|Marty 'The Shitpeddler' Whelan|
The black tarmac lolls like a tongue through the dun coloured winter hawthorn and shitberry hedgerows. There's nothing like a snowmelt to make the countryside look secondhand. The car bucks upon the puckered and broken, frost-harried road surface like a spastic pig in electro-shock treatment. The hiss of static competes with the gristled snarling of my nissan cherry's prehistoric diesel engine. It's the best kind of radio these days. A tonic for the wounded pride and shattered dreams of Ireland's most feckless underachievers. I used to listen to Morning Ireland and then Drivetime in the evenings until it all became too horribly real to handle. The sudden realisation that I was only listening to them out of a snobbish sense of my own self-importance. Feeling that I could somehow better myself by listening to the torpid recounting of figures and facts - statisticians' reports read down the airwaves by the insipid, the craven and the dead - but I lost my nerve. I hadn't the steel of real men, able to take the hard news on the chin and get on with their day. I was a broadsheet tourist, buying the Irish Times for nothing more than the fleeting looks of acceptance it gained me from the men in suits who might flank me in checkout queues. Soon I was budgeting my meagre and dwindling salary so that I could afford even just the weekend edition and at that I would only read the food section and the TV guide. Finally I had to bite the bullet and drop the pretence. It was time to try something new. It was a rainy evening at Newlands Cross about six weeks ago when I rolled the car window down and asked the handsomely dark-skinned young man at the traffic lights for a copy of the Evening Herald. I felt the panicked palpitations of the transgressor as I wound the window back against the wind, the drizzle and the fumes. An excited shame at what had just passed and at what was to come. I pulled into a layby off the M11 to pore over the luridly coloured and conveniently-sized pages. I read quickly through the short passages upon the front page. Headlines that dominated half the sheet, stories that seemed to go nowhere and come back without souveniers. The punchy writing style, the inane subject matter, the total lack of cohesion and impartiality seemed to buzz in my head, rising like static within my ears until the noise of it drowned out any possibility of comprehension. My vision began to swim and I realised that I had come too far down the road of self-improvement and empowerment to forray so lightly into the torrid world of the sleazy rags. I burned the paper by the roadside and drove away at speed. Over the following days I tried other 'Redtops' in my quest for a new information media but the results of these experiments were even more harrowing. The News of the World and The Sun rendering me catatonic and in a state of such supressed conciousness that in both cases I was only roused when the neighbour's cat crept through a window and began to chew on my lips.
It was then that I began to experiment with radio and the true horrors of what I was facing arose to confront me. As the radio needle drifted across the bandwidths, new voices filtered in through the low, white noise. Raised voices, pitched into upper registers like excited children full of fanta and skittles. The Tweedle Dumm and Dee of Colm and Jim-Jim, conjoined twins trapped inside a helium balloon and fed E-Numbers and misinformation through a reconditioned umbilical cord donated by Sinéad O'Connor. Shuddering I pressed the needle onward. The one calling himself John Murray drifted out of the haze. He appeared to be reading jokes from the script of a cancelled pantomime, laughing at his own formidable guile. There is the one they call 'The Plank', who mixes a sickly elixir of current affairs and self-important old farts, a complex array of pulleys and trapdoors creaking away in the background, giving him the appearance of sentience as a ventriloquist reads carefully written questions taken from envelopes in a sequence predetermined by a team of numerologist druids. From here the octave leaps as some unintelligible gobshite from Navan moos his excitement all over the microphone like a bull at a gloryhole by a shed full of cows. "That's class!" he lows, his mouth full of cud. 'Class'? There's no class here - onward then! But it keeps on coming, more adolescent squeals of giddy, hand-clapping mirth. Mannequins given voice by some black-devil-witchery. "Accept me!" their cries plead from the radio. "Tell me I am loved. That I belong. That you count me as a friend!" These are the twittering, flapping boys that you remember from school. The one's for whom you saw only a future of latent homosexuality and a flamboyantly-conservative sartorial dichotomy. An idiot's parade, out of kilter with the mood of the nation. Their rising shrieks of empty mirth and endlessly circling chatter begins to overwhelm me. The steering wheel feels fat and heavy in my hands - it's another attack. Frantically I spin the dial but to no avail. It is Tubs! When I thought it could get no worse this man-child comes over the airwaves, his inflections veering more violently than my car as I struggle to stay in control. This mindless fucker is actually reading articles from a tabloid newspaper in a full-frontal attack upon my sensibilities. The hedgerows close in, the world goes soft and everything is darkness.
As I sleep I dream. I dream of a radio station where the presenter understands me and all of those like me. He arrives in the studio, turns on nought but a small table lamp and, by its subdued light, sighs into the microphone. He sighs for a country on the ropes. He sighs for the jobless and those working for a pittance. He sighs for all of the lies and deceit and for the loss of control. And his sigh lights a torch inside of us, for we know that we are no longer alone.
I awake to the harshness of disinfectant and whitewash and an ache down the length of my body. I can hear an argument, tinny and indistinct. I allow my ears to adjust to its frequency and realise that the bickering comes from a nearby radioset. A taxi driver and a menopausal housewife are going for it like two cats in a bag. I wish that someone would drop some bricks on it. Suddenly a deep, steady masculine voice, like a ship captain steadying all hands, cuts across them appealing for calm and then he sighs. It breaks over me like a soothing river, raising me afloat. Who is this creature, this Joe Duffy? This must be a special radio programme made by angels to play to the dead. I feel it may guide me to the home of my heart at last. But wait, what is this? He's calling for an ad-break. And then it happens. Marty Fucking Whelan, that miserable prostitute of the airwaves bringing vacuous, nauseating joviality to bear on tea brack and fucking cut-price crumpets from Tesco. The spell is broken, I'm not in heaven, I'm in MRSA central, Dublin 8, in a full body cast and without the physical wherewithall to beat the solid-state guts out of the bloody wireless with a gigantic fucking hammer.
After months of pain and intense physical rehabilitation I am back on the road with the radio tuned to static and the lithium pills in the glove box. Sometimes, if I double dose, I can hear the sigh again. The sigh of universal understanding.