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September 27, 2004

Couch Potato Views

Couch Potato Views

TV in Ireland is not often compelling, but it does offer us a window on another world. But, what to watch? We don’t have the TV Guide channel. Besides, the channels are limited. One broadcasts in Irish, and another broadcasts radio sports debates. And the others are a mish-mosh. So, what would you watch? Torso in the Thames? Bognor or Bust? The Worst Jobs in History?


In the midst of knitting a hat, I took the path of least resistance and tuned in on the The Worst Jobs in History. Near the top of the list was the Salt Peter Guy. In the 1700’s his job involved collecting urine, going from house to house in town, barging in as necessary – daily pick-up in the summer, every other day in the winter. More bang (as it were) for the buck, though, if you shoveled feces, added water and cooked it down to separate out the Salt Peter. And why would one need this commodity? – why, to make gunpowder. It would have taken 1500 wheelbarrows of shit to produce enough Salt Peter to make enough gun powder to blow up Parliament. Betchya didn’t know that! How about nit-picking? How different is it now, anyhow?

Now Bognor or Bust actually happens to be one of our favorite shows, which I also stumbled on while knitting yet another hat. “A topical show with a tropical prize!” This week the winner gets to go to the Taj Mahal (and India) for two weeks; the alternative is Bognor, an English seaside town with excellent wheelchair walkways and guaranteed rainy weather. The quiz show pits two ordinary contestants (this week a vicar’s wife and a 6’7” bus driver who had backed into a hearse his first day out) against each other along with his/her support team of two experts. The experts are well-informed celebrities – though neither of us had ever heard of any of them. Much of the game is spent explicating presented images/video clips from the week’s news. There was a clip of Cherie, Tony Blaire’s wife, surrounded by a group of Chinese who wanted to her sing…! The question was what did she sing and why. I happened to know it had been her birthday, and she chose to sing, “When I’m 64,” self-consciously and off-key. It was quite painful to witness – clearly an embarrassment to the British Empire, not to mention to Tony himself. Then there was Brian Keith who, unbeknownst to me, had won the world record for making a balloon dog behind his back in only 9.2 seconds – though the emcee commented that children had been bored in only 4.1 seconds. You won’t be surprised to hear that our very own “W” made the show, too. After embarrassing footage of “W” admitting that he might have made a mistake sometime/somewhere in Iraq (though he wasn’t going to say what it was), the emcee commented dryly, “Well, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll invade North Korea because they actually have weapons of mass destruction.” What makes this show so entertaining is that all the participants are clearly well-informed, clever and quick. The vicar’s wife was a stitch and a half when, in response to the query about what “W” does before he goes to sleep at night, declared disapprovingly, “Oh, that’s not right on TV.” Of course, Mark and I miss a good third of the repartee as they exchange quips so quickly and the uproarious audience laughter is real and extensive, not canned.

There are many other game shows, including what is now the classic, The Weakest Link. We witnessed its introduction to the world of TV some four years ago when we were here. Then the humiliation seemed pretty amusing. Now, it’s a bore. Mastermind is a more understated quiz show. Four chairs are lined up next to each other set against an electric, midnight blue background. Contenders take turns sitting in the hot spot, the swivel chair on stage where the spotlight shines. The camera slowly moves in as the contestant wrestles with challenging questions in his/her specialty. This is a serious show – last thing you need is music – or any other filler while contestants calmly and deliberately cogitate the questions. Last week the specialties ranged from Hercule Poirot, to the Battle of Britain, to the life and music of Buddy Holly. This week we covered unicorns, the life and work of Wittgenstein, and the life and poetry of Wilfred Owens. Questions initially are posed in the contenders’ areas of expertise. Later the screws are turned, and general knowledge is tested. The truth will out. Clearly those who have traveled, gone to the movies and benefited from a liberal arts education are in the strongest position. It is very hard to tell the winners from the losers based on body language. People sit straight and are reserved. A slight furrow in the brow might indicate profound disappointment, disappointment in oneself, of course. Tonight the large, balding unicorn specialist with a lisp carried his stuffed wombat with him as a good luck charm. All in all, though not exactly Jeopardy, and a host more Alistair Cooke than Alex Trebek, this is the most understated and restrained game show we have ever seen.

Watching the Ryder Cup debacle in Europe was a novel experience. Where the American TV crowd groans on TV, here the viewers cheer, especially given the success of the three Irish members of the European team. Chants of “USA,” “USA,” “USA” sounded a bit bombastic over here where a bunch of essentially journeymen golfers along with a few star players went up against some of the highest paid athletes on the planet. We couldn’t help being taken with the spirit of Europe’s team. Few Americans, save for golf junkies, could take as much pleasure from victory as Ireland’s sports fans did. Yet, their comments were more sympathetic than triumphant. “A bit odd how tense and joyless your American chaps seem” was one rather telling remark after Day One. “Hope they make a show of it so Sunday is worth watching.” We dealt with our national humiliation by consuming significant quantities of Guinness and Old Paddy. (Some of us did, anyhow.)

(So, friends and family, can you tell which of us took initiativewith each section?!)

And now for some fun and games… THE TV GAME! Our very own game show of shows…

As you all know, Mark and I come from game-playing families, and we would like to offer you the option of joining us in an altogether NEW game. We have selected (and watched, to some extent or other) the following shows presented each week on our TV here in Dublin. The challenge is for you to describe each show as if you were billing it in a TV guide. Extra marks for details pertaining to a particular episode. You can go for the gold and really try to figure out what each one is about – or you can just let you imagination run wild. Now, there is one rule: no research, no googling these shows.

I am going to post this game on the webpage Danny has put together for me, and then you can respond there – and everyone will get to see everyone else’s responses. Be sure to log in first, following the directions on the webpage. I will send you the link.
Here is the sample of weekly TV shows:

Car Booty

Hangin’ With Hector

Rasai Lios Tuathal

A Place in the Sun

Flog It!

Ground Force

Have fun, and we will let you know what the shows really are about – sometime in the not too distant future. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts… Gretchen and Mark

Posted by gretchen at 03:34 PM | Comments (5)

September 16, 2004

Numbers...

Since our return, the niceties of conversational language in Ireland have resurfaced quickly. We remember from our last go-round here that just because we have the same words does not mean we use them in the same way. We have recalled that “grand” means “fine,” and “brilliant” means “great.” We have been told that our restaurant order is “grand,” but, sadly, we have not yet heard that it is “brilliant.” The accents are easier to understand this time, and we have learned to swallow those unnecessary final syllables. Shortly we may hear ourselves saying tanks for thanks. It’s so much more efficient.

Not only do we and the Irish share the English language but we also have the same number system. Numbers, however, are trickier. We have paid more attention to them this time in large part because the euro is so strong, and we no longer can think of a dollar as equivalent. In fact it takes 1 1/5 (and some days 1 1/4) dollars to make a euro. On top of that, cost of living has gone way up here. A narrow, attached house in a nearby neighborhood listed today for 1.5 million euros. It has been restored so it is in nice shape, but it is small, relatively speaking, and one of many. Our car insurance is a lot more here than in the States. It costs 2/3 of what we purchased the car for, and that is with Mark as the only driver. (Remember last spring, Robbie, when I went through that yellow light? Well, that violation on my record means that we would have to pay more for insurance than we paid for the car – if we could find a company that would insure such a high risk driver. Let me just say that is my only violation in 40 years of driving… really…)

Here are some more numbers to wake you up. Lamb at the competitively priced supermarket (not the local butcher) runs at 18+ euros a kilo – now, that is 2.2 pounds so it’s not as bad as one first thinks. All meats are right up there. So, what’s the good news? Well, Guinness costs a lot less than meat! So do charlottes, my favorite potatoes. So do the fabulous fresh sugar snap peas (from Zimbabwe). In fact, an evening of excellent Irish theatre costs less than a big, fat lamb chop.

Sometimes prices look like a great deal. 97.9 cents for gas! Yeah! Bring it on! Until you realize that once again it is euros, not dollars –AND you have to buy it by the liter. Now, how do you feel about paying $5.00/gallon? We walk a lot, and the 1.45 to take the bus downtown doesn’t look so bad – until we remember it was .85 for that same trip when we were last here.

Numbers are not just part of the monetary system. We think about numbers in another way every morning when we watch Sky News for the weather forecast. (One of the hardest things for me here is that there is NO weather channel. Many of you know I start and end my day with the weather channel at home – even when snow days are in the distant future.) Anyhow, England’s news covers weather for all the big islands in our area so we can get a sense of temperature for the day. The numbers are different, though – what does 15 mean to you? Do you remember how to invert and multiply and what fraction do you use? My solution is to live by approximation. Wow! 20! I don’t need a sweater! Yikes! 0! I need my winter coat. Then there’s the great, in-between vague. I guess it doesn’t really matter, though. The weather is constantly changing so the answer is layers every day – unless you are Irish and go around in a t-shirt just because the calendar says it is summer.

Some numbers still carry very little meaning for me. On our hob(that’s the stove) there is a nob for the oven – what do you think 210 means? All I can tell you is that it is near the end of the dial so it must be hot. Sure makes it hard to bake at the right temperature, though.

Oh, here’s one of my favorites – Irish TV. We have access to several channels – a couple of English and several Irish. Most stations change programs as we would expect – on the hour or on the half hour. On the Irish language station it varies. Often it is on the hour or half hour. However, An Aimsir starts at 7:22 and Two and a Half Men is on at 9:05 tonight. Some city area codes have two digits; some have three. Some phone numbers are seven digits long; some are six. In town our bus, the 48A, goes by the tanning shop with a 6 second tan. The government is about four years into the 17-year transportation plan. Where do these numbers come from? You may be reassured, as I am, that some of the old familiars are still in use – 7 days in a week, 60 minutes in an hour and 365 days in a year, though Christmas lasts a fortnight.

My solution is to stop trying to make sense of all the numbers we run into. It is complicated, probably unnecessary and, at times, too confusing. Just make a guess. Just do what you want to do and spend money as you need to. But don’t plan on buying your golden boy son a tweed jacket like you did for your husband four years ago. What went for about 175 euros now is going for 395 euros. Sorry, Jess.

Posted by gretchen at 08:19 PM | Comments (2)