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TV View: In the sticks, it really is a different country

The programmes to watch and the ones you really want to miss

By Joe Nawaz

Published 10/04/2015

Dancing is a key part of the courtship ritual for our country folk. Picture posed
Dancing is a key part of the courtship ritual for our country folk. Picture posed

You've got to love True North. It's pretty fearless in its ongoing mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, to boldly go where no local TV programme has gone before.

The most recent episode might have been the most revelatory of all to those urban "sophisticates" (townies) who forget that there's life beyond Carryduff.

Keep 'er Country followed the adventures of rural young 'uns for whom the equation 'Line plus Dancing' doesn't equal 'Studio 54'.

"In rural Northern Ireland, country music is the new clubbing," sounded the introduction - as if the land where a popular radio show is introduced by a grown man going "diddly-aye" had ever hung up its boot-cut jeans.

"If you're looking for love in the sticks, forget about Tinder," continued the voiceover, but it wasn't clear whether this was to do with the dodgy phone reception. What followed was actually a revelation to this resolute town-dwelling softie. It isn't the discovery that country music pervades the rural way of living here every bit as much as stone eagles and camp ranch architecture.

The real discovery was just how much the rhythm of life was so very different from that within the cosseted bubble that is Belfast. It seems the country, like the past, is a foreign, um, country; they do things differently there.

Enda, the 20-year-old bus driver with two left feet, was hoping to learn to jive before the end-of-season barn dance. "It wouldn't matter if you're Brad Pitt if you can't dance," sighed our young hopeful.

Meanwhile, the Breslin sisters of Fermanagh (think Austen's Bennett sisters with fake tan) were just out for a good time. A bit of a shift (NOT, repeat NOT a Saturday morning job behind the counter at the local Mace) was merely a bonus. It was their affable father Tommy, recently single, who was the star of the programme, dancing with up to 30 women a night, while his daughters looked on bemused.

"In my day you'd be ready in minutes," he sadly reflected of his daughter's lengthy prep for the big night out. "They'd be putting on tan and make-up for hours. Sure it'd have your shirt wrecked."

Brothers Simon and Owen solved this problem by going to the dance with a boot-load of shirts so they could nip out to the car when a quick change was required. "Pink makes the girls wink," bragged Simon of his colour of choice, reminding this viewer that we are so often divided here by a common language as much as any tribal affiliation.

Robert Mizzell was one of the stars of the country circuit, who townies only hear of in snatched snippets of reverent conversation when driving through the Holylands with the window down. Really. this programme was about a rather sweet, old-fashioned form of courting that seems to prevail in a lot of rural communities.

Songs about "coming from Muff and strutting your stuff", were sung with a bracing innocence that wouldn't last five seconds in "doubles for a fiver" night in some "downtown" Belfast night spot.

In the end, Enda learned the moves and got the girl. "No more watching phones, handbags and high-heeled shoes for me," Enda exclaimed triumphantly.

It would have taken a truly deadened city heart not to share in his triumph.

Latest outburst from 'pundit' Hopkins is one exhortation too far

I'm hugely reluctant to even write this much about the professionally poisonous "pundit" that is the parakeet-faced Katie Hopkins. After all, she thrives in the oxygen of column inches, broadcast minutes and retweets. But it's worth remembering that, like JM Barrie's fairies, her strength lies in the fact that people are prepared to believe in her. That is, we give her comically reactionary drivel undeserved vitality by being loudly and publicly outraged by it.

It's a bizarre kind of eternal domino effect. The more boil-in-the-bag outrage she generates, the further she thinks she can push the boat out, the more certain strains (I use the word advisedly) of media will chuck vast amounts of money at her to do so.

Yes, her latest outburst about people with Alzheimer's blocking beds, then claiming she's doing the Alzheimer's Society a favour, was outrageousness at its most bulbously purple. And to then get the former Welsh footballing mannequin Robbie Savage to cry about it might have been the minor celebrity equivalent of kanga-hammering a basketful of Andrex Puppies.

But to simply pass by her comments, with nothing more than a sympathetic sigh for her plight is to render them as powerful as an asthmatic mewl into the void.

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead" said Peter Pan.

Maybe Northern Ireland isn't the best place to start making such a exhortation, but come on folks, let's get unbelieving.

Game of Thrones star is only stating what us locals believe

So Jon Snow thinks Northern Ireland tourism is a bit rubbish and that Belfast is great "for about two or three days". He's only griping like the rest of us. I mean, seriously, who goes round every moment of the day getting unduly excited about thoughts of the Giant's Causeway and Titanic?

The short answer is: crazy people and the tourist board. And even then, only one of those groups is doing it for free. The truth is that living here, as actor Kit Harington has for the past five years, allows you to see on good days, how rather lovely this place is to live, and on bad days, how depressing it can be.

Who doesn't, on occasion, wish to hell they lived anywhere but here? If it happened to be scenic, warmer and Italian-shaped, heck so much the better.

In fact, he's thinking just like a native. So rather than lambast the hirsute wee heart throb, we should welcome him with open arms as a son of the north-east, complete with matching miserablism. We wouldn't have it any other way ourselves.

Now, hands up who's boycotting the new series of Game of Thrones?

Switch on

With True North on a roll right now, you’d be a chump not to tune into The Cattle Mart next Monday. The Better Call Saul finale on Netflix was nothing short of masterful. That’s masterful as in clever AND entertaining. As opposed to series two of Broadchurch.

Switch off

Maybe it’s the glorious weather, maybe it’s the new meds for my back injury, but I found little to “switch off” this week. Might have been partly also to do with the fact I was mostly out soaking up the few days of sunshine, but having said that, The Island with Bear Grylls. Not so much a TV programme as a threat.

Belfast Telegraph

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