. It is possible to watch a sequence of play; then order a pint at a crowded bar; then watch another sequence of play; then have a chat with an old friend not seen for several years; then watch a third sequence; then collect the pint; then turn to watch a fourth sequence. And so on.

All this is accomplished without fear of missing any of the actual rugby. The gaps between plays are enormous, such that fixtures which nominally last for 80 minutes are stretched out over two hours. The action is delivered in short bursts of speed and violence which fail to hold my attention. Give me good old-fashioned hurling or soccer to view any day of the week, whether in person or on the box.

But rugby on radio, in contrast, is a superb way of passing the time while on the road. RTE's Michael Corcoran has become a valued companion on long journeys, with Donal Lenihan as his sidekick. The alternatives on Newstalk are not at all bad either, with Keith Wood providing occasional shafts of top class humour but the Corcoran/Lenihan duo just about hold the edge.

Michael is woeful in delivering precision. When he speaks of the 10-metre line, then the listener is supposed to know instinctively which 10 metre line he refers to, because he surely will not tell you. But he rises above this sparseness of detail by being magnificent at conveying atmosphere, not least when a big tackle is landed and some unfortunate is 'smashed to the ground' as he invariably puts it with undisguised glee.

Left to his own solo devices, his broadcasts would be so incoherent as to be a liability but, thank goodness, Donal on hand to pick up the pieces. This he does rather in the manner of the family solicitor turning up at the garda station to bail out some lovable rogue. With him around, there is some hope of making sense of rugby's infernal jargon, with all its off-loading and line speed.

As a radio rugby head, I could pass Jimmy Sextant , PJ Sitter or any of the other players in the street without recognising them. Nevertheless, when the oval ball is dusted off in the autumn and once The Jalopy has had a good service, then I will be tuning in once more and available to resume the quest for the rare blue flowering hurdy-gurdy.

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