Eurovision / Alzheimer’s

by John Boland

Halfway through Eurovision: The Contenders (RTE1), Marty Whelan stood beside an ancient cot at the Dublinia exhibition and announced “I’m going to have a lie-down in a second.”

I’d have dozed off, too, were it not for the surreal sight of Marty making lavish hand gestures and droning out drivel against the backdrop of our capital’s Viking artifacts. Indeed, when he situated himself beside one particular Norse dummy, I had some trouble in deciding who was doing the talking.

This week’s Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Oslo and Marty informed us that he would have been addressing us from there “but for the times we live in.” So instead RTE gave him the bus fare to Dublinia, from which vantage point he introduced us to twenty or so entrants for a competition that’s obviously now held in the same contempt by our national broadcaster as it’s always been by the rest of us.

After we had squirmed our way through 30-second clips of the musical offerings from Lithuania, Armenia, Israel and Azerbaijan, Marty told us that he’d soon be talking to Irish competitor Niamh Kavanagh “on this very programme”, and a little later – following further musical experiments from Coatia, Georgia and Turkey – he assured us that he’d be chatting to her “very shortly.”

But not before Marty delivered himself of a succession of his inimitably gnomic utterances, the most baffling of which was his declaration that “this year the Norwegians have decided to send a Norwegian  to their own country to sing for them.”

Then finally he brought in Niamh Kavanagh, while assuring us that “this year we are going to Oslo with a great sense of pride, a great sense of hope – it’s almost Obamaesque.” Keep taking the tablets, Marty.

An hour later RTE1 got serious with a Prime Time Investigates programme on people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Presented by Barry O’Kelly, this was an outstanding film on a difficult and distressing subject. Part of its impact was that it made you angry at the shameful lack of state recognition and support for those who have to care for Alzheimer victims, but its real force came from observing and listening to the carers and sufferers it featured.

“I’m actually a widow, though my husband is still alive,” said Jenny, whose 53-year-old spouse Bobby was diagnosed with the illness two years ago. April’s husband Joe, a former international yachtsman, is also 53 and was told by his GP that he couldn’t be having memory problems at such a young age. Both men had to wait for a year before being diagnosed by medical consultants.

Kate solved that problem by leaving her 56-year-old mother Rosemary in the A&E department of a hospital, where the authorities were forced into making a diagnosis. But Kathleen gets scant support in looking after her husband Ray. “No one knows what it’s like,” she said, “to be with someone who doesn’t recognise you.”

Significantly, the one person who received instant diagnosis lives in the North. Brian Hannon, the retired Bishop of Fermanagh, told his doctor after a routine check-up that he couldn’t remember people’s names anymore. “That was all it took,” he said. Within 24 hours, his GP had arranged a scan for him and he was immediately put on the requisite medicine.

Barry O’Kelly approached all these people with great tact and sympathy, and the result was a powerful and affecting film.

The ensuing edition of The Frontline (RTE1) confronted the same subject, Pat Kenny introducing the programme with the stark declaration “You wouldn’t do it to a dog, but we’re doing it to our ailing older people.”

What followed was a lot of anger, with the Minister for Older People, Aine Brady, decidedly unimpressive in her defence of government inaction. And overall, apart from conveying the public’s ire at  state failings in dealing with older people, I’m not sure what the programme achieved. Indeed, I had the sense, as I increasingly have with The Frontline,  that I was watching a televised Liveline, with too many voices producing too little focus or impact.

I haven’t read Martin Amis’s 1984 novel Money and so I can’t tell whether BBC2’s two-part adaptation is faithful to it. I hope not because it came across as shallow and vapid, with Nick Frost an unpersuasive, indeed highly unlikely, anti-hero. Would such a slob really be feted in the brash American milieu in which he found himself?

Much more engrossing was Mark Lawson talks to Martin Amis (BBC4), the novelist speaking with considerable candour about his father, his sister and his own talent.

This was much more substantial than The Stones in Exile (BBC2), an infuriatingly mannered documentary screened to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s album, Exile on Main Street. It was an endurance test watching grainy, jerky footage of Jagger, Richards and the rest as they cavorted around their Riviera pad and made desultory contributions from the perspective of today. It might have helped if they’d any insights or even lurid stories to offer, but none were forthcoming.

However, Alastair Sooke’s film on Salvador Dali, which brought to an end his Modern Masters series (BBC2), was enjoyable, even if it never delved into the darker aspects of the man that George Orwell found so repulsive in his famous essay on the artist. After detailing the revelations in Dali’s autobiography, Orwell pondered whether someone can be both a great artist and a disgusting human being and whether art can be viewed separately from our notions of decency and morality, but Sooke didn’t go there.

Instead, he was inordinately fascinated by the flamboyant lifestyle of this exhibitionist narcissist than in the extraordinary paintngs he produced. This meant that his insights seldom rose above superficiality but at least the camera gave us a good look at some of Dali’s disturbing masterpieces.

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