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Gloves off as Katie takes on Anglo for the Irish soul

AS I queued for coffee this morning, an elderly woman behind me gloomily announced (apropos of nothing) "Ah, it's getting dark very early". "Well... it's bright now!" I cheerily blurted (not knowing what else to blurt).

Her timing may have been odd (it was 9am at the time), but she's not wrong. The days grow short. The sun grows feebler. And winter nights are enlarging the number of their hours, as the fella said.

Sunday's Curious Ear reflected this seasonal shifting. Its Nightscapes series, for those yet to hear it, is a celebration of the soundscapes of Northern Ireland at night, based on "the classical elements -- air, earth, fire and water. On Sunday, it was fire's turn to shine.

We met Paddy O'Flaherty, a veteran Belfast reporter, who described a life that had been largely spent working in the wee hours, often chasing fires and fire engines. "I still follow fire engines," Paddy said. "When you hear a fire engine you always know there's a story happening."

Over a potent background track of sirens, roaring flames and Stravinsky, Paddy described the "huge cacophony of emotions" that a serious fire produces.


The chaos of "people running about" in the dark. The odour that is a mixture of "charred wood, oil and tar". "You can smell when a big fire melts the roadway," he said.

From fire as destroyer to fire as elemental force for creativity. Claire Hawkins, a 'fire performer', described a fortnightly get-together of Belfast-based fire enthusiasts.

"We come together and spin fire together," she explained. "It's a very communal atmosphere." Communal it may be, but as performance arts go, it's a tad perilous. "Am I going to set myself on fire?", asks one nervous novice, not unreasonably. "No, you're OK," reassures her teacher. "If it's nearly hitting you in the face then you're doing it right." I think I'd rather be doing it wrong.

This was perfect radio for late October. Conjuring up feelings of chill and warmth, while skilfully capturing wintry sights, sounds and smells.

Fintan O'Toole was on Tuesday's Tubridy to discuss The Irish Times' series, A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. 99 objects have already been chosen, but a public vote will determine the final selection. The shortlisted objects (all currently on display at the National Museum) include Jean Butler's Riverdance dress, Katie Taylor's boxing gloves, a decommissioned AK-47, and the sign from Anglo Irish Bank HQ.

Object 100 should, O'Toole said, give futuristic types visiting the museum in "200 years' time" a sense of "what it was like to be Irish in the beginning of the 21st century". The winner, he reckoned, would either be Taylor's gloves or the Anglo sign.

Forget King Kong vs Godzilla. Forget Kramer vs Kramer (vs Godzilla). Katie vs Anglo, in a battle for the Irish soul, is truly a bout for the ages. I wouldn't trust that Anglo sign to observe Marquess of Queensberry rules though. It's probably trying to recommission the AK-47 as we speak.


The identity of this nation-defining object was also exercising George Hook and his guest John Waters. Shortlist be damned, they had their own ideas. Waters kicked off in low-key fashion by suggesting Happy to Meet -- Sorry to Part, Horslips' first album.

George countered with... er... All Kinds of Everything. By now, Waters was getting into full flow. "Schoolbooks covered in wallpaper," he boomed.

"Kimberley biscuits. Pictures of the Sacred Heart, John F Kennedy, and Pope John XXIII."

"The leather strap," he quickly added, prompting a pause. "I know it's controversial, George."

"Oh, it should be there! It should be there," Hook bellowed before going off on one about how the strap was misunderstood, and how in 90pc of cases it was perfectly fine, and how gas it was to have been walloped by a Brother who wielded it like "Billy the Kid".

"Since 50 Shades of Grey, of course, all this is in an entirely new dimension," observed Waters, and suddenly my mind was flooded with unsolicited images.

Images of John Waters (covered in wallpaper) prostrate before a triptych of JFK, the Sacred Heart, and John XXIII, being enthusiastically flogged by a Christian Brother.

There's a vision (of Ireland) to haunt you in the long nights ahead.