This Rose never blooms


CAN anyone really say they've experienced the full range of cultural experience this wonderful little country of ours has to offer until they've witnessed the surreal sight of the Sunderland Rose, who's actually from Tipperary, wiggling her hips and singing "Shake, shake, shake banana" while hundreds of people packed into a tent and wearing evening dress join in?

That's the overpowering image lingering in my head after the Rose of Tralee, the first three-hour slab of which went out on RTE1 last night, hosted for the second year in a row by local beefcake Daithi O Se, a man so supernaturally sexy his entrance made the microphone stand tremble (although that could be down to a bit of a shake in the stage).

This is the point, I suppose, at which we're supposed to clamber on to our haughty high horses and decry the Rose of Tralee for being a national and international embarrassment of epic proportions.

But do you know something? I couldn't be bothered. Really, I couldn't. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Besides, anyone with a functioning nerve-end and the capability to blush already knows the Rose of Tralee is a national and international embarrassment of epic proportions, as well as a shameful abuse of public service broadcasting.

Can you think of any other supposedly sophisticated country where, in 2011, a local rural festival, dreamt up 52 years ago by a newspaper MD and a handful of local businessmen as a way of drumming up a bit of tourism (which is essentially what it remains), can command six hours of free, primetime television advertising spread across two nights?

Even the Italians would probably baulk at that, and they have to endure some of most unspeakably awful television in Europe. So, instead, this year I tried to find something positive to say about the spectacle.

It took me a long time -- right up until the end of the first hour, in fact, which climaxed with O Se and one of the roses (I can't recall which; they blur after a while) salsa dancing their way into the break for the news.

But I think I've finally come up with something.

And here it is: watching the Rose of Tralee is a great way to hone your maths.

Playing around with the various figures involved throws up some intriguing statistics.

For instance, last year's show was watched by a TV audience of roughly a million.

If you divide that figure by the total number of this year's contestants, 32, you get an average of 31,250 viewers per Rose.

Who are these people, where do they come from and why don't they have something better to do with their evenings?

They can't all be distant relatives. I know we didn't have contraception in this country for a long time, but surely the Irish Diaspora couldn't have spread its seed that far and wide?

Six hours equals 660 minutes, which, divided by 32, means O Se spends an average of 11.25 minutes talking to each Rose -- although it often feels like much, much more than that.

The Philadelphia Rose took so long to finish her story about working on Sesame Street (that Elmo sounds like a right diva), I feared RTE might have to add an extra hour to tomorrow night's coverage. Even more terrifyingly, I'll be 49 shortly. If you divide 660 minutes by my age, it works out at approximately 13.5 minutes per year of my life that I'll never, ever be able to claw back. Cigarettes don't do that much damage.

There's only one equation that really matters, however: six hours multiplied by the 44 years RTE has been covering the festival.

It still adds up to absolutely zero entertainment value.

As for the will to live that drained from my soul during last night's interminable endurance test, well, I'm afraid that's incalculable.