Belfast Telegraph

How Danny and Dino left me with a smile on my face

A radio presenter and a Hollywood crooner make Mike Gilson ask if we take being happy seriously enough

It was chirpy barrow boy made good Danny Baker who did it. Made me think of the nature of happiness, that is. August 5, 2011 had started as another depressing day. Our newspaper, together with every other media outlet in the world, was full of warnings of double-dip recession.

Shares had plummeted across the world, the eurozone was in crisis and experts were talking of five more years of misery.

It was a gloomy day, symbolised by the dark rainclouds that have taken up permanent residence over us in what we insist on still calling summertime.

Some time in the morning I tuned the car radio to Radio 4's Desert Island Discs and stumbled across the life-force that is the aforementioned Mr Baker.

Hitherto, I have been happy to go on in life with only the vague notion of what he does. But it is not an exaggeration to say that he changed the course of my day on August 5.

I learned he has just recovered from cancer of the head and neck, a hideous ordeal from which he told us he had learned nothing, had not become a better person, or even had a Damascene-style change of lifestyle.

He gabbled infectiously about how happy his life had been, refused to roll out misery-memoir anecdotes about his poor East End upbringing and chose a selection of life-affirming tunes that were sing-out-loud infectious.

One in particular, Dean Martin's Day in the Country, has lyrics like this: 'Oh there's nothing as gay, As a day in the country, Here's where I really belong, A Hobo hob-no-bin with bluebirds and robin, We warble a merry old song,' and then on its way to the summit of songwriting craft continues, 'And go rollio, rollio, rollio, rollio, rollio, rolli, along."

The song's from the 1956 musical Hollywood or Bust starring Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis. Have a look at it on YouTube.

The pair drive an open-top sedan through a studio-built set singing their silly song, being waved at by a farm workforce that seems to consist entirely of pneumatic lovelies in halter tops and denim shorts. You want to smile.

They don't make 'em like that anymore. And, actually, I think that's my point. They really don't. When's the last time you saw a genuinely feel-good movie? What would our reaction be to a jolly boy-meets-girl musical with an unlikely happy ending?

We'd probably turn our post-modern noses up and settle down with a Danish serial-killer DVD box-set.

What Danny's tour de force and Dino's song had me wondering is whether our society takes happiness seriously enough. In the aftermath of the riots and with recession all around, I don't want to get too airheaded about this. Deprivation, the lack of access to education, the fact that the UK is further away from being a meritocracy than ever all conspire against happiness.

Yet I'm not sure, as a society, that we have fully understood what this will-o'-the-wisp feeling really is.

I would run a mile from the New Age charlatans trying to peddle new ways of living, but I do wonder if, after years of unsustainable economic growth, a simpler way of doing things is now essential.

Not a lowering of expectations, but a way of pointing them in a different direction.

A sense of entitlement from rich and poor (the bonus banker and the expense-fraud MP as well as the looter) needs to be replaced with a new sense of adventure and wonderment, perhaps.

It won't put food on the table, of course, but the soul might be nourished. Certainly, for me, August 5 turned out to be a happier day than I thought it would, so that's a start.

Now if only I could warble a merry old song.

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