Radio radio

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I used to drop off articles for The Irish Times in the days before email (or rather, before they were accepting submissions via email), when they needed a floppy and a printout of the piece. The Features floor was as dull as every other office I’d ever been in, but I found it amazing that while most people’s work makes hardly a mark on the outside world, there were newspapers being loaded onto trucks downstairs.

Out in RTE, there was a similar mismatch between the setting for the work, and the reach it has.

Upstairs was all cube farms with walls just high enough for prairie-dogging. But walk down the stairs (past the rail of costumes – in the radio building?) and here are the studios. The host’s desk with flat panel monitor and all the gubbins, a semicircle of table with three mics and sets of cans for the guests. A big window out to the producer and engineer outside.

While the news is on, Marian Finucane walks in, says hello, puts on her headphones as her theme music is on, and times her cheery ‘Good morning’ to the nation in less time than it takes to describe it.

She ran the interviews (talking about blogging, of course) smoothly and with a view to getting good quotes out of us, and suddenly we were outside again, signing waivers and heading out to the cab.

It’s hard to imagine our words being broadcast around the country, but the taxi driver had obviously been listening: ‘So you’re the bloggers, then?’ he asked as we drove away.

Posted by David in

A tourist in your own town

Monday, September 15, 2003


Dublin looks fantastic from the balcony of a room in the Fitzwilliam Hotel.

The in-laws-to-be have arrived, and they must think that the whole city is full of sunshine, trendy restaurants and beautiful greenery. Much like the Queen of England thinks the whole world smells of fresh paint.

Almost ten years to the day since I moved to this most frustrating of cities, I’ve got the chance to see it through some new eyes.

I used to wonder what tourists did when they came here; lacking the killer attractions of capitals like Rome or Paris, or the mad diversity of London and New York, I imagined them huddled on tour buses staring balefully out over slightly decrepit Georgian terraces, still hungry from their meagre ham and cheese toasty at lunch.

Much better, I thought, to live here. The city’s strengths were the people, the craic, the miles of stories, ideas and jokes, the sneaky afternoon pints, the community.

Now I’m not so sure. Ten years on, and Dublin works even less well than it did back then. Those with (new) money have become obnoxious, and those without have become more bitter and sour. When nobody had much, we were all in the same boat.

But staring out over the Green from the elegantly understated rooms at the Fitzwilliam, you don’t see any of that. You see a ridiculously young city permanently on the tear, barrelling down handsome streets lined with cool restuarants and bars.

And with the sun shining as it did over the weekend, the Phoenix Park is gorgeous and even the murky Liffey looks OK. When you’re a tourist, you’re not worrying about a nightmare commute from out near Athlone, and if the prices seem high, well, you’re on vacation, what the hell?

Sad to say, I now think Dublin’s best experienced from the top of a sightseeing bus.

Posted by David in

Unwelcome souvenir

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

‘What a nice life that nice Michael Palin must have. Him and that Bill Bryson. Trotting off to places and then writing about them (’cept for his big new cosmic history book). Must be nice to be a travel writer.’

As a more junior member of this profession (the first book’s out in February) I’ve just had an experience that show it’s not all royalty cheques and free travel.

I’m just back from the doctor, where I had to show my tattered nether regions to a cute young female GP.

Seems I brought something back from Louisiana in addition to the photographs and memories. A fungal infection from long days in sweaty lycra in the sultry South. It only manifested itself a couple of weeks after I got back from New Orleans, but apparently that’s normal, said the doctor. (Why couldn’t it have been a kindly old man rather than a trendy girl with a tattoo?)

The inflammation along my inner thighs should clear up quickly enough with the prescribed cream, but next time I’m going journeying in an air conditioned car.

Posted by David in

The elope conversation

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Last night the SO and I had the ‘Why didn’t we just elope?’ conversation.

Buendia and I are back from exotic climes to the joys of wedding preparations. All the married people told us, but we didn’t listen: ‘I don’t know why we didn’t just elope. Have done with it. All the chasing around, the arrangements, you forget what’s it’s all about.’

It’s not that our wedding is huge, or particularly lavish. It’s just that the number of invididual chores required to ensure its smooth running is beginning to grate on us, especially as we’ve just arrived back in Dublin ourselves and have more than enough things to be doing without chasing after recalcitrant invitees.

A little over a week to the wedding (when guests are starting to arrive in the country already), we’re still getting guests giving us predictions on their attendance: ‘Well, I’m 90% sure I’ll be able to make it.’ OK, I’ll just save you 90% of a seat at the dinner, then.

Posted by David in

Across the desert

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Santa Fe to Los Angeles is a long way – 13 hours’ driving, maybe 900 miles or so. And so empty, when your tank is still half full you start worrying if you’ve got enough petrol to get you to the next gas station.

At the halfway point, Flagstaff, Arizona, is a little oasis of high country civility in a ridiculous amount of nothingness. A college town with a good walkable downtown, its pine trees and coolness make it the acceptable face of Arizona.

We stayed in a motel run by a stern-faced Russian just off Route 66, and were running parallel to the old mother road most of the way.

Just before we crossed into California, we saw the signs for London Bridge, bought to sit on a lake out here. Rumour has it the Arizonans thought they were buying Tower Bridge, rather than the nondescript 3-span version that showed up.

In Needles, CA the woman at the counter in the gas station was explaining her education plans. ‘I’m at junior college now, but it’s hard to find the time to study. When I finish there, I’m going to UCLA to do criminal psychotherapy. I’ve wanted to go to UCLA since I was five, but I’ll have to get better grades.

‘But I’ve got work too. I’m 21 now. I plan to finished at UCLA by the time I’m 31.’

The Mojave is daunting. More space than is good for a European. The SO loves it, the freedom and uncompromising nature of the place, but all I could see was the countless ways you could die out here. Humans aren’t meant to be there.

From life in Britain and Ireland, you know that the worst that can happen is that you’ll have to walk for a few hours in the rain if your equipment fails (bike, car, whatever). Too many people have lived too long in this temperate place for you to be left in serious trouble even if you’re only a little bit prepared.

In the desert, when we passed people stuck on the side of the road with a puncture or with the bonnet of the car up, you could imagine how badly things could go wrong, even if you took every precaution. On the Interstate, they were probably going to be fine, but once you were off that, it could be very serious.

And even after Barstow, the desert rolls into a set of hills near Edwards Air Force Base, and the joshua trees on the side of road had me singing ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’.

Through the hills with the traffic LA busy, and you’re into the San Fernando Valley. A few minutes later, we were turning off at Sunset Boulevard for the hotel. It’s just desert then city. As abrupt as turning a page. No rolling hills or forests as the desert subsides. One minute it’s red dust, and the next it’s all palm trees and grass so intensively tended you know it’s the result of illegal labour.

It’s easy to image all of southern California to be like LA or San Diego – perfect weather, ocean and green plants and double soya lattes all round. But it doesn’t take much to be out in the big empty continent again.

Posted by David in