The long dark afternoon of Cool FM

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I’d like to thank Phil for this idea, which IIRC he raised in some other comments box many moons ago. Many readers will be aware that Graham Linehan, of Father Ted fame, runs a blog entitled “Why, That’s Delightful!”. Graham, I’m sad to say, has a sunnier disposition than me. Not that I don’t get where he’s coming from – some mornings I open the Irish News, see Richard O’Rawe nailing Gerry’s ass to the canvas, and exclaim to myself, “Why, that’s delightful!” But oftentimes my reaction is just a tad more jaundiced. Therefore this blog is launching an occasional feature entitled “Jesus, That’s Awful!”

Let us begin with a double header. Those of you who don’t reside in the greater Belfast area will probably not be familiar with Cool FM. But you will, I trust, know that there’s such a thing as commercial radio and have some idea of what it’s like. I have no reason to suspect that Cool FM is anything more significant than the local version of a broader phenomenon. But that doesn’t stop me having the same sort of animus towards Cool FM as a proud gardener would have towards a cat that insists on using her flower beds as a latrine. It may be the nature of the beast, but it’s no less of an irritation.

The irritation comes from what are just common features of the genre, that come to grate intensely with prolonged exposure. The relentless chirpiness of the DJs – and I’ve long thought Sonya Mac sounded far too pleased with herself for somebody who comes from Ballygowan – you could take in small doses. It’s the permanent chirpiness that gets up your goat. Likewise with the ads – a cheery jingle for Sam’s Yer Man has lost something of its charm by the four thousandth listen.

But no, it’s the records that end up doing your nut. If you’ve ever thought that the Radio 1 daytime schedule had an absurdly restrictive playlist, the commercial pop sector makes Scott Mills sound like John Peel. There is a very small and very rigidly followed playlist, basically consisting of the big sellers of the moment, plus the most heavily promoted pre-releases. Moreover, the list seems to change at a glacial pace. And even in the classic requests slot, there’s a distinct element of “If it’s half past twelve, it must be ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’.” Even if I liked the records, I’d get browned off sooner rather than later.

It may be objected that this is a popular formula, which is true. Every second radio you pass is playing Cool. It may further be objected that I’m not the target audience, which is also true. But until a station is launched where agreeably morose DJs play Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, you have to take your wireless programming where you can get it.

Which leads me to the pachyderm monstrosity of The X Factor. I’m not going to discuss the programme for the moment, but, as Paul remarks, it’s a remarkably efficient vehicle for total domination of the charts. And, in commercial radio, charts mean airtime. In this case we’re discussing Cheryl Cole’s “Fight For This Love”, which has made number one this week, being the year’s fastest-selling single, but this week’s run at the charts follows a good couple of weeks of saturation airplay. On Cool FM, it appears to be being played every hour on the hour, although my mind is probably exaggerating slightly. Only slightly, though.

I don’t like this record very much. And I like it less by the day. To begin with, this solo debut from the fashion icon, reality TV star and fourth best singer in Girls Aloud was just in-one-ear-out-the-other forgettable. A thin vocal, a lyric composed entirely from relationship manual clichés, and what sounds like a Bon-Tempi backing track. Compared to Girls Aloud’s best material – that mix of stripy hair, elaborate dance routines, pounding beats, nonsensical lyrics and an overwhelming sense of fun – it’s a bit of a let down.

But then you have to reckon with the airplay factor. What at first was forgettable, after the twentieth listen is mildly annoying. After the fortieth listen it progresses from the mildly annoying to a Black Eyed Peas level of annoying. At present, I am seriously wondering whether this was the stuff they used to drive Michael Caine mad in The Ipcress File. And at the current rate of sales, it’s likely to stay on the playlist for months on end.

At which point you say frig this for a game of soldiers, stick the old earphones in and treat yourself to some sounds that you actually like. And if that smacks a little of fogeyism, well, at least you’re not being driven demented by Cheryl Cole any more.

Gail Walker Watch

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Gail sez:

It’s been a bad few days for free speech. First, we had the sacking of TalkSport DJ Jon Gaunt for calling a Tory councillor a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” during a discussion on a ban on smokers fostering children.

The second reverse was the hysteria whipped up by the illicit release of the names and addresses of members of the British National Party. And with it, nasty McCarthyite-style witch-huntery.

Both stories, in various ways, illustrate that the spectrum of acceptable opinion is narrowing dramatically.

Trouble is, I don’t think Gail’s examples illustrate her point, and I think she may realise this. One senses that the column she’d like to write is one about how decent rightwingers are being persecuted by the politically correct elite, but it’s not exactly easy to defend a bunch of neo-Nazi thugs, so she waffles around that question – had she actually come out and defended the BNP, it wouldn’t have made her popular, but it might have made for a more interesting argument. And while I agree that Gaunty’s sacking was over the top, I fail to see what it has to do with political correctness or a narrowing of acceptable opinion. He was sacked for being abusive to a guest, which is something different.

Elsewhere, Gail does Strictly, and jumps on the “sack the judges” bandwagon. I noticed unemployed Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy speaking out along similar lines, and, while I expect nothing better of the Murphy excrescence, I’m a little disappointed in Gail. She accuses the judges of having damaged the show’s credibility by doing what they were paid to do and giving their professional verdicts on the dancing. This confuses me a little – the Sarge’s defenders had one good argument in that the show was just light entertainment and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, so it seems odd to bring credibility into this.

By the way, Gail, who doesn’t like the Strictly judges being nasty to the contestants, still manages to get in a dig about “C-list celebs” and in particular “desperate-to-win Rachel Stevens”. What has the inoffensive Rachel done to provoke her ire? I suspect it’s that, unless she’s doing one of her occasional columns bigging up a feminist icon (Madonna, Sarah Palin, Jade Goody), Gail likes nothing better than sticking the boot into a female celebrity. Since there are three women left in Strictly and one of them, local girl Christine, is immune from slagging, the only question would be whether it was little Rachel or the big Snowdon girl who would get it. You may as well toss a coin.

And we have a rare turn-up for the books as Gail attacks the Tories while decrying commercialism on TV. No, she hasn’t suddenly become a defender of the BBC, but she does object to Ed Vaizey’s proposal for product placement on Corrie. You know, Coronation Street as sponsored by Harveys furniture. You can’t let the forces of commerce into Weatherfield.

Slap it up these two bozos

Look, I know there are multiple agendas here. I know the Mail and the Sun aren’t going to miss an opportunity to stick the boot into the BBC. As for the Beeb bosses, nervous after last year’s pratfalls, they’ve been harrumphing up a storm. But two things are blindingly obvious about Manuelgate. Firstly, there was a systemic failure. This goes from execs in thrall to the cult of youth who demand “edgy” material, to the 25-year-old producer who doesn’t think that the audience out there might not all have 25-year-old tastes.

On the other hand, that producer is not going to be in a position to say to a star on a colossal salary, “Fuck off, Russell, that’s not going out.” So it comes down to the performers, and I have to say I’m only surprised this never happened sooner. Certain broadcasters, and these two in particular, have been getting away with murder for ages now. They both have track records as long as your arm.

Although I have serious reservations about both Ross and Brand, I don’t particularly bear them any ill will. Ross, as a young man, was one of the most naturally talented broadcasters of his generation. But I don’t like his chat show, for the same reason I don’t like Norton’s show, in that it’s all about him, and the guests really just figure as straight men. Parky used to let Billy Connolly tell the jokes; Ross’s guests get to sit and laugh at the host’s hilarious banter. The other thing about Ross is that, in recent years, he’s quite cynically used cuss-words and toilet humour to cover up just how Wogan-soft his interviewing is. What’s more, it’s slightly worrying that a man pushing fifty can get quite that frisson from using naughty words on the airwaves. Don’t say you haven’t seen the glint in his eyes when he’s about to say “fuck”.

As for Brand, the guy has natural charisma and can be quite witty when he puts his mind to it. What puts me off a little, apart from his media ubiquity, is the sheer level of narcissism in his act. Fair enough, he gets away with it a lot of the time – that’s all part of his charm – but there’s a very Ross-like element, going beyond the usual narcissism of the performer, where other people exist only as props for his comedy. This has, on more than one occasion, meant going into detail – including names – about past notches on his bedpost, in some cases with women who knew Brand many years ago, who are not public figures, and who may not be thrilled at his propelling them into the public arena. You know the way our culture abominates those kiss-and-tell bimbos who shag a footballer and then sell their story to the News of the Screws? I think Brand is actually worse, in that he’s the one in the position of power.

So, what of the prank? I must confess, if there was any cleverness or satire there, it was hidden so deeply as to be invisible. What we seemed to be dealing with – using a young woman’s sexual history to wind up an elderly man – was the verbal equivalent of happy slapping. Let’s take the universalist approach – if I did that, I would very quickly find myself talking to the police. Ross and Brand, at their best, may be talented performers, but I don’t see that they’re so special that they can get away with that on a publicly-funded service. I’m aware, too, that a lot of comedy has a cruel streak – that’s why millions watch videos of people falling over on You’ve Been Framed – but occasionally it is possible to step over the line into simple bullying. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad people, just that they ran away with themselves. Ivor Dembina’s comment, that Brand had been lauded so much he thought he could get away with anything, sounds right to me.

And I think it’s right that they are penalised. It’s right that Ross’s suspension hits him where it hurts – in the pocket – rather than an Ofcom fine that would be borne by the license payer. (It surely isn’t irrelevant that so much of the criticism has taken note of Ross’s inflated salary.) Ross, of course, works more or less exclusively for the BBC, which is why he appears so chastened, and why his enthusiastic consumption of humble pie contrasts so much with Brand’s whiny apology. Brand, on the other hand, will probably prosper from this. Sure, he’s lost his Radio 2 show, but he’s got so many contracts with so many media outlets that he’ll not really find himself at a loose end, and after a while this will all add to the bad-boy legend of Russell Brand.

(Parenthetically, and talking of middle-aged men acting out their psychodramas, I was struck in the SU thread with so many lefties’ reflexive urge to rush to the defence of Brand and Ross, and the equally reflexive lack of empathy for the young woman. It was noticeable that the few women who commented seemed to be having a completely different conversation.)

Anyway, one thing I found a little depressing was, by way of contrast to the complaints, the deluge of texts and emails to Radio 1 saying it was all a lot of fuss about nothing, and anyway that the prank was hilarious. This generational gap seems to be borne out by the reactions of most under-30s in vox pops. I hate to sound like Peter Hitchens and start banging on about moral degeneracy, but I do think this illustrates something of a coarsening of the culture.

You don’t have to go back to the 1950s to find evidence of this. Let’s consider that the late Kenny Everett, whose act Russell Brand has liberally nicked from was sacked from the BBC not once but twice for lesser infractions. Let’s recall that, after his notorious fisting joke, Julian Clary was effectively banned from live TV for ten years. Nowadays you can switch on the telly a few minutes after the watershed and hear Jordan and Peter Andre merrily trading quips about, saints preserve us, anal bleaching.

Talking of how things have changed, I seem to remember, after George Best appeared pissed on Wogan, promises that it would never happen again. And yet, the headlines last week were full of Kerry Katona’s slurring on This Morning. Whether or not she was pissed, she was clearly in no state to go on air – but neither was Bestie all those years ago. But it gets better. Kerry, God love her, is in the unfortunate position of being a celebrity without a marketable talent, whose main activity seems to be doing interviews about her awful childhood, her history of substance abuse, or other highlights in her soap-opera life. So what got lost beneath the slurring was that Kerry’s appearance was aimed at promoting her latest media venture. Which was? Yes, her televised breast reduction. I thought Cosmetic Surgery Live was bad enough, but doing a Kerry Katona version sounds like a Chris Morris skit. I suppose it’s a measure of Chris’s genius that the actual broadcast media are coming to resemble his imagination.

Really, sometimes you despair for civilisation. How long before someone, perhaps at C4, really does launch a happy slapping show? You know, that coveted 18-25 audience would love it…

Samantha has left the building

And so it’s farewell to Humph. Legendary jazzman, socialist, Etonian, comic genius and all-round good guy.

And not least, the man who proved that an avuncular old codger could tell the filthiest jokes before the watershed, and the Radio 4 audience would love him for it. As long as he told them really well, which Humph always did.

I hear that I’m Sorry… will not carry on without its irreplaceable chairman, and that’s as it should be. On the other hand, it will be repeated forever, and that’s also as it should be. Selah.

And next on Louis Balfour’s Jazz Club, it’s the Lennon Sisters with “Mr Clarinet Man”. Nice…

The fairytale of Radio 1

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You know, I usually like Christmas. I’m not a curmudgeon in that sense, but there are a few things I really hate about this time of year. An obvious one is the big crush in Belfast city centre, with the late shoppers and their assorted rugrats turning Belfast into a close approximation of Mumbai. It’s bad enough when you don’t go into a shop – venture into most retail outlets (except Marks, which has a nicer class of mob) and you’ll witness a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies.

But what I really, really hate is the fucking “Fairytale of New York”. Which is odd, because I used to quite like it – a nice mix of sentiment with cynicism. But that was twenty years ago, and familiarity breeds contempt. Especially when most of the radio stations are playing it on a permanent loop. Especially when half the dopes in the country are downloading it for their Christmas parties, sending it racing up the charts and therefore being played even more often than usual. Especially when every busker in town has his own version. After leaving the safe confines of your home, it’s well nigh impossible to go more than 15 minutes without hearing the “Fairytale”.

That’s why I was rather tickled by the outrage at Radio 1 tinkering with the sainted “Fairytale” by bleeping out the word “faggot”. Radio 1, as you’ll know, has a long history of being censorious, most famously with Frankie’s “Relax”, so we should have expected this. And this is of course of a piece with the revelation that the Beeb has also been dickering about with its archive by editing homophobic slurs out of ancient episodes of Porridge, which even Lukewarm himself, Christopher Biggins, thought was a bit out of order. The fact that Radio 2 continued to play the unedited version suggests that this is Radio 1 taking seriously its remit to provide a good example for young people by not using homophobic language. Although I can see the sentiment, it’s all rather too reminiscent of the idea, lifted by political correctness from Orwell’s 1984, that if you eliminate bad language people will be unable to think bad thoughts.

And so it came to pass that, after remonstrations from irate listeners as well as the late Kirsty MacColl’s mother, the full version was reinstated to Radio 1. So that’s the demands of free speech satisfied. Now can we talk about maybe having a moratorium on the “Fairytale” for just one year? Before I feel an irresistible urge to start blowing up radio stations.

Skobie city demands free gas

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Say what you like about Stephen Nolan, he does have his moments. This morning’s show was deadly crack.

The story was the latest scam sweeping Belfast. If you’re a Phoenix Gas customer, you’ll probably be disgruntled at the way the bills have been going up of late. Well, as per Nolan, now you can get that sorted. If you slip some bloke sixty quid, he’ll doctor your meter so you effectively get free gas. At least, until you’re rumbled.

Nolan had on the PUP’s Dawn Purvis, who was worried that the working class is making a rod for its own back by buying into these scams. Dawn opined that eventually the punters would get hit with massive bills, so it would turn out to be a false economy. And with that, Nolan went to the phones.

If Nolan thought that he could win a few populist brownie points by bashing spongers, he was to be sorely mistaken. Most of the punters who rang in were all in favour of fiddling their meters. They felt they had a right to free gas, and it was Phoenix’s lookout if customers were resorting to these measures. They also reckoned Dawn Purvis was a disgrace to her working-class constituents and their fundamental civil liberties, which include the right to dodge utilities bills.

Nolan seemed taken aback by this blatant support for illegality. At one point his voice got so high that I feared he was in danger of turning into a human dog whistle.

But he really shouldn’t have been surprised. During the Troubles, almost nobody in Belfast bought a TV licence, not even the Prods. People here won’t pay for anything if they can get away with not doing so. (This is why, even though I’m against the water charge, I’m sceptical about polls and petitions showing support for non-payment. Ask Belfast people if they want to not pay for water, and you’ll only get one answer.) And this is the atmosphere where this sort of scam flourishes. For instance, if you know the right person to call and are willing to pay a reasonable fee, you can get a computer hacker to erase your debts.

I think Nolan may have made a bit of a faux pas here. It’s all very well to shoot your mouth off about lawbreakers and spongers, but you don’t want to target a popular scam. Remember, Belfast people don’t think of this sort of thing as breaking the law, just bending it a little, until it comes to closely resemble a Curly-Wurly. In fact, the response seems to indicate there could be some potential for a populist campaign here. Let’s have Eamonn McCann defending the proletariat’s right to fiddle their gas meters!

Father Coughlin po polsku

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I suppose it’s possible, indeed likely, that most people here won’t be regular readers of The Tablet (subscription required). This would be a pity, because its news coverage is often quite excellent, and you get to hear what all is going on in the wacky world of international Catholicism. Why can’t we have a paper like this in Ireland?

Anyway, the 25 August issue has a fascinating article about one Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk. Fr Rydzyk, 62, is a Redemptorist media mogul, which in itself should raise an eyebrow, and boss of the popular station (upwards of 1.2m listeners) Radio Maryja. The station’s “Catholic patriotic” stance could best be described in terms of, well, imagine if Gerry McGeough was running a radio station with a mass audience. Radio Maryja’s populist campaigning around law and order, demands for the prosecution of members of the old socialist regime, and opposition to the European Union is combined with railing against Jews, gays, foreigners and Freemasons, but mostly Jews. It’s a familiar brand of Polish nationalism, but so virulent in form as to make the late Field Marshal Piłsudski appear like a soft liberal.

The Polish hierarchy have never been known as the most progressive bunch, but even they have found Rydzyk a bit rich for their blood. The former Primate, Cardinal Józef Glemp, condemned him as far back as 2002. The Tablet reports that the papal nuncio, Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk, has been canvassing the bishops to do something about Radio Maryja, and a significant number of clergy and lay Catholics have protested the station’s pervasive anti-Semitism. And yet, Rydzyk seems untouchable. He has a very close relationship with the Kaczyński brothers who run Poland’s hard-right government – although that hasn’t stopped him saying that the president’s wife, Maria Kaczyńska, is a “witch” who should be “put down” because she supports legal abortion for rape victims. The Redemptorist order, either in Poland or internationally, has shown no concern over Rydzyk’s activities. Indeed, a few weeks back Fr Zdzisław Klafka, Poland’s Redemptorist provincial, took Rydzyk with him to an audience with Pope Benny. Benny himself, following in the footsteps of the late JP2, has been keen to distance himself from traditional Catholic anti-Semitism, so here’s a bit of a test for him.

Rud eile: While on the subject of mad Catholics, the August issue of the Hibernian (“For Fascism and Our Lady”) doesn’t quite live up to the paper’s usual bonkers standards. But there is a piece on the significance of Benny’s rehabilitation of the Latin Mass, and Gerry McGeough continues his survey of great counter-revolutionary movements of the past with a major piece on the Vendée revolt, when God-fearing Catholic peasants rose up against the Masonic Jacobin dictatorship.

Subhas Chandra Bose on Radio 3

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While following the BBC’s India-Pakistan season, I’ve noticed a programme on Radio 3 tomorrow night, Waiting for Netaji?, on Subhas Chandra Bose. It promises to be a treat, as the story of Netaji is an intriguing one, and it’s well worth revisiting a figure who is still revered by millions of Indians, much as that might embarrass the former colonial power.

If Netaji is remembered at all in the West, it’s as the wartime “collaborator” who stabbed Britain in the back. In fact, his actions in WWII, misguided as they may have been, had a basic consistency with his previous 20 years of political activism, and it was that extraordinary pre-war record that accounts for the high regard he is still held in by Indian nationalists. This was, after all, the most outstanding young leader of the Congress, a man with a record of both electoral success, having won the mayoralty of Kolkata, and of direct action. He was also the main representative of the Congress’s most radical wing, whose advocacy of physical force had brought him into frequent conflict with Gandhi and Nehru, and led to him being imprisoned by the British eleven times in 20 years, with a spell of forced exile in Europe into the bargain.

Throughout this period there was a consistent thread – India must demand independence, without footering around with halfway houses like Dominion status, and the British must be pushed into leaving, because moral persuasion wasn’t going to work. To that end, all means would have to be considered. It was that uncompromising line that led to his final break with the Congress, and informed the militarily unsuccessful and politically disastrous Indian National Army episode.

It wasn’t just inspired opportunism that led Netaji to reckon in 1939 that England’s difficulty was India’s opportunity. The example of Irish revolutionaries loomed large. Connolly, despite persistent attempts to claim for him a neutralist or pacifist position in the First World War, had actually taken a pro-German position, and correctly so. Before the full horrors of fascism became apparent, it seemed arguable that this strategy could work again. Hence Seán Russell’s German adventure, or the Bretons who tried to take advantage of the collapse of the French state. While there were some national-separatist movements that actually were fascist (the Croat Ustaše are as clear an example as any) others were simply motivated by geopolitics. You find this in Hitler’s Priestess, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s fascinating biography of the appalling Savitri Devi, which goes into a lot of detail on the Hindu-Aryan hypothesis and the Nazis’ interest in India. Naturally there is an account of Netaji, the only major Indian figure to actually collaborate with the Axis, but it doesn’t really fit. When you look at supremacist Hindutva outfits like the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, which were to some extent influenced by European fascism, it only throws Netaji’s geopolitical motivation into sharper relief.

So you have the raw material of a really extraordinary character. Then you have the mysterious disappearance in 1945, allegedly in a plane crash over Taiwan, although many in India didn’t believe that, and you still hear stories of an imposing Bengali man having been sighted in Moscow in the 1960s. When you add into that the fact that Bose had, and still has, a substantial following – the Forward Bloc activists in West Bengal are a truly fascinating bunch – and the spiritual aspect of his rather nebulous “Indian socialism”, then things begin to take on a whole other dimension. Some of the more mystically inclined Subhasists now believe him to be an immortal avatar who will return and save India, a sort of Hindu-socialist analogue of the Hidden Imam.

Listen if you get the chance. It should be quite the tale.

Local columnist declares war on teenage sexpots

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It really is amazing the things you hear on Talk Back. Thursday’s programme was quite a hoot, starting with the ritual pillorying of Labour MP Phil Woolas, who had been rash enough to make an off-colour joke about the late George Best during a Commons debate. Since Bestie is fast becoming Norn Iron’s answer to Princess Diana, this led to a furious blast of hot air from the terminally offended section of our population. Dunseith also brought in a couple of his regulars, so the hapless Woolas ended up having to apologise personally to Mark from Rathcoole.

But the show got its biggest response for ages with a contribution from Telegraph columnist Gail Walker. I found this astounding on a number of levels. Firstly, I had long suspected that Gail Walker didn’t actually exist, and her column was a clever spoof headed by a photofit. Secondly, Gail’s usual fare is to stick the boot into the “liberal left”, a term she uses even more promiscuously than Nick Cohen to include everyone from the SWP to Hillary Clinton. These columns annoy my brain, not just because they’re wrong but because they’re usually unbelievably stupid. Imagine Nick Cohen without the coherence, accuracy and sense of proportion, and you begin to approximate the awfulness of the Gail Walker column. 

What Gail was banging on about yesterday, however, was not part of the Cohen repertoire. Instead, she was deeply concerned about schoolgirls from Methodist College wearing their skirts too short. She spoke about this at some length, implying that the girls were encouraging seedy old men, and further opining that a bad example was set by Comic Relief publicity photos of popular beat combo Girls Aloud in saucy schoolgirl outfits. What Gail wanted was for school authorities to strictly enforce dress codes.

This received a rather dusty response from the listening public. One punter commented that Gail seemed to have a chip on her shoulder about Methody, which she writes about on a suspiciously regular basis. Another had some fun with a regular feature of her column, which is drooling over Calum Best and his toned physique. You at the back, if you’re thinking Gail is scared of the competition, you should be ashamed of yourself.

I want to be kind to Gail and acknowledge that she has some empirical evidence for her argument. When you see girls from certain schools about town, you can’t help notice lots of skirts well above the regulation knee length. Actually, Methody is far from the worst offender in this respect. Girls from Victoria are a pretty racy bunch. I sometimes have occasion to share a bus with Bloomfield girls, and it’s a bit like being stuck in a St Trinian’s movie, only with the volume up to eleven and added effing and blinding. This also goes beyond Belfast – a little while back there was a big barney in the Ards Chronicle about Regent girls’ dress habits. Oddly, the phenomenon appears to be concentrated in Protestant grammar schools – dress codes seem to function better at Catholic schools or working-class secondary schools.

But the thing that struck me was what an unsexy city we have here. It’s probably a legacy of Puritanism, but it’s telling that there should be a massive response from radio listeners to something so innocuous. Teenage girls who wear their skirts short generally do so to be fashionable and to attract male attention. Elsewhere, this would be accepted and probably go unnoticed, but in dour, puritanical Belfast, it can become cause for a major scandal. It’s at least a little encouraging that most readers seemed to feel the scandal was all over nothing.

He bounces on the ground

How does this balloon get so much work? I ask merely for information. At time of writing, Stephen Nolan has a daily show on Radio Ulster, a network show on Five Live and a TV show. At the current rate of expansion, Nolan will soon have a bigger presence on BBCNI than the Hole In The Wall Gang.

Strangely enough, despite his limitations – he’s hopelessly out of his depth when it comes to politics – the rotund DJ does illustrate something about the level of discourse in the North. Billed as a shock jock, Norn Iron’s equivalent of Stern or Imus I presume, the only times Nolan deviates from conventional wisdom is when his heroic ability to miss the point kicks in. There is no break from the sycophancy that surrounds our political class – you have to go to The Folks On The Hill for that. Steve makes up for this, however, by affecting a permanently raised voice which is meant to give the impression of anger.

I happened to catch a little of Nolan Live on BBCNI last week. The topic for discussion was anti-social behaviour, arising from the small riot in Bangor a few days before. The local media have been pretty unanimous in avoiding the pertinent point, which is that the drunken youth involved had gone to Bangor for a big Orange hooley. The Orange brethren have escaped totally unscathed. Did Nolan break with the consensus? No, he did not. Instead, he vox-popped some kids from, er, Poleglass, who I am fairly confident in saying were not in Bangor following the Orangemen. What made the interview even more hilarious was that the Poleglass youth had obviously been prepped by some community worker.

The interview went something like this:

Nolan: “Oi! What have youse anti-social youth got to say for yourselves?”

Poleglass youth: “We need more youth centres. Gissa grant.”

Sin é.

And that’s without going into our shock jock’s shockingly sycophantic tête-à-tête with Big Ian…

You would think one dose of Nolan in one week would be enough for anyone. But last night I was innocently flicking through the wireless when I happened to catch the chubby chatterbox on Five Live. The topic of conversation was the gallant sailors of the Royal Navy who had gone on a pleasure cruise, iPods in pockets, only to be picked up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard who subjected them to cruel and unusual punishments such as, well, forcing them to play ping-pong and calling them Mr Bean. Then the Iranians showed a flair for PR that made Britain look like a banana republic.

This is ripe ground for anyone with a sense of the absurd. Gorgeous George, filling in for Gaunty on talkSPORT last week, was especially funny. How did Nolan perform?

Punter: “These sailors. What a bunch of big jessies, eh?”

Nolan: “They were in fear of their lives! They could have been killed!”

Punter: “Didn’t you see them playing ping-pong?”

Nolan (approaching apoplexy): “That was edited footage! It was PROPAGANDA!!!”

Then we drifted off into a discussion of Prince William’s engagement, something that interests me not in the slightest. I got as far as

Punter: “I think the girl is well out of it, she’s already wasted four years on this twerp.”

Nolan: “They might have been in love you know!”

before having to change channels. Lord give me strength. If you have the endurance, Angry Steve can actually be unintentionally hilarious, but I find he works best in small doses.