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My heart sinks when Gaybo starts to lecture

Baby, it's cold outside. Put on your furry boots or you're gonna die".

So said Uncle Gaybo in his opening remarks on Lyric FM's Sunday with Gay Byrne. Opening remarks that made him sound like a cross between a groovy beatnik and the world's most morbid and alarmist weatherman.

"There are flow snurries outside the studio door in Dublin 4 this morning," he continued, as the tone shifted from alarmist to absurdist. "And whenever I think of flow snurries," he went on, "I think of George Peppard". Flow snurries? George Peppard? You wha', Gay?

Well, Peppard, you see, had been a guest on The Late Late Show, "187 years ago", and had regaled Gay (and viewers) with memories of one of his early gigs, as a radio announcer. After a few too many he'd gone on air and tipsily repeated the spoonerism "flow snurries" (instead of "snow flurries"), over and over again. Cue much embarrassment, and his boss giving him the boot. "Good old George!" chuckled Gay.


It's a curious beast, Sunday with Gay Byrne. Ostensibly, it's a soothing mix of cuddly mid- afternoon chat and cosy, easy listening, jazz. The sort of thing you consume as you luxuriate in a Radox bath while downing a lovely pint of Ovaltine (having spent the morning pottering about in the garden). Delightful.

Except, of course, Gaybo doesn't (or can't) do easy listening. Anecdotes like the above may sound innocuous, but you're never entirely sure where they're going. Will they end in mildly amusing punchlines? Or will they, instead, mutate into yet another tedious lecture about the myriad ills and failings of the contemporary world?

Which Gay are we going to get? The jazz-loving hepcat who grooves along to Oscar Peterson and Artie Shaw, or the prickly snob? Tuning in, to find out, can be an uneasy experience (even for those strung out on Ovaltine).

Sunday's show started in upbeat enough fashion. Peppard's flow snurries, Gay's love of Helen Hunt, "lovely, lovely notes" from lovely, lovely listeners. Nice jazz. Peggy Lee. All of that. Was this to be a show mercifully and miraculously free from patrician disapproval and lofty disdain? Er, no.

"It just occurs to me", said Gay through pursed lips, as the mood palpably darkened, "that somebody somewhere is going to have to do something about the use of the word 'sink'". Eh? Well, apparently, "there is total confusion with the word 'sink'... everywhere in the broadcast media and in the print media". Gay's example? An RTE radio report "about one of these trawlers going down" which unforgivably and intolerably swapped 'sunk' for 'sank', and vice versa. Forget about the actual sinking (and possible loss of life), in the Gaybo universe this grammatical slackness was the real tragedy.

And on (and on) it went. Pops were also taken at the use of "pled" (instead of "pleaded"), the "soft Irish T" (an enduring obsession), and the inefficiency of "speller checks" (i.e. sub-editors). My heart, briefly lifted by Art Tatum, sank. Or, possibly, sunk. Or sinked.


Thelon Oeming's The Voices of Vern Nash (part of the Documentary on One series) was an altogether more elevating experience. A captivating, disturbing and (ultimately) moving account of Oeming's friendship with an elderly, schizophrenic, Canadian accordion player called Vern Nash.

Oeming's recordings of Nash -- compiled over several years in Toronto -- slowly, and elegantly, reveal the full extent of Nash's emotional turmoil and mental torment. He tells Oeming about the "Satanists" and "demons" that have, he believes, been attempting to destroy him (in "mind and personality and soul") for more than 30 years. He is plagued, he says, by their "violent, aggressive, belligerent, depressing voices". Voices that urge him to kill. To "love evil". It's a daily battle.

The only weapon he has against these voices, Nash explains, is his accordion. "They hate music," he says. "They can't stand it. It makes them sick. Music helps bring their downfall."

Little wonder, then, that there's such a frantic beauty to Nash's playing. It's the desperate sound of someone suffering. Of someone playing for his own survival, for his own damaged identity. "Without music," he screams at one stage, "I'm nothing!" An extraordinary, and frequently heart-breaking, portrait.