Gail Walker Watch

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I like the Belfast Telegraph. One big reason why I like it is that you always get a comforting sense of familiarity from it, sort of like you used to get from the Irish News in its old Vatican Times format, before it discovered Lifestyle and Yoof. The Tele does not go arsing about with funky graphics or swishy fonts. The O’Reilly regime seems to have realised that Tele readers value their continuity and, with the obvious exception of Saoirse, there are few papers I know that do continuity better.

You find this with the Tele’s line-up of columnists, many of whom have been in situ for decades. There is the venerable Eric Waugh, who for some reason always puts me in mind of the 150-year-old Dalai Lama in Lost Horizon. There is the estimable Barry White, who almost always has something stimulating to say. There is Captain Eamo, who manages to squeeze in writing for the Tele every week with churning out regular columns for Hot Press, Socialist Worker, the Donegal Democrat and for all I know the New Light of Myanmar. The newspaper reader often gets the sense that this isn’t your life, it’s Eamonn McCann’s life and you’re just squatting in it. And there is woman-in-the-street Lindy McDowell, who in these confusing days of the New Dispensation can still be relied on to grouse about uppity fenians, defend the honour of the RUC and, when the loyalists have done something really outrageous, to slam bad behaviour on both sides.

Most of these pundits hew closely to local politics, increasing the sense of familiarity – Eamo ranges a bit further, but always comes back home eventually. This is one of the reasons I’ve been reading Gail Walker. Gail either has higher ambitions or doesn’t know her limitations or both, and is apt to pronounce on whatever swims into her stream of consciousness. This gives her a sort of glorious unpredictability that’s rare in the local media.

Which is why my heart sinks when Gail does local politics. What we’ve got this week is a rumination on the end of Operation Banner, of the sort that Lindy could have done more cogently. Most of this is the usual boilerplate about how the Brits came here in ’69 to separate the warring tribes, and prevented a Bosnia-style bloodbath at the expense of 763 casualties. Well, fair enough, although lots of people in our community would see things a little differently. And that’s sort of the point because Gail, being Gail, can’t resist going off on a tear about how the liberal media (and I can guess which broadcaster she has in mind) covered the event.

Now, I watched the Operation Banner coverage. There was lots and lots of stuff about the Brits keeping the peace between the warring tribes, proper respect given to the 763 casualties, and, to provide balance, a brief soundbite from Gerry Kelly about how many nationalists saw the Brits as oppressors, which is the very least that Gerry’s constituents in North Belfast – you know, Gail, the ones who elected him to Stormont – would expect of him. This last has outraged Gail, who seems to have replayed the coverage in her mind multiple times, editing as she went, because she’d have you believe that TV viewers were subjected to hours of unalloyed republican propaganda. What did she want? A flag-waving tribute to the wonderful British army, with no naysayers allowed on the air? Oh, hold on.

Elsewhere, Gail slags off the Spice Girls yet again. Ho hum. And a little bit on the tastefulness of these watches made from the hull of the Titanic that are being sold – though it isn’t quite clear from Gail’s argumentation whether she objects most to the bad taste, the clunky design or the extortionate price tag.

And, on Gail’s ongoing coverage of poor manners, she snipes at couples who insist on feeling each other up in public. Between this and her preoccupation with saucy schoolgirls, I seem to sense a theme developing. It’s the kind of thing that makes me hope ITV sign Gail up as a panellist on Loose Women, so she can spend her lunchtimes discussing penis size with Coleen Nolan and Jakki Brambles. It would be an appropriate punishment for inflicting this sort of bluestocking moralism on the reading public.

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