Driving through drizzle and spray on a November evening, the line of tail lights stretched out in front. Perhaps a tractor or lorry ahead, perhaps just the usual five o’clock traffic. The drivetime news programme was dull, just more economic woes and politicians closing ranks to defend friends. Pressing the switch brought one of the local stations where they read out the funeral notices and announce bingo and whist drives. ‘While others bring you talk at this time, we bring you music’, announced the presenter.
‘Probably because music programmes are cheaper’, I thought.
The music would have found a home in a supermarket, bland and unobtrusive. ‘Now for our competition’, the voice announced, ‘we play a tune backwards, and you tell us what it is’.
It was Blondie’s ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, anyone would recognize it. Five minutes later he said there would be a second chance to hear the music. Five minutes after that, he said they would accept the name of the band, if people didn’t know the song. ‘It’s Blondie’, I said to the radio, ‘it’s ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ and I think it might be 1978 or 1979, I’m not sure’. The darkness concealed a middle aged cleric talking to himself from the eyes of passing drivers.
There was a temptation to stop and phone the station with the answer, but to what purpose? The prize would have been something I didn’t want, probably a CD of Country and Western music, judging by the usual programme content. Anyway, you had to give your name and address to get the prize and it would presumably have been announced on air, ‘Our winner this evening is a Church of Ireland Rector in Co Laois’.
‘Sure, how would he know that?’ it would have been commented, ‘How would a clergyman know stuff like that?’ Cultural perceptions are very ingrained; listening to 1970s pop is not an activity considered appropriate to clerics.
But why the urge to phone in with the answer? Is it part of the Darwinian tendency to want to be the winner, even when the competition is of no consequence whatsoever, to still want to win it? It was consideration of what might be the prize that dispelled the notion of dialling the 1890 number with the answer; it was not winning a prize that mattered, it was simply the matter of winning.
Growing up in England, where we were imbued with the attitude that taking part was more important than coming first, it seemed strange to have undergone a subconscious shift in thought. Perhaps it’s a case of sublimation of human instinct; in a job where no winners are allowed, the primeval tendency towards seeking to be dominant needs some avenue of escape. Perhaps it’s matter of having listened to too many pop songs.