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The nightmare of being buried alive, unearthed


Jeffrey Archer was interviewed by Pat Kenny this week.
Photo: David Conachy.

Jeffrey Archer was interviewed by Pat Kenny this week. Photo: David Conachy.

Jeffrey Archer was interviewed by Pat Kenny this week. Photo: David Conachy.

Is your life insufficiently filled with worriment? Do you need to add to your store of anxiety? If so, then Tuesday's Moncrieff would have cheered you up, by freaking you out.

"There probably isn't anyone," said Moncrieff, "who hasn't considered what they'd do if, by some dreadful accident, they were buried alive." This shamed me. It had been years since I'd considered the eventuality at all, even though I'd been briefly obsessed, as a lad, by the unutterable horribleness of it.

I was more of a "petrified by the spectre of nuclear annihilation" type, till a classmate loaned me a collection of spooky stories. And so I read Edgar Allan Poe's Premature Burial. And later The Cask of Amontillado, and (later still) The Fall of the House of Usher.

By the time I was finished that lot (three 'buried alive' gems) I was a gibbering wreck. Reluctant to close my eyes for fear of awakening in pitch darkness, in a wooden box, with 6ft of suffocating soil above me. I'd scream. I'd wail. I'd claw at the velvet lining. All to no avail (or so the nightmare went).



I'd managed, over the years, to bury that dread, only for Moncrieff, and his guest Jonathan Sale, to unearth it. I should thank them, I suppose. My slack attitude to the whole business, in adult life, could have doomed me. Arrangements will now be made. A coffin stuffed with bells, whistles, klaxons and mobile phones will be mine, when the time comes.

Sale wasn't just on Moncrieff to traumatise us, but to plug a book he'd edited: Premature Burial: How It May Be Prevented, a reprint of a Victorian classic.

So phobic were Victorians about the phenomenon that William Tebb, one of the original volume's authors, co-founded the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial to allay fears.

Tebb was a colourful chap. An abolitionist, an anti-vivisectionist, and a man who, Sale said, believed that the "theory of germs" was "newfangled rubbish". He'd also promised a fellow anti-vivisectionist that he'd personally cut her throat upon her "death", to guard against premature interment. "He certainly was prepared to put his money, or his knife, where his mouth was," said Sale.

What techniques, Moncrieff asked, were used to ensure that the "dead" were really dead. "They'd burn feathers under your nose," Sale said. Or (somewhat randomly) apply "hot bread... to the souls of your feet". Or even use "high-tech nipple-squeezing forceps". I think I'd rather take my chances in my (premature) grave.

One of Ireland's foremost cultural commentators was guest of honour on Wednesday's Mooney. Richie Kavanagh may look (and sound) like an unholy fusion of (Nintendo's) Mario, Brendan Shine, Giant Haystacks, and Pennywise – the demonic dancing clown, but he's got his white-gloved finger on the nation's pulse.

He was one of the first singer-songwriters to comment on the profound societal impact of mobile phones. He was certainly the first artist to seriously address the issue of profanity in chickens (see the peerless Chicken Talk for details).

So it's no surprise that the horsemeat fiasco has reached a kind of apogee, a perfect culmination, in Richie's latest single: Horsing Around (The Burger Song).

In which Richie's wife devours half a dozen equine burgers before sprinting out the door "in her knickers and bra" (pursued by the local parish priest and the gardai).



Mooney suggested that the last time Kavanagh was on the show there was "consternation" because listeners "were offended by some of the lyrics".

Richie shrugged off such concerns, launched into a bracing blast of Mickey's Bucking Ass, and expounded on his theory that Elvis was a Carlowman. "It's just hokey old stuff," said Richie of his oeuvre, before airily describing his struggles with Parkinson's disease. A one-off.

Jeffrey Archer was given the softest of soft rides on Wednesday's Today with Pat Kenny. Lots of chummy chat about rugby and Archer's sales figures, but barely a mention of scandal and imprisonment.

The juiciest it got was when Kenny asked him if he'd ever thought of hopping aboard the Fifty Shades of Grey bandwagon. "You'll get no erotica from me, ladies!," boomed Archer. Which was welcome news for everyone.