COLM O'REGAN: I love the archive channel. It's just ould lads sitting on a bench, double-denimed couples messing, Ford Cortinas overtaking Fiat 121s dangerously at high speeds

It’s not what you would call gripping TV. But it’s soothing. If it were made now, it would be called ‘Slow TV’, something which is apparently All The Rage In Norway. They have long programmes where nothing happens. 24 hours of some monotonous task or event; a log fire burning or a cruise ship going up the North Sea coast or a report being prepared to explain why people costing the Children’s hospital specified a rate for electrical cable but no mention of how long the cable was going to be.

The TV show I am watching is called Pieces of Land: The Phoenix Park from 1976. It’s on the RTE Player on a special RTE Archive Channel. Now I know that the mere mention of the RTE Player can cause people to twitch. It has had its moments over the years. In fact the only thing that definitely will always play is the ads. But in fairness, the powers that be must have uninstalled Windows, taken off the viruses and the games and RTE Player seems to be behaving itself. There’s mad stuff like schedules and also now there is an archive channel. I love the archive channel.

The Phoenix Park programme is just a series of small bits of footage around the park in 1976. That’s it. There is no presenter. There is no celebrity being asked for their thoughts as they gaze meaningfully into the distance.

(By the way if I ever get celebritous enough to do one of those shows, I will TOTALLY say yes. BrexitWinter is Coming and it’s time to squirrel away the acorns.)

There is no Text Poll or Tweet Wall or Instagram Whateverer. The show doesn’t end with an upbeat voiceover telling you how YOU TOO can be involved and vote for Ireland’s Favourite Park.

It’s just ould lads sitting on a bench, double-denimed couples messing, Ford Cortinas overtaking Fiat 121s dangerously at high speeds. (That’s normal traffic. There’s also rallying). There are children horsing into Custard Creams and ice creams. Dick Moran-looking people enjoying the races and the polo. And thank god for real teeth. If you ever feel bad about your bleeding gums, watch something from RTE Archive featuring ordinary people laughing in the past. You might as well be looking at uncontacted tribesmen with discs in their ears.

Its also a great place to watch Eamonn MacThomáis walk around old Dublin. Eamonn MacThomais was a writer and historian and as they say fairly staunch on the national question. He made great programmes years ago about Old Dublin.

Just to be clear, the Dublin of the late 70s and early 80s is up in a heap but a characterful heap. There isn’t a Costa or a Starbucks in sight. To be honest, looking at the streetscape I don’t know where you’d have got a cup of tea. But watching Eamonn MacThomais regale the camera with tales of mad bastards from Dublin’s past, you could definitely see where you’d get a hat or your shoes mended.

I remember hearing an author – I think it was John Boyne – saying that if you want to understand the past, don’t just read history books. Read the books that were written at the time. And the same goes for telly. You can watch archive clips but watching the whole programme is more interesting. What did the editor of the time think was interesting to include? What kind of background music is playing? Speaking of which, also showing at the moment is a Christy Moore concert at the National Stadium. He starts with Johnny Jump Up. Just him and the bodhran and warning the crowd not to be ruining the timing with their Late Late Show audience cack-handed clapping. ‘Save it for the Wolfe Tones’ he says.

Back at the Phoenix, they go to the zoo. With no apparent concern they show a tiger wandering around a concrete cell, clearly out of its effing mind and a zebra walking on what looks like a yard.

Ah they were different times.


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