An Evening with Mike Murphy

An Evening with Mike Murphy

March 1984


An aunt had submitted the family’s names on a form, without telling them, and they got accepted for a quiz show on the condition that the elder son got rid of the beard. The show was for teams of two parents and two children and they’d never had a nineteen-year-old child before, not to mind one with a beard.

On the day, it became clear the two other families had seen the previous week’s episode, which formed the basis of the practice round. The elder son had not, which caused him to get very worried at the thought that they might make a show of themselves. Darkness fell and at teatime in the station canteen he was unable to eat. They were relying on him and he kept thinking they were going to look like fools.

Three pretty hostesses each had a family to mind. Theirs was a very slim redhead with her hair cut short and a Canadian accent. She was a part-time model. He said very little, hoping his parents and aunt wouldn’t strain their necks looking at the personalities or point their fingers at them. More relatives arrived but he was barely able to acknowledge their presence. He felt sick.

The dad of the family that had won the rehearsal then went and changed from one expensive suit to another, before the real thing, like it was just going to be a lap of honour. Behind the black drapes in the wings of the studio stood the show’s host, Mike Murphy, otherwise Ireland’s king of the candid camera. He was completely blasé with an affable smirk but, as he explained, he did this all the time.

He then kept them waiting while he talked sh*t interminably to the studio audience. Still hidden, they had to be careful not to trip over cables and loose lengths of timber. Old cameras hung from the ceiling and the elder son could hear his mother cursing under her breath.

In the real thing, though, the other families werent quite as sharp or clever as when they knew the questions in advance, while the scare meant our crew had their fingers firmly at the buttons at all times. Once they got going at all, the elder son felt like ice. They won, in terms of money and prizes and knocking out the other families, but the prizes varied in quality, with the worst being a generous five tins of paint. Contrary to Dungarvan lore, though, one prize that was not carried off was the sun roof for the family’s Volkswagen Beetle.

Then there was the matter of the shoot-out. The grand prize was a car. To get it, one person from the family had to move to a black leather chair in a spotlight and answer a series of questions. He could only afford to miss one out of six. The first asked him the year of the American Bicentennial. 1976. The second asked the name of the Biblical character who dreamed of a ladder going up to heaven. The film Jacob’s Ladder wouldn’t be made for years yet so he hadn’t a clue. He could afford no more misses. The third concerned the author of Crime and PunishmentDostoevsky. The fourth asked the language of Panama. Spanish.

He fell at the fifth. Not watching enough television had diminished his general knowledge of rum, sodomy and the lash (i.e. the Royal Navy). Nelsons Victory had been in the news, not that he knew that or remembered the ship’s name.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“Ah, I’m so sorry, you were very good,” said Mike.

He closed the show and the audience started to clap as the technicians came on to clear up. The question setter then told the boy in the hot seat what the last question would have been. It was something about Thomas Bowdler and 1616. The date would have given him the answer. Shakespeare.

The car was worth eight thousand at the time, which would have paid for both sons’ education, but that much just wasnt meant to be. The episode lies preserved on one or two old video cassettes on which the cars lights can be seen blinking in the background. They are still blinking, like Christine.


Bratislava… a place to chill

Bratislava… a place to chill


26 September, Thursday

The first meal is often the simplest and most functional. Burgers and chips (i.e. fries … hranolky) at “Café Studio” on Laurinská. The first pub was Čierny Pes (the Black Dog), a proper Slovak bar where the young waiter was thrilled with the big tip. The bill for half a dozen drinks was less than thirteen euros so letting him keep the rest of a twenty was hardly the shirt off my back.

It was down the narrow cobbles of Na Vŕšku then to the Irish Uisce Beatha, which has a reassuring “No Stags” sign on the door. The barmaid (L.) was a pretty and polite Slovak brunette with an Irish ex. Pretty and polite and honest.

27 September, Friday

It’s hard to spend money here. After breakfast at “Re-Fresh” at the far end of the street below Michael’s Gate, the bright morning meant a sweaty climb to the Castle. At least the shop had a couch. I bought some postcards to justify the seat. (It’s worth knowing that Hotovost’ and s kartou denote ‘cash’ and ‘with a card’ in both Czech and Slovak.) Upon descending we stopped at a place (J. J. Darvoben) beside the cathedral. The woman smilingly corrected my chléb (Czech) to chlieb when P. wanted some regular bread to go with the toast on the platter my two companions shared.

It was in the afternoon when I got most of my photos and spotted the only English stag in town. Bratislava lacks the snottiness of most capitals, probably because it’s a relatively new one. Meandering, photo-taking, was an essay in relaxation, exemplified by the boy and girl in a courtyard playing chess with pieces almost as big as traffic cones.

The late afternoon meant a siesta. Later we ate in the book-lined cellar bar of Pod kamenným stromom (‘Under the Stone Tree’) on Sedlárska, just off Hlavné námestie. We drank again in the same two pubs as the night before. A Chekhovian young (English) lady with a dog was sweet to me before she left Uisce Beatha. She had already told J. that having the dog was useful for getting chatted up.

Trenčín, Slovakia

Trenčín, Slovakia

28 September 2019

I got out of the Bratislava hotel by ten and walked up to the Hlavná stanica. The day got wet for a while. It was only a tenner for the hour on the train northeast to Trenčín. The seat numbering on the train was tricky but at least all the Slovaks seemed confused too.


I got there around one so I had something to eat at a place called Speranza. It was the only place in the quiet old town that had half a crowd outside. A cheesy beef and potato dish on a menu entirely in Slovak ensued but at least I know words like that.

Then I went to the plush Hotel Elizabeth and checked into luxury for a night (€82 is cheap for four stars). The chap mentioned raňajky (breakfast) and bez (without) so, by way of confirmation, I just said, Bez. On the way out again, to do the Castle, I saw the Roman inscription on the rock of the hill outside the windows. There’s a back landing used as a viewing and info gallery. Carved by men of the II Auxiliary legion in 179 AD, the message was only rediscovered by a local clergyman in 1852.

arr 7

The Castle was a steeper hike than the one in Bratislava but that was also after two nights on the beer. When paying in, I found the pretty woman of the two seemed to take a shine to me, complimenting my effort in Slovak and then emerging to help scan the ticket at the barriers outside. I was already ready to melt but then saw the climb went on. And on. Still, after a cooling-off period, I did the top tower and all. Mátušova veža. The top of the castle. The narrow stairways and doorways up there proved no obstacle to the young and ignorant. Twice, when I stepped back to let someone in or out, the twenty and thirty somethings would pass my shoulder and drive on regardless.

A lone black goat was grazing on a grassy enclosure between ramparts. A Japanese couple got snapped (by me) while filming it. I’d got it too, just below where I was standing, while doing a three-sixty of the scene, but moved the camera away to give it some privacy during a call of nature.

On the way back down, I again passed the restaurant (Pod Hradom – ‘Under the Castle’) with the wedding party. I’d paused within earshot, out on the steep, damp lane, while climbing those steps and cobbles, just to listen to a Slovak folk song (kind of Jewish, I thought), which was accompanied by an accordion. There’s a big synagogue in the old town.

Back at the hotel I slept for an hour to catch up on that and then I went to the Lanius Pivovar for an evening meal: a fine steak with grilled veg for less than twenty and a couple of beers for an added fiver. I called it a night at half past nine. Wrote some notes and went easy on the mini-bar. A bath soak would begin a long day before nine in the morning, before three trains, then a flight, then a 200 km drive home.