Insider Magazine – The One Where I Want A Death Watch


It’s very sweet of you but there’s no need to ask, I’ve already decided. For Christmas this year I want a death watch.

“Tikker” does just as you would expect it to: you enter some basic details about your age, vital statistics, health and habits and it calculates the estimated date of your death based on the information it’s been given. Then, in a presumably not unexpected turn of events, it starts counting downwards.

It’s brilliant – what would happen if we all had a little digital display on our arms showing just how much time we had left before all the lights are supposed to go off? Facebook friends would be ruthlessly culled overnight. Pictures of the first day of school of the third kid of some guy you once met on holidays and haven’t seen in twenty years or a platitude-filled picture of a cat clinging to a washing line saying “hang in there, it’s almost Friday” from the receptionist bring you ten seconds closer to oblivion, my friend. That kind of nonsense will be a crime in the dictatorship of the dwindling dial.

In fact the list of things that might disappear overnight is fairly large. Just off the top of my head I had TV ad breaks, polite small talk with strangers, parent-teacher meetings, queuing for Santa, work brainstorming that lasts longer than eight minutes, two-pull pints and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds of the F.A. Cup. As for ironing? Screw that. I choose being rumpled and having a little more time to breathe.

I’m pretty sure full-day hangovers would go the way of the dodo. You think you have The Fear on an average Sunday evening at 7.15? Imagine if your wrist reminded you that you were one day closer to your check-out date with nothing to show for it but 5 toast crusts, an empty two litre of Lucozade and twelve forgettable episodes of Come Dine With me?

Being honest there’s probably little chance you’d waste two minutes reading this column out of the ever-decreasing stock of sand in your personal egg timer. I certainly wouldn’t waste the four minutes out it takes me to write it. (Note for my lovely editor – this is humour and not a reflection of the real amount of time this column takes. I handcraft it over many, many days and nights of painstaking love, effort, tears and toil.) Therefore with a death watch I definitely wouldn’t be writing the bloody thing.

My theory is that fireworks displays and rollercoasters would become incredibly popular. They give a huge amount of bang for very little time invested. Similarly, drag racing would become the biggest sport in the world. Who in their right mind is going to waste hours of mortality on a scoreless draw with penalties in the World Cup or pretty much any game of baseball?

So what would be worth the time it takes to do it in the brave new world of the death watch? Travel is always worth every moment, but not the time it takes you to travel there (sitting in a Piazza watching the sun go down over Florence good, Pisa airport bad.) Sex will pretty much always fall into this category too. I’m pretty sure it will never be a wasted 90 seconds for most of us.

The technicalities of all this are problematic, true. My friend Cormac mused as to whether you’d get a refund if you accidentally stepped out in front of a bus and were smushed on the road one idle Tuesday when ole Ticky says you have 54 years left. Best hope we never have to test that one, we agreed.

Still, even though the watch exists it’s just a load of nonsense and you’d never want one on your wrist constantly rolling ever closer to you kicking the bucket. However now that I’ve gotten you thinking it doesn’t mean the same principles don’t apply. You are three minutes closer to checking out than you were when you started on the left hand side of this page. You don’t need a watch to tell you that.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. See you in two weeks. Maybe.


(This column originally appeared in Insider Magazine in the Irish Independent)

Book Eighty Four

Book Eighty Four 2014:

So, Anyway… by John Cleese


I wrote up extensive notes on this for last night’s Arena on Radio 1 so this is a little longer than usual…

He starts with his childhood in World War II (his parents moved around a lot but ended up in Weston-super-Mare). I adore his description of the war: “The Germans were a people famous for their efficiency, so why would they drop perfectly good bombs on Weston-super-Mare, when there was nothing in Weston that a bomb could destroy that could possibly be as valuable as the bomb that destroyed it? That would mean that every explosion made a tiny dent in the German economy…”

The things I find most dull about most “celebrity” autobiographies (let’s be honest we want them to get to the bit where they can tell us stories about showbiz) are interesting if a little long in places here. He talks about his fragmented relationship with his mother, his father’s obsession with doing well in the British class system after he came back from India, then school, public school and eventually getting into Cambridge.

When he gets there he talks about Footlights extensively and how the 1963 revue “Cambridge Circus” was a turning point for him and the club itself. He went with it to the West End, New Zealand(!) and eventually to Broadway where he ended up in a production of Half A Sixpence with Tommy Steele and never looked back. He got the role even though he insists he couldn’t sing (he used to mime with the chorus).

There’s relatively little about his love life apart from meeting Connie Booth (later his co-writer and Polly in Fawlty Towers) in New York when he was on Broadway and she was a waitress. They lived there for a while, he went back to England and they tried long distance for a while, broke up, he went back to the UK heartbroken. The story of how they came to be married is quite lovely and happens very suddenly when he travels to New York just to see her while pretending he’s there on business.

The thing I identified with when it comes to my first experiences of Python is his relationship with The Goon Show. He talks about how he and his friends “adored it, and discussed it and swapped jokes from it” – the same experience my friends and I had (well the weird ones among us who watched a show that was 20 years old by the time we got to it) with Python.

He spends a lot of time fondly talking about David Frost. He was his major employer for many years as a writer and performer on TW3, The Frost Report etc. The “incestuousness” of these shows is staggering in places. Over the years he’s written and worked in different combinations with all the Pythons, Ronnies Barker and Corbett, all 3 Goodies, Marty Feldman…

However, after all the good stuff, here’s the rub – out of a 404 page book he only devotes 21 pages of it to Python and even then a chunk of that refers to the recent 02 gigs. The book stops dead in 1969 so you can only be left to presume that a second two volumes deal properly with Python TV and movies, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, broken marriages and beyond.

Genuinely very entertaining, I laughed quite a bit, he comes across as being cranky but not nasty. My liking it might tie in with my interest in comedy of the period, but you might feel a big aggrieved if you’d bought it expecting all Python and Fawlty Towers. I’ll definitely be reading the next two.


You can listen to the item on RTE Radio 1’s Arena HERE.

Book Eighty Three

Book Eighty Three 2014:

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee


Again, as with so many books since the beginning of this odyssey, this one was recommended to me and is something I might not have taken up otherwise. They’re all turned out to be thoroughly worth the read.

Before I tell you who recommended this to me, a little context. I was backstage getting ready to take part in the Hero Hour event for Radio 1’s Arena. I’m quite shy in rooms of quite famous, gregarious and literary people as this one was (David Norris, Mary Coughlan, Sinead Gleeson). I got talking in the corner to a lovely guy who introduced himself by saying “oh yeah, thanks for saying the nice things about the books. I’m Donal”.

Time passed very slowly. I’m terrible with faces. I hadn’t seen this one before. What seemed like an eternity later I realised I was talking to Donal Ryan, author of 2 of the best books I’ve read this year in The Thing About December and The Spinning Heart.


As part of our eventual chat he recommended the above. I’m so glad he did.

It begins with a German soldier on the Eastern front in World War II getting married in a field by a priest to a photo of a woman he’s never seen. He does it for leave, she does it for the pension she’ll get if he is killed. The story moves on from there.

This is a cracking book. Characters are beautifully written and real, the brutal realities of Peter’s life on the front trying to take Stalingrad are in stark contrast with the circles in Berlin that Katharina finds herself because of her father’s close ties with the upper echelons of the Nazi regime.

I love finding stories that illuminate great events in history through the eyes of small stories. This is one of them. One of my favourites of the year so far.