Monthly Archives: May 2012

Did it taste just as good then?

It was August 1977.  Elvis was still alive. We were on our annual family holiday and like the previous summer, Duncannon was the location.

Back then a Chilly Willy or L’il Devil was the usual cooling-down tipple for my sister and me; either could be had for a mere 4p. My parents tended to avoid the ice lollies and instead were happy with a Choc Ice or a Brunch.

One day I decided that I wanted proper grown-up ice cream. There was only one problem – the newsagents at the bottom of Duncannon’s main street was sold out of Choc Ices. Instead I was offered this:

The first few bites tasted funny and eating the chocolate exterior was a little tricky as the pieces kept sliding off and on to my t-shirt. But dogged persistence paid off and I got to the end – licking the stick with a sense of accomplishment.

In those formative years holidays abroad were very much the exception and only affordable for a handful of people in the town. Like many others our annual getaway brought us to such far-flung places as Inchydoney, Courtown Harbour, Bundoran and Slea Head. One or two weeks of mostly sunshine, daily strolls from our chalet or guesthouse to the adjoining beach and plenty from the ice cream freezer. Back then HB were the main attraction with the likes of Dale Farm a trivial sideshow. Every summer brought a new marketing campaign, a fresh poster with a mixture of old reliables and some fresh débutantes to keep the customers happy.

1979 saw four new offerings. The anodyne Mini Milk, the clumsy-sounding Frogurt, the delightful Nogger and the marvellously exotic Cornetto. At 20p this was an infrequent indulgence. We hit West Cork that year and the sensible / affordable choice was the plain yet tasty Golly Bar. I was also discovering Enid Blyton around the same time so the wrapper struck a chord with me.

We went back to the same place in 1980. Rain drove us into Clonakility one afternoon and into a newsagents to pick up a new Kalkitos. I had caught the action transfer buzz some months earlier and was eager to add to my collection. But what was this? A new and unusual looking ice cream stared back at me. It was the Hiawatha – a hybrid of lemon, vanilla and chocolate in the style of an Indian headdress. A genius move by HB and from a taste perspective, a most delicious concoction.

We stayed in our own county for 1981 and made the 40 mile trip to Courtown on 15 August. This was to be our destination for three years – a busy spot with a decent beach and an exciting amusement venue.

By now HB added a third variety of Cornetto to the range – the mint option – along with two other popular strawberry-fuelled treats.

Funny Feet: the original Freaky Foot.

That-A-Way was a rich ice lolly that once unwrapped could be utilised as a rude gesture. Until it started to melt about 30 seconds later.

I turned 10 in 1982 so my parents increased my weekly pocket money. Just as well – Jumbo had arrived.

Jumbo was a wallet-buster. It was the most expensive item in the range and retailed at a staggering 50p. But it was amazing – completely encased in chocolate with a sweet oatmeal biscuit underneath that stored a thick slab of vanilla ice cream. It wasn’t the hottest of summers so I was able to exist by forking out for one every two or three days and foregoing other confectionery pleasures.

1983 was a different story – July and August were relentless with sunshine which meant that we were constantly parched. From a financial perspective it was easiest to revert to icepops. Enter Dracula and its “mixed fruit” creation that made for a refreshing shot of citric acid and flavouring.

1984 was another scorcher. Two Tribes went to number one in June. We spend most of July visiting the circuit of beaches in Wexford – Duncannon, Booley Bay, Dollar Bay and Carnivan. Top Of The Pops every Thursday night to see Holly Johnson and co. Two heavy-hitters got added to the range – Fat Frog and Feast – the ultimate chocolate ice cream indulgence. Fat Frogs were marketed with a groovy rock’n’roll advert.

Two Tribes stayed at number one until August. I bought a different version for each of the nine weeks. It was dethroned by George Michael’s Careless Whisper in the UK with Neil’s Hole In My Shoe doing the honours over here. Poor old Nigel only lasted a week at pole position before Two Tribes went back on top.

Three years later and we arrived in Lahinch. Tangle Twisters were the new kids on the block, Golly Bars were still hanging in there while Jumbos had been axed due to poor sales. Inflation had driven the top price to 65p. Spotting a gap in the market, HB decided to launch a luxury cornetto. There were two additional choices – Tutti Frutti and Choco Rico – while the mint version was quietly dropped.

Tutti Frutti was the clear winner – rich, creamy and bursting with er, fruit. The drawback – the aforementioned 65p. But by then I had a proper summer job in a supermarket and could afford one every day if I wanted. However my tastes were changing and the music bug had well and truly gripped me. Ice cream had been supplanted in my affections by vinyl.

Postscript: the answer is “Yes it does.”

The posters and wrappers are taken from Luke Keating’s HB Ice Cream Memories Facebook page.
I urge everybody to “like”. Sincere thanks is extended to Luke for granting permission to use this wonderful collection of memorabilia.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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The Last of the Nippers

Late last week, I received a thrilling package from Maxol HQ. The generous sender told me that he had “literally…raided the safe” for said package’s contents. And oh, what glories were contained therein. So glorious that I now feel kind of bad for previously referring to the Nipper-enslaving Maxol executives of the 1980s as “cigar-chomping, fat cat, petroleum-bastards”.

Anyway, see for yourselves (click to embiggen).

A few things worth noting…

1) My (on loan) nipper came cocooned in “his” own vintage plastic bag (which describes him, matter-of-factly, as a “COLOURFUL HANDPUPPET WITH SOUNDS”). Had he been hibernating in there since 1985? Waiting for (and dreaming of) a liberation that never came? The nipper completists among you may wish to know that the distributor of these colourful-handpuppets-with-sounds was “HIRA (Ireland) Ltd” (whoever/whatever that is/was).

2) The tag on his arse describes him as a “Mattey Product”. Can anyone shed any light on who/what Mattey was/were?

3) If you choke a nipper the results are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.

4) The tiny (and very fragile) watches came in yellow and pink (with subtle differences in design on each face). Makers were “OMAC UK”.

5) On the “FREE A NIPPER!” stickers Brendan Grace looks like a cross between Peter Sutcliffe and Giant Haystacks…in a schoolboy costume. This may well be the most terrifying look ever cultivated by anyone.

I could go on, but think it best to let the creature itself self-describe. Over to you, my little pink friend.

(by fústar)

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Lovely Little Yokes: #2 – Renovate, Develop, Extend!

[Continuing our series on the discarded, and re-purchased, “found objects” of Ireland. – Ed]

Ireland, perhaps more than most places, knows that the past is a different country. And, rummaging at a fund-raising school book sale, I found this physical embodiment of how different the (recent) past was. It was a land obsessed with how much money property was making it.

Renovate, Develop, Extend! has a secret you see. It looks like just any other lifestyle book tapping into your insane desire to borrow and spend money you don’t have on your bricks and mortar. But in fact it is a full, book-sized ad for mortgages bought and paid for by the EBS, sent out to the members who were being behind the door about getting a second mortgage.

Open it up and you find a letter folded and taped into the inside cover from the Head of Mortgages in EBS.

This go-getting institution didn’t want to wait around for you to get a mortgage. You ought to have got off your sorry ass and been chasing the rainbow like everyone else by now anyway. Clearly the problem was, you were some sort of idiot to leave all this loot on the table. You had to be educated. And who better than an Educational Building Society to do the job?

All the reasons to borrow were collected up and an actual book was commissioned to get you into the exciting new world of Property Development.

But, the reader might have (unlikely as it may seem) said to themselves, what about the future? This seems like quite a lot of money I’m being exhorted to borrow. What if I have some trouble paying it back.

No problem, replied the EBS, We have a special chapter on how to work out the likely financial outcome of all this debt.

It’s all going to be great!

(by Simon McGarr)

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History Is Written By The Singers

I can only assume that the stereo was broken the day I did the housework to the tune of my own soulful yodelling. I usually find it difficult to function without musical accompaniment, and ninety-nine times out of ninety-eight I’ll stick on a thoughtful, finely-tuned playlist and get busy to the lusty tones of some foppish chap with a guitar and a check shirt. But this one day, I went a bit mental and decided to provide my own soundtrack. I went through my entire repertoire – The Merry Ploughboy to My Heart Is In Ireland to The Fields Of Athenry to something vaguely sinister about British soldiers.

My better half interjected after about an hour of odes to emigration and immigration and deportation.

“Jesus wept… How – how the fuck – do you know all of those bloody songs?”

In fairness. I know them all because I’m Irish and Irishly impressionable. My better half is an odd fish in that sense. He was raised by enlightened parents who didn’t think it their patriotic duty to instil in him appreciation for rosy-cheeked racism. He learned a few Irish ballads when he took up guitar and check shirts, but jingoistically-speaking, he’s a bit of a fop. I don’t think he’s ever cried into a pint about Boolavogue, Slievenamon or inconsistent four-faced clocks. Which makes him a rather wondrous oddity, don’t you think? Rational, open-minded and patient…none of the qualities sung of in Irish rebel songs.

I don’t know what my first rebel song was, but I reckon God Save Ireland would be a safe bet. It’s a gory march with a tone of defiance so solid you could use it to take down an entire order of nuns. One listen to God Save Ireland, and you’re voting Sinn Féin. It’s a very dangerous ditty, and I thank providence that I was too young for the polling booth when it first battered me with its seditious charms.

Don’t listen to that if you’re not ready to fall in love with Gerry Adams. You have been warned.

For God Save Ireland triggers something deep within the Irish breast. Something ancient, something battle-born, something something delirium-of-the-brave something. Not quite innate, for nationalism was man-made to fill the gap left by Jesus when he rose from the dead, had a spot of lunch, and traipsed off the mortal coil again for some reason. But it’s a feeling that’s long-rooted and therefore profound and unfathomable, all the same. It’s like Fionn mac Cumhaill playing your heartstrings like a fucking fiddle while a bunch of 1980s London skinheads make fun of your freckles. You want to belong to something bigger than you. You want to feel like there’s someone to blame for your not being able to yammer as Gaeilge. You want to fight someone wearing a sneer and a monocle…not with you wearing the sneer and the monocle, obviously. I meant your enemy would wear the sneer and the monocle. Irish rebel songs don’t allow for sneering or pretentious eyewear.

They allow for enemies, though, and impressionable people (like wee Galway-bred cailíní hearing God Save Ireland for the first time) need enemies. Something to rail against like the proud badass you are. Listening to rebel songs is the Irish equivalent of reading Lord Of The Rings if you’re a yokel or listening to Faith Hill mangling the Spangled at the Super Bowl if you’re American. It makes you feel like you’re part of something, whilst at the same time instilling strange and exciting feelings of bottomless rage. Like you want to take your shirt off and punch a wall / kill a Nazgûl  / mutilate a herd of steer.

Knowing your Irish rebel songs really starts to pay dividends when you’re old enough to get served in pubs, and the whole blistering love affair with your own masked xenophobia begins anew. Except this time it’s bolstered by alcohol. Alcohol and pickled friends. Rebel songs make you want to be part of something, and for the entire length of a stanza, you are. You’re part of a swaying, weeping choir of stain-shirted supermen, each more moved by the misdeeds of the Black and Tans than the last.

Come out, ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man!

And without fail, some young fella, his face still in the throes of pubertal disharmony, will slap his fist down on a table and spill someone’s pint.

If you don’t know your Irish rebel songs by the time you start college, for example, your entire social worth will disintegrate as soon as someone chokes out the first few lines of Streets of New York. You’re nothing if you can’t howl back at them about Uncle Benjy and how he got shot down in an uptown foray (sure, even if you can get through the last four lines without your voice cracking, you’ll be thought of as highly suspicious and most likely taken out back and robbed). Irish rebel songs go with Irish drinking culture. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to determine which came first; the rebel songs, or the drinking culture. They sustain each other, a symbiotic muddle of blood, sweat, and needlessly sentimental tears. Kevin Barry died for Ireland. Ireland’s dying for a pint.

“Needlessly sentimental” is the key here. The denizens of modern Ireland have no real claim to the misery of our history; it doesn’t define us in any way but nostalgically. We don’t sing Sean Nós shopping in Brown Thomas and we don’t vow vengeance in the queue at Abrakebabra (unless it was the queue for refunds). I’ll make a concession to exception for the emigration songs, although it’s hard to sing plaintively about how tough it is to work in a dentist’s surgery off Bondi Beach. In general, you lead an Irishman to balladry, and you’ll open the floodgates of hyperbole and hazy threats of international payback. It’s boorish. It’s ignorant.

It’s glorious.

We are Irish and we are collectively excitable and more prone to reminiscence than a spinster with a sherry. Irish rebel songs provoke in us feelings of pride that we’re not entitled to and leanings towards martyrdom that we won’t be celebrated for. Their lyrics are cynically romantic, the flag-waving equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s arse trying to sell you cheap perfume. Sing them at a sober person, and you’ll look like an angry lemming. Sure I can’t sing the entirety of Only Our Rivers Run Free without having an inexplicable emotional meltdown. Honestly. Misdirected patriotism is my party piece. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s funny, because I listen to a lot of folk music now – hipster folk, the kind sung by foppish boys with guitars and check shirts – and I suspect the communal joy of singing evocative rebel songs is the cause of my current aural inclinations. And I’m not alone. Why else would Mumford and Sons – who mostly sing about God, with whom we fell out with in a big way – be so damn big in Ireland?

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

(by Lisa McInerney)

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Lovely Little Yokes: #1 – Good Luck From Ireland

They…are all around us. Or, at least, they used to be till somebody (perfectly understandably) stuffed them into a plastic bag (because they were sick of the sight of them) and shipped them off to the nearest Enable Ireland charity shop (or wherever). Ceramic gewgaws. Plastic tchotchkes. Objects that someone once loved enough to say, “You know, Auntie Mary might like that”.

The purpose of our new series – “Lovely Little Yokes” – is to catalogue and “celebrate” these forgotten and abandoned trinkets. Putting them proudly on display. Giving them a chance to shine again (however briefly). Or, as is more likely, just reminding everyone why nobody wanted them in the first place.

First up, this little beauty. Purchased for 50c in Limerick Animal Welfare, Roches St, Limerick (obviously).

OK, so it’s a leprechaun/gnome…pointing at a pig’s hole. Leprechaun/gnome is enthusiastically smiling, as if to say, “How can you not love this?”.

And this is no ordinary pig. It’s the cutest, most coquettish-looking pig I’ve ever seen (ceramic or otherwise). The garland of shamrocks suggests a pig in the process of attending a local festival at which it will celebrate its Irishness. It seems to be enjoying this experience considerably more than I would be in similar circumstances.

Above is view from rear (and of rear).

For those who can’t make out the text, it’s “AN TSEAPAIN TIR A DHEANTA”. Which is basically just telling you that this little piece of hibern-o-crap was made in Japan. I can only assume that the reason for the text being in Irish is to seduce tourist souvenir-hunters into assuming it means something utterly lovely and lyrically-Gaelic and ancient. It very much doesn’t. But, c’mon. A pig that charming? You’d forgive him any deception.

(by fústar)

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What Will I Do at the Community Games?

It’s only a faint recollection but I remember my first Community Games. I was about five or six and my parents brought me down to Corran Park in Ballymote one Spring Sunday where I was instructed to run like the clappers upon hearing a gun. Out of a field of eight others, some of whom were manifestly better prepared and more motivated than I was, I came fourth or fifth, which pretty much set the tone for where I would come in most things throughout my life. Not destined for glory but neither would I haplessly bring up the rear. The die was cast, I would develop into a Sunderland or an Aston Villa of the competitions of life. An also-ran, as they call them. Because I also ran.

Like most things you encounter when you’re a child, you assume the Community Games has been around since the beginning of time and being blooded in its local competition every May is as integral a part of your development as spending a night on a mountainside was for Spartan babies. Like many other Irish children, I tried my hand in multiple events, first the individual track and field sports, at parish level (it all begins with the parish), later even more haplessly with ‘art’ (doomed to failure there — there was a young heavy metaller in town who was actually able to draw who had the local and county titles locked down every year), and finally the team sports, where I finally tasted success at county level and, were it not for the organisation’s absurd rules, might have gone on to greater things).

The competition though, dating only from 1968, started to keep youngsters off the streets in Dublin — something that seems a bit odd to me as I think of it as a quintessentially culchie event — meaning it wasn’t of so old a vintage by the time I was thrust into competition some time after the Moscow Olympics. It seemed like everyone in Ireland took part (or so it looked from our parish, where nobody was absent when it kicked off in May every year). The games’ structure was more or less based on the GAA’s with parishes holding their own ‘games’ in spring, with the winners progressing to the county finals a month later. That in turn would produce the All-Ireland finalists, who would compete over two weekends just as the school year was starting in late August and early September in the Mosney holiday camp in Meath (still colloquially known as ‘Butlin’s’ in my childhood). Ireland’s geometrically perfect number of counties — 32 — was easily whittled down to a final eight in a series of heats and semi-finals. The team games would be held throughout the spring with the county finals decided in June and in July the provincial finals would take place. The four winners of those would face off in Mosney later in the summer.

Like their grown-up prototype, the Olympics, the Community Games were best known for the track and field events and dozens of Ireland’s finest athletes from Frank O’Mara to John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan cut their teeth there. But there were odd appendages too, such as the ‘choir’; our local parish’s representatives were a crack outfit at that, with my sister and her frightfully well-marshalled schoolmates regularly cleaning up at Mosney with orchestrated accapello worthy of Brian Wilson. There was the aforementioned ‘art’, which is more Olympian than you think — in the early days of the Olympics it was a regular event and Jack B. Yeats won a silver medal at the Paris games in 1924 for ‘The Liffey Swim’ no less. Draughts was another competition our parish conquered the rest of the country at on a few occasions. ‘Model making’, on the other hand, for some reason not considered ‘art’, was something nobody did where I grew up, though presumably someone did it somewhere, like those people that did Dutch for the Leaving Cert. According to Wikipedia there are several other non-athletic events, none of which I can remember being there when I was young, the variety show, ‘project’, comedy sketch/drama and the quiz (I’d have remembered that one all right), the intriguingly named ‘culture corner’ and disco dancing (though, given the ubiquity of disco-dancing events throughout the country when I was a child, I’m surprised it was never there to begin with).

The medals got progressively better the further you got. The local ones were the usual cheap-looking plated monstrance-shaped sunbursts with a sticker in the centre bearing the Community Games logo, a circle with the four provincial crests enclosed in smaller ones. The county medals were a bit bulkier still and the national medals — at least in the late 1980s, when I got to see them on a regular basis — were relatively impressive slabs of plated medal. My sister and brother both brought them home but my only ones came in soccer and hurling (it was quite difficult to win a soccer medal in Sligo, less so a hurling one, given there were only four teams in the county and probably only two of them could hit the sliotar). The Games’ arcane rules prevented us from winning a possible national title one year; players were not allowed compete beyond county level in more than one team game. Having won the soccer, Gaelic and hurling titles with effectively the same players  — despite the age groups being under-12, under-13 and under-14 respectively — it was decided to send only one forward to provincial level. A coin was tossed and the Gaelic team won, depriving of glory the soccer team, which probably had a better chance of winning. The following year, faced with a similar scenario but fewer player overlap, the players were instead divided among the various sides and all competed at provincial level, and lost, with depleted panels.

There’s surprisingly little Community Games-related stuff on YouTube and the XBox filching of the name has made searching for it all the more difficult. Here is Kilcormac boys’ volleyball team from Offaly, victorious in 1985.  One of the YouTube comments says they didn’t get to stay in Mosney, travelling up and down on the same day. Doesn’t sound very sporting to me.

I only visited Mosney for the national finals once or twice. If you weren’t taking part it wasn’t really all that fun and even in the 1980s, the sheen of glamour on the ageing holiday camp had been well and truly dulled. For those competing, it must have been a laugh though —  staying in the chalets with your teammates, in a mini-Olympic village, with often a fair stab at the shenanigans that take place in the real village. For the past few years the games have taken place in Athlone instead, as Mosney is now home to asylum applicants — a reminder that the word ‘camp’ can be as readily connotative of misery as it can be of leisure.

The authoritative work on the Community Games is, of course, Aidan Walsh’s single ‘Community Games’, from 1987 or thereabouts, in which the self-styled Master of the Universe meditates on the games, refraining ‘what will I do at the Community Games?’ and pointing out, quite rightly, that draughts was a ‘child’s game’. I got to know Aidan a bit years later when he was a familiar face around Temple Bar. He would always give you the thumbs up and exhort you  to not work too hard. It was a bit at odds with the Community Games’ Victorian-style motto, ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’ but, then again, they used to always tell us as kids it was the taking part that counts…

(by Oliver Farry)

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The Calor Housewife of The Year

In the minds of many a thirtysomething, there is a clear distinction between the Ireland of our childhood and the Ireland of today. We can afford to chuckle indulgently at such historical faux pas as Flahavan’s Tracksuits and institutionalised homophobia, because they belong to a different time. Came the modern age, and these things were swept away. We, mere children at the time, are not implicated. It was all so unimaginably different and all so long ago.

A look at the chronology says different, however. Ireland did not enter modernity at the same time as we entered our teens. Indeed, as we approach middle age, there are many respects in which it still hasn’t entered it now. Many of the most egregious effusions of embarrassing old Ireland died a slow rather than a sudden demise, to the degree that it can often be hard to find the exact date of death.

This much I can confirm. As late as 1995, there was such a thing as The Housewife of the Year Award. It was actually on the telly. Not in the dim and distant past, but in the mid-90’s, a time when we were drinking lattes and you could buy condoms without even having to have a prescription from a doctor or anything.

The fact that the Housewife of the Year, or to give it its full, sponsored title, the Calor Kosangas Housewife of the Year, existed at all will probably be enough to blow certain under-25 minds, and to confirm the view of The Young (which has always been the view of The Young, since the dawn of time), that The Past was fucked up. Lest the Young get any ideas that they were born into a brave new world, I remind them that today, in 2012, The Angelus on TV is still a thing.

I feel sorry for the Young. There they are, with their asymmetrical haircuts and their long-term unemployment, ignorant of most of the cultural shorthand that now dominates Irish popular culture. As we once were, they are maddened by the persistence of certain patently outmoded and reactionary cultural phenomena. And yet, not only will these embarrassing relics of the past not die, but their elders (i.e. us) insist on bringing more of them back from the grave. Because there is apparently nothing, from The Riordans to Tuberculosis, that cannot become a focus of thirtysomething nostalgia. Did you know it’s been almost a dozen years since the big foot and mouth outbreak? Let’s start a facebook petition to “Bring it Back”!

I now understand why some cultural entities just won’t go away. Surely all the people who bought Ireland’s Own when I was young are dead by now. The current audience probably started reading it ironically in the mid-90’s and eventually got to like it. Suddenly, its longevity becomes less mysterious.

The Calor Housewife’s tearaway younger sister, The Rose of Tralee was saved (ironically) by Father Ted. The “Lovely Girls” episode was such a pitch-perfect parody that it seemed to breathe new life into the competition that inspired it. The single, vital ingredient, camp, has saved the Rose for generations to come. It hasn’t changed, but the way we watch it has. The Rose will run and run, because Irish people love it when we can find an easy rationalisation for not changing anything.

I am not so sure the Calor Housewife can be as easily salvaged for the delectation of the sophisticates we have now become. The makeover would need to be fairly radical. But there are still options. I suggest that the competition go one of two ways: the Etsy route, or the Domestic Goddess one. The Domestic Goddess model will appeal to advertisers after that Desperate Housewives/Sex & The City market, and it has the benefit of making explicit the assumptions of the original competition: that wifely duties are primarily focussed on sex and cooking. Admittedly, the sex part was more to do with procreation back in the Calor Housewife’s heyday, but a move towards raunch would be but a small adjustment in the interests of long-term stability. Women will still be forced into narrowly defined and impossible to fulfil roles, and that’s the important thing. You have to change if you want to stay the same.

The Etsy route may not have the same broad commercial appeal, but a niche might still be carved out by an indie-soundtracked night of competitive kookiness, wherein a dozen giggling Zooey Deschanel haircuts are interviewed by Dathaí Ó Sé about their about their quirky personal styles. I would probably watch it.

Whichever approach is chosen, a token house-husband will be required to provide liberal cover for the event. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much you rebrand, there are conceptual problems with the Housewife of the Year. It was won and lost via three rounds. The first, competitive cooking, is more popular than ever. The last, a party piece, or “turn”, can be quite easily glammed up in the style of a Simon Cowell production. But the third event is, er, problematic. It was an interview with Gay Byrne. Surprisingly, given his alleged retirement a decade ago, Gay Byrne is not the problem. He is available for work. The problem is that the interview was explicitly focused on the contestant’s wifeliness.

The contestant would be asked how she met her husband, how many kids she had with him, and how she managed to look so glamorous whilst still looking after them all. Admittedly, Gay Byrne was never known for his progressive attitudes towards the role of women. But there is something about a competition for housewives that has a cooker as its star prize that resists attempts at modernisation. Witness this 1995 attempt (which, by the way, appeared on the same page as a profile of Martin Amis) to salvage the competition for right-thinking Irish Times readers:

“These were no bimbos…since the phrase ‘housewife’ and phrases like ‘I’m only a housewife’ are rapidly disappearing from the vocabulary, I’m told by a spokeswoman for the organisers that they will be reconsidering the title of this event”

Alas, it never happened. In fact, the competition never took place again. Because here was the problem: It was the Housewife of the Year Award. You had to be a wife, and you had to be in the house. And, though it was never explicitly stated, you had to be a mammy. Ideally, you wouldn’t be anything else. As Ireland changed, there were complaints, in the event’s dying years, that too many women working outside the home were taking part. And, in a surprising denouement, competitive housewifery became perhaps the only professional sport to be ruined by the rise of amateurism. It lost its soul. It’s never coming back.

(by Fergal Crehan)

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RTÉ’s Greatest Themes

This LP was released by our national broadcaster in 1987 to celebrate 25 years of television and 60 years of radio. It was marketed by that old reliable, K-Tel, on foot of a vigorous advertising campaign. The premise is pretty straightforward – one side devoted to television, the other to radio. In both instances selections of themes are played with panaché by The RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

The 15 minute suite of television themes serves up a feast of nostalgic thrills for anyone aged over 30 who grew up on a diet of one/two channel television. Most of the memorable ones are present. For the children we have Wanderly Wagon and Bosco while the Wesley Burrowes triptych that is The Riordans/Bracken/Glenroe is present and correct.

Sports fans will be delighted with the theme to that Saturday afternoon staple Sports Stadium (1:40pm – after The Wonderful World Of Disney/Daktari/The Invisible Man – take your pick) and the evergreen stomper that is James Last’s Jägerlatein a.k.a. The Sunday Game.

Current affairs are represented with News and Newstime, Today Tonight and 7 Days. The first two are reasonably groovy. Hats off to the orchestra for their stirring rendition of To Whom It Concerns – theme for the world’s longest-running chat show, The Late Late Show.

Here’s the first part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

A competent cover of the Dallas theme tune follows. For those of us who grew up in Ireland during the 1980s, Dallas on a Saturday night was a ritual. Usually watched after a bath while drying one’s hair by the open fire.

Side 1 concludes with The American Connection – a medley of three classic cop/private eye shows. Hill Street Blues is reprised towards the climax.

The flipside is a different story and is likely to be of more interest to those of more advanced years. It’s all about the radio. Music On The Move is nicely funky and is taken from the Chappell library. Other melodic choices include Living With Lynch and the Irish Hospitals Trust while Hospital Requests‘ use of a Gershwin melody is oddly sentimental. My favourite remains Tico’s Tune which soundtracked The Gay Byrne Show for all those years.

Two traditional compositions conclude the LP – dramatic and expertly honed versions of An Chuilfhionn and The Raggle Taggle Gypsy (made famous by Planxty).

Full tracklist

Side 1
01 Television Themes Down The Years
(a) 7 Days (b) The Palatine’s Daughter – The Riordans
(c) Here Comes The Wagon – Wanderly Wagon (d) Today Tonight
(e) To Whom It Concerns – The Late Late Show
(f) Eireodh Mé Amárach – Glenroe (g) Strumpet City (h) Bracken
(i) Thrilling Spectacle – Sports Stadium (j) Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M
(k) Tolka Row (l) Bosco (m) Mart And Market
(n) Classical Action – News And Newstime (o) The Shadows
(p) Jägerlatein – The Sunday Game
02 Dallas
03 The American Connection
(a) Hill Street Blues (b) Magnum P.I. (c) The Rockford Files

Side 2
04 Radio Themes Down The Years
(a) O’Donnell Abú (b) O’Donnell Abú
(c) Fish And Sticks – Music On The Move
(d) The Wibbly Wobby Walk – The Town Hall Tonight
(e) A Fair Day – The Kennedys Of Castleross
(f) The Old Turf Fire – Round The Fire
(g) Someone To Watch Over Me – Hospital Requests
(h) Perpetuum Mobile – Question Time (i) Le Jet d’Eau – The Foley Family
(j) The School Around The Corner (k) Three Little Words – Living With Lynch
(l) When You Wish Upon A Star – Irish Hospitals Trust
(m) Tico’s Tune – The Gay Byrne Show
05 An Chúilfhionn – Nordring ’78
06 The Raggle Taggle Gypsy – Nordring ’78

In an ideal world the original versions of all these themes would have been compiled with extensive sleevenotes in some sort of fancy box set. However this highly enjoyable interpretation from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is probably as much as you’ll ever get.

I’ll leave you with the second part of “Television Themes Down The Years”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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It Was a Shame How He Carried On (Or, What I Learned From Boney M…)

There was a certain time, not so very long ago, when you couldn’t walk into a house in Ireland without tripping over vast piles of James Last or Boney M records. My family home had them. Your family home had them. Homes that didn’t even have record players had them. You’d find them in fields and car-parks, just sprouting out of the ground.

Most ubiquitous of all Boney M releases was (the delightfully named) Night Flight to Venus.

One of my earliest musical memories is of falling over a coffee table while wobbling along to “Brown Girl in the Ring”. About 12 years after that I fell into a Christmas tree while “dancing” to The Pixies. Plus ça change…

It wasn’t all about pain with Boney M, however, it was also about…education. If it hadn’t been for Frank Farian and the gang it might have been many years before I learned that Grigori Rasputin was both “a cat who really was gone” and “Russia’s greatest love machine” (an insatiable, and unkillable, early-20th century disco stud). Thus, while still in short trousers, I became seduced by the impossible sexiness of all things Russian and revolutionary. It’s most likely Boney M’s fault that I find the sight of an embalmed Lenin sexually arousing.

So potent were such memories that when I stumbled across the below a couple of years ago I almost fell over a coffee table (again) with excitement (even though none were nearby).

OK, first of all, there’s that sleeve. And second of all…there’s that sleeve. It’s like Smell the Glove – only real. The reverse is less jaw-dropping, but excitingly reveals that track 3 of side 1 is “Belfast”.

Those who (like me) had experienced their first history stiffy listening to the goatish exploits of the bould Grigori might be drooling at this point. Wondering what nuggets of sex-disco wisdom are about to be laid upon us RE: The Troubles. The results are disappointingly non-lurid and blandly nonsensical.

Here was a golden chance to create something spectacularly tasteless. Something that would attach an erotic charge to their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns. Disco Semtex. Conflict porn. But they fucking blew it.

Ah well. I’ll always have sexy dead Lenin.

(by fústar)

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A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton was directed by Brian MacLochlainn in 1971 and received its television premiere on RTÉ during December of that year. It’s a gritty and accompolished attempt at social realism which proved that we could make urban drama to the same high standard as our British counterparts. And just as downbeat too – as illustrated by John Kavanagh’s well-meaning cleric.

“This is a decaying area. Unemployment is high and the people as a result suffer immense depression. Martin Cluxton is a direct product of this environment. His problems are threefold. They are medical, environment and spiritual.”

We start with a rural scene; a group of boys walking over Galway hills with a Christian Brother in charge. We quickly learn that they are juvenile offenders and that Martin Cluxton (played by Derek King) is one of them. Two key devices are employed by the directors to drive the narrative and provide background and explanations – breaking the fourth wall (by adults) and voiceovers (by Martin). The direct addresses to the camera are made by the religious authority figures (who explain that their resources are wholly inadequate – “we are no substitute for skilled social workers”) and Mrs Cluxton explaining the difficulty that is raising children in relative poverty. On the other hand Martin’s stream of consciousness is more plaintive and demonstrates the hopelessness of his situation.

“Everybody seemed to have something to do or somewhere to go. Except me.”

The premise of the film is simple – it deals with a week in the life of a youth released from the reformatory and back to his inner city Dublin home. The cast includes a number of familiar names including Bill Foley and Laurie Morton as Martin’s parents. Virgina Cole (who starred with Morton in Fortycoats and Co.) plays his sister Chrissie while Going Strong stalwart Ann O’Dwyer is the glamorous neighbour Mrs Boyle. Fair City‘s Jim Bartley stars as the tearaway Cronin (an older sidekick of Martin’s). Hope is in short supply and as the story progresses we gradually learn that the future is going to be just as bleak and aimless as the past was.

Martin wants to become a mechanic. In a key scene he has an impromptu interview with garage owner McGreevey who appears to be reasonably disposed to him until he learns of Martin’s address in Corporation Avenue. After he leaves the businessman then berates his secretary for not checking the applicant’s background in advance. Curiously the radio in McGreevey’s office features a broadcast about socialism. This theme is further expanded in the pub scenes with Mr Cluxton engaging in dialogue with a revolutionary bar-stooler about the class struggle.

“Babies don’t get bit by rats in Foxrock.”

As the film progresses our sympathy for Martin’s plight increases. His interactions with others – family, friends, social workers, priests, brothers, unemployment officials and the man on Dollymount beach – cement his status as a teenager without hope. By the closing scenes he has made a decision. One is left with the strong impression that it was inevitable.

“You’d like to do something. Anything. It didn’t matter what. Just anything.”

A Week In The Life Of Martin Cluxton picked up its fair share of criticial acclaim upon release.
– Press Award for Best Overall Programme, Prague International Television Festival, 1972.
– Best Overall Programme, Hollywood World of Television Festival, 1972
– RAI Prize, Turin International Television Festival, 1972

It also features a beautiful jazz soundtrack courtesy of Louis Stewart.

Brian MacLochlainn went on to direct Time Now Mr T., The Spike (with Noel O Briain) and The Burke Enigma.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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