The power’s out: time for a searching and fearless moral inventory



EVEN now, after all these days without electricity, can there be anyone out there who has at last memorised their MPRN number?

The MPRN, like all those numbers corporations give you, is supposed to be the number they remember you by. ESB asks for it every time you ring them, blue-fingered in the darkness. “Hang on,” you want to say, “this MPRN thing was your idea. If it’s such a handy way for you to identify me, why don’t you remember it?”

You don’t say that, of course. No one is mad at ESB because there’s been no power since Wednesday. Everyone knows they’re doing all they can. Honestly, you’d sooner sit in the dark for a week than demand that men be sent up poles in a hurricane. Still, though, it’s a niggle, the MPRN business; it’s something of a match in the powder barrel.

At any rate, ESB makes it clear almost immediately that it’s not interested in taking calls from people wanting to shoot the breeze about corporate identification – or even about when the power might come back. The recorded message on the ESB’s fault and emergency line says as much: “Are you actually in the throes of a heart attack, your legs trapped under a fallen electricity pole that’s also on fire? No? Thought not. Please hang up then,” or words to that effect.

Things get so old school in a power cut. If you’re lucky enough to have an open fire or a range, you’ve got one warm room in the whole house – just like the old days! Boiling Golden Wonders on an elderly Rayburn, you begin to wonder if there mightn’t be space on the walls for a picture of John F Kennedy and a Sacred Heart.

You play Cribbage by candlelight. Yes, Cribbage. Cluedo, it has emerged, is not an ideal game for two players: “I didn’t do it, so it must have been you”. And Monopoly is well known for causing even more damage to a relationship than three days spent alone together in post-apocalyptic conditions. Cribbage keeps things nice and courtly.

You forgot the advice – such good advice – always to charge your mobile phone before a power cut, but after three days (or more like three hours) everyone’s iPhone has died anyway. Mobile communications begin to seem like something we flirted with briefly – something we can now question the wisdom of, in hindsight.

The landline, improbably enough, stays working throughout the whole misadventure, which is lucky. Things are bad enough without having to deal with Eircom, and anyway they have something in their customer charter about not conducting repairs when there’s an R in the month.

There’s no light, no heat and ultimately – when the last drop from the inoperative pumping stations reaches you – no water. More importantly, there’s no radio, no television, and no internet. That means no access to the news. I repeat, three days without news. In the darkest hour of this, when you hit rock bottom, you have to admit you’re helpless, conduct a searching and fearless moral inventory, and turn yourself over to a higher power. There are nine other steps too which you must look up on the internet when the electricity comes back.

Two important notes to self after half a week of powerlessness: one, find out if they’re still making wind-up radios; two: write the MPRN number on the wall beside the phone.



2FM – Dancing Dad


“Keep ‘er lit” had to be hastily extinguished

WONDERING what to do with an unpopular radio programme? Here’s an idea. Throw a popular television programme at it. See if it fits.

RTE yesterday formally announced that Jennifer Maguire, Bernard O’Shea and Keith Walsh will be taking over the early morning 2FM spot vacated by Hector Ó hEochagáin before Christmas.

Maguire and O’Shea will be known to audiences as the stars of Republic of Telly on RTE Two TV, which draws a large nationwide following for its brazen but, it must be said, often overcooked satire. Walsh, meanwhile, is programme director and sometime breakfast show presenter at Phantom 105.2, which broadcasts only to Dublin. So the trio can probably best be described for the present as Jennifer and Bernard and The Other One.

2FM boss Dan Healy is anxious to draw younger urban listeners back to the station, or at least to improve its abysmal 7% market share. To this end, Hector’s ‘Keep ’er Lit’ routine had to be quietly extinguished after only two years – Hector being thought to have got up the noses of metropolitan youth.

Presumably the expectation with this new line-up is that their show will be younger, hipper – not that it would be hard to be hipper than Hector, god help us – and more urban, and will therefore be better able to compete with the early morning radio demigod that is Ian Dempsey on Today FM.

Consider for a moment how many brave soldiers have now been sent over the top to take a potshot at Ian Dempsey, and Dempsey has picked them all off. It’s sad to see so many young lives wasted.

The problem is that 2FM’s ““core demographic” – its target ‘youth’ audience – is reportedly the 20-44 age group. That’s 20-year-olds and 44-year-olds ­– two whole different generations – being courted at the same time.

Twenty-year-olds don’t pick 2FM any more. They pick radio that 44-year-olds have never even heard of. And then the prospect of an ‘establishment’ station such as 2FM making an effort to be cool – doing “zany” and “screwball” and “we’re pure mad” at 7am – is just so, so Dancing Dad.

But even if those disparate young and not-so-young audiences do tune in to Jen & Ben & The Other One, it won’t solve 2FM’s more lasting problems. As soon as the clock strikes nine and Ryan Tubridy’s theme music comes on, the target demographic will all be shouting at once: “Mum/Gran, your show is starting”.


Published in the Irish Daily Mail, 30 January 2014 


Rough justice


EVERYONE knows separated fathers are victims of rough justice. A woman can enter a marriage owning nothing but a bunch of orange blossom, and leave it with a weekly income in perpetuity and a houseful of beautiful children. Meanwhile her ex ends up alone by a two-bar heater on the North Circular. You can see what Rod Stewart meant when he said: “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.”

But if only fathers’ rights advocates would stop sabotaging their own cause. Actress Kate Winslet is now threatening to sue Fathers4justice for using her image in an ad with the tagline: ‘Kate, every child deserves a father this Christmas’.

Winslet’s lawyers say the ad is “misleading and defamatory”. It’s also nasty, intrusive and unnecessary. When you’ve got a good case, you needn’t resort to antagonising people. It’s not helping.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013

What percentage of ‘no’ do you not understand?


FAR be it from me to take Enda Kenny’s side in anything if it can be avoided, but isn’t Fianna Fáil making a bit too much hay, still, from the Seanad referendum result?

This week, children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald made one or two respectful remarks about the Upper House, which inspired FF to bleat, yet again, that the whole abolition business was a personal crusade on the Taoiseach’s part.

Has Fianna Fáil forgotten that the referendum was defeated by only 42,500 votes? It calls to mind the luckless half of the American population who spent eight years being falsely accused of having elected George W Bush. More than 600,000 people were against Enda’s Seanad “crusade”, but just under 600,000 were with him on it. Not exactly a solo run.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013

Condemned to repeat history, even if you remember it

Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, sits in the Plenary Hall of the United Nations (UN) building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 12th African Union (AU) Summit.

Robert Mugabe: a guard of honour, no less

YOU know you’re getting old when… OK, you know you’re getting old when your response to the sight of your face in the mirror is, “Christ, when did that happen?” But you get another hint when they release the state papers under the 30-year rule and you can remember it all.

There’s Robert Mugabe, three years into his term and still regarded as an African hero, coming to dinner with Garret FitzGerald and getting a guard of honour if you don’t mind. There’s Mrs Thatcher being re-elected on the back of the Falklands War and spreading despair all about her, like a dementor. There’s the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin – the 1980s equivalent of the Taoiseach bringing up Northern Bank every time Gerry Adams gets to his feet in Dáil Éireann. There’s all that fuss about condoms.

Then there are the events that make you feel not just old but jaded. There’s that ghastly 1983 abortion referendum. There’s a boyish Alan Dukes trying to control exchequer borrowing and public sector pay. There’s Ian Paisley, in a previous incarnation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. There’s the German chancellor lamenting Ireland’s “irrational” fondness for neutrality. There’s Garret again, agreeing to ban Aeroflot temporarily from Shannon after the Soviets shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007.

Abortion, government debt, the North, European meddling in our sovereignty, and the use of Shannon as a diplomatic sop to the Americans. Still, after 30 years. Is it any wonder people start looking a bit tired after the first few decades?


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013