Michael Smiley embarks on a cycle tour of Northern Ireland. He goes for a gruelling cross-country cycle in The Sperrins and takes a two-wheeled tour of Derry-Londonderry's walls.
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I'm Michael Smiley -
comedian, actor, North Down hallion.
I've done stand-up, I've done drama, I've done film and TV.
I've done all right for myself. But my true love is cycling.
And 30 years after leaving home,
I'm back for a pedal around Northern Ireland.
This could turn out to be the ride of my life.
Look at that. Huh? These are the roads you dream about.
You know, just you on the bike, out on your own.
Just completely empty, feeling you're on top of the world.
I recognise this part.
I cycled over here about...
20 years ago,
when I was just getting into stand-up.
I needed to make a decision in my life, which way I was going to go.
To get my head clear, I decided to come home
because I thought home would give me the answers.
So I cycled from Dublin to Donegal,
and across the border...
I was expecting a proper frontier-type border, you know?
You know, like a gate coming down,
and people standing with submachine guns,
and asking you for identification.
And I go across to the Southern Irish part of the border,
and there's an old beat-up Portakabin
with a guard, with a peaked cap down over his head,
sleeping with his feet up. I cycle past him.
And then beside it, down the road...
was the British border.
It was completely derelict.
I'm laughing my head off, thinking,
everybody's going on about the security situation
in Northern Ireland. I'm laughing so much that when I turn round,
the bushes come out into the middle of the road
and ask me for my identification. It's a whole army foot patrol.
Twigs coming out of their heads, their faces all painted up.
Hello, there, how are you doing?
And I realised, I didn't have a passport on me.
And I'd brought with me the only identification that would be
good enough, because my passport was out of date.
The only identification I had on me...
was my gun licence.
IN ENGLISH ACCENT: They laughed. I laughed. I'll tell you,
it was a right old laugh, up on that side road! Ha-ha-ha-ha!
Yeah. They didn't laugh much, though.
'Later, I'll be in the Maiden City for a ride around the walls
'with a not-so-fair maiden.'
Last time I was on one of these, my da was holding the back of the seat.
When was that? A couple of weeks ago?
High up in the Sperrin Mountains, I'll get a reality check
with Harps Cycling Club, and Jim Eastwood from The Apprentice.
I'm going to speak too soon, but this is lovely.
It's long. Brutal, isn't it?
'And back in Belfast, I'll try out roller racing -
'cycling for people who don't want to leave the pub.
'Cycling requires a bit of road-safety awareness,
'and it's good to start young.
'I went to Enniskillen Integrated Primary School
'to brush up on my skills, with some pupils.
'This place is well used to film crews,
'having received a visit from Barack Obama and David Cameron.'
He came in with Obama as well, before me.
Turned up before me, tried to turn these people's heads.
I have to say, though, they were better looking than you are.
This can be cut out. SHE LAUGHS
So tell me about your school. It's an integrated school,
is it one of the first in Northern Ireland?
We're not the first, but one of the earliest.
And we arrived from a sad story. The Enniskillen bomb. Right.
Out of it, Enniskillen Together was a group that was formed,
and they decided they wanted to establish an integrated school
from the aftermath of the bomb.
And we opened our doors in 1989, on this site, to 64 pupils.
In second-hand, third-hand mobiles. Lovely.
And here we are, brand-new school building.
And we can't take any more children.
All right, now, on my signal,
you're going to practise your moving off safely...
I remember doing the Cycling Proficiency Test.
Have you got your test? Well... I did pass it. Are you sure? Yeah.
Have you got your certificate? I've got a badge, a Tufty badge as well.
Oh, but it's changed. Has it? Yeah.
It's much more difficult. Obviously, with the increase in traffic
since you would have done it all those years ago...
She gives, she takes away!
The increase in traffic and the changes.
There's a lot more to the Cycling Proficiency
when you and I did it with Tufty.
He did. And he looked like that too.
Tufty doesn't come in any more, which is a shame.
This would be like the introductory that we do to it,
where the teachers get a feel for
It's amazing. Children have different levels.
You think everybody can ride a bike, then you suddenly put them on
OK, away you go.
We set it up with cars parked,
I've noticed a lot more traffic in Northern Ireland.
And towns like Enniskillen...
or Holywood, we were in,
11 o'clock, it's tailgates. It's chock-a. So you're seeing people
really bored, "I want to go here!" They'll pull left without looking.
I notice that children cycling to and from school
is becoming less and less.
Did you have a Penny Farthing, or...?
one of those ones that you did that along the street with.
Hence, the plus-fours. The plus-fours, yeah.
I had sideburns when I was a kid, as well.
Left and right. All clear? All clear. So let's go.
And then, push off. There you go.
Pull out. Do we stop and give way?
And we're going right again. Are we going right again, so we indicate?
You need to signal. Ah-ha. And turn. And turn.
There's no oncoming traffic.
You can lift your hand and wave.
Wave to everyone. Hello, everyone. Hi.
IN POSH ACCENT: We're in the countryside, having a lovely day.
There's no traffic, the sun's shining.
Smile at the sky. It's a beautiful day.
Where are we going to go from here? We're going round. Going round.
And you can lift your hand off and wave again.
Can we wave? Hello, children. Hello, children.
This is your Principal, Mrs Kerr. Isn't she lovely?
Come on, Smiley, speed up!
Now, brake slowly, to stop. And...stop.
Isn't she great? You did very well.
You've been on a bike before today, I suspect. I have.
Do I get a certificate?
I have one prepared for you here. You've done very well today.
Give him a round of applause, children. Well done.
THEY CHEER AND APPLAUD Thank you so much.
It's great when you go to a school
and you see the connection between the teacher and the pupils
are a lot more than just teacher and pupil.
They really care about each other.
Lovely blurred line in all the right ways.
It wasn't the same when I was a kid. I'm a lot older now, obviously.
When I was a kid, it was very much 'spare the rod, spoil the child'.
You'd get strapped, get beaten with a cane.
I know for a fact if I'd told my ma and da
that I'd got strapped or beat,
they'd want to know why, and what I'd done to deserve it.
We had a Dean Of Discipline. Yeah.
And his job was to deal out discipline. And he was great at it.
He used to just manifest. Just...pooft! He was there.
I don't know how he did it.
Amazing psychology, he could be in the right place at the right time.
Or, for us, the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of the most sinister people I've ever come across in my life.
But with a lot of charm and charisma as well.
You'd stand in front of him like that.
Phwar! Pah, pah, pah.
"Thank you, Father." Walk off.
Yeah, I left school with six O-Levels and a high pain threshold.
What kind of man would I be
if I didn't put that threshold
to the test every now and then?
Up in the stunning Sperrins,
I joined my favourite Northern Irish Apprentice contestant
Jedi Jim Eastwood, for an afternoon of cross-country mountain biking,
with his Harps Cycling Club colleagues.
We're halfway up the green mile,
and we'll maybe take you down
kamikaze at some stage too.
OK. You know, it's that thing when somebody from Belfast
comes down into the countryside.
You just feel, I'm going to be stretched out somewhere
against my will. I can feel it in my water.
So, Kerry-Ann, how did you get into it, and when did you get into it?
I got into it a few years back.
I've always liked being outdoors.
I enjoy that you get to see so much,
and the sport as well, the camaraderie.
Do you compete? Yes, I do.
Mostly mountain biking, but I prefer the endurance events,
the likes of Da Cooley Thriller.
I'm just back from the Isle Of Man. That's off-road or on-road?
It's off-road, so this is the best training ground for it here.
Jim, people will recognise you from The Apprentice.
How's that changed your life?
Lord Sugar, or Shugs, as I call him... Shugs!
..didn't hire me. That was massively disappointing.
But I suppose I can say this two years down the line,
but it allowed me to fast-track some other things I wanted to do.
Work for a big company, and do a bit of charity work,
and get out on my bike every now and again.
I think I chipped away at him a bit.
I found his weak spot. He's a cyclist, would you believe?
Ah, Sugar's a cyclist. Yeah, we were talking cycling.
You can get him over here. Yeah. In the Sperrins.
I wouldn't dream of telling Lord Sugar to do anything.
What have I got ahead of me today? Lots of climbing.
Thanks! You're welcome. SHE CHUCKLES
Beware for Kerry-Ann and Paul saying to you,
"Oh, it's just up round this corner, we're nearly there." That's a myth.
They're country miles. I don't listen to country miles.
Don't believe in country miles. "Och, it's just round the corner."
It IS round the corner. Yeah, you're talking about Mexico, to be fair!
I'm going to speak too soon, but this is lovely.
You will hate it, but get an incredible sense of achievement
when you get to the top. Are you trying to point out
this is probably the closest I'll come to childbirth? Yeah.
How long has Harps CC been going?
Probably 25, 28 years, I think, now. OK.
How many members do you have?
We've about 70. 70 members? Yeah. That's a big club.
We have a good split between road and off-road.
What about the dangers, how dangerous is it?
On a scale of one to ten? Aye. Four.
Four? But a country four sounds like a city seven.
Seven-and-a-half. A city seven!
It'll be one of those shows at the end where, you know,
like one of the true stories where it says what the person's doing now.
It'll say, Smiley never returned to Northern Ireland after filming.
Actually, we don't know where he went!
You're rocking the socks, anyway. Socking rocking!
It's the last wee bit. Is that it done?
No, you go up to that mast. But as I say,
it's just across here, and then it's road, so it's a lot easier terrain.
HE PANTS That was...
Well done, sir. That was fun(!)
You're not at the top yet.
This is fun(!) This is fun(!)
I'll race you.
You were going to leave me for dead, you know you were!
That was great. Wow.
Not when I was doing it, I didn't think it was great.
But that's the part of cycling I enjoy.
I always seem to enjoy it in retrospect.
A sense of achievement when you've finished it. Yeah.
I felt my kneecaps really hurting going up there. But it was good
because you were amongst everybody. I was taking the cajoling,
and we were getting up. You didn't have time to think about
how much pain you were in, really. It was hard, you done great.
Thank you, Kerry-Ann. You made it to the top.
I thought you'd be my worst critic. I was expecting to get
monstered by you, by the time I came up here. You manned up.
Don't do that. I bruise like a Savanna peach.
Are we racing to this mast?
Because you guys have suddenly upped the pace. No, no.
It's Kerry-Ann. She's doing that thing that women do.
Raising the bar? No, making us look stupid and ugly.
That last wee bit's a dinger, isn't it? It is. Well done. Aye, lad.
Did you enjoy it? I really did, I really did.
Kerry-Ann, you've been slabbering on about how much you like my socks...
so you can have these and wash them. Oh, thank you!
Take them home with my love. SHE LAUGHS
There you go. I've only had them on for the whole ride.
You can have them. Thank you so much!
I've very cleverly had a brand-new pair for myself.
So you can have my old ones, I can have the box-fresh new ones.
Oh, they're sweaty! Aren't they? Yeah. Hot and sweaty.
They take their socks off and they have six toes!
Well, the views were worth it, but it really took it out of me.
A few years back, I wouldn't have been able for it, though.
I've always been a cyclist, so it's a level of fitness.
But I stopped drinking.
Coming up to three years, stopped drinking.
And one thing I don't have any more, and I'm grateful for,
is that I can get up in the morning and I don't have the hangover.
God, I do not miss hangovers, oh-ho! No way, no way, boy.
I used to get them bad, that's why I gave it up. It crippled me for days.
I'd be lying on the sofa like Nosferatu. Welded to the sofa.
You had to get me off with a pizza shovel,
and lots of baby lotion.
I've got to be honest with you, I don't miss the drink either.
I tell you why I don't miss it...
A few times, you go into the pub,
and your mates, man!
God, people don't half talk a lot of rubbish
when they've had a drink on them.
And they repeat themselves.
"All right? Did I tell you about that time...?" "Yeah, you did."
"No, no, there was a time when... I'm sure I haven't told you..."
"Yeah, you have told me." "No, I haven't. Why do you keep...?"
"Well, you've only got four subjects, mate!
"And you've told me them over and over again.
"So either pick another subject, or talk to somebody else."
"Tell you what, you've become very intolerant
"since you stopped drinking." "Have I?"
'What's this, Smiley, what's that you're saying?
'After all this giving up drinks spiel,
'and you're stopping at a boozer?
'Out the back is
'The Shepherd's Rest campsite and my digs for the night,
'so less of your slabbering, all right?
'It's an ideal spot for two-wheeled enthusiasts of all stripes.'
All right, there? THE BIKER GREETS HIM
For those about to ride, we salute you.
I'm in love.
There's a bottle of Buckfast lashed
to the back of that, so there is.
Scare the life out of me, like, but they're gorgeous.
It's like a golf course, so it is.
Small, levelled areas for tents here.
And cyclists, cyclists use them for jump-offs.
A wee practice before they go to the Davagh mountain bike track.
Oh, do they? So they come down and have a wee run at it.
Kids use these wee heights for run-offs. Run their bikes off.
And how does this wee fella like being on the back of a bike?
He loves it. He usually falls asleep.
We'd two runs... We bought a seat for the back of it,
and the first one we bought was an upright,
and he hated it, because he loves to sleep.
So we bought that one which reclines. BABY CRIES
He sleeps, and he's happy out. Oh, look.
Oh, dear, we're talking about you, not to you!
One of the things I love about camping,
and I've always wanted to do, was try it in a camper van.
And that, my loves, is the Bongo.
Let me have a wee look.
Lift up, you've got your cooker and wash hand basin there.
This pops up into a bed. This pulls it into a bed.
Japanese. It's brilliant, isn't it? It's like, inside, a bit of origami.
IN COCKNEY ACCENT: I tell you what we'll do, right?
I'm looking for a monkey for it. If you give me a bull's-eye,
and we'll have the rest on the trip, know what I'm saying, all right?
Be nice, it's a family do. HE SNIGGERS
Right, these things are great.
One round the neck.
You can pull it up to here. Keep your face warm.
Look at me, I'm a pirate.
IN EXAGGERATED IRISH ACCENT: Old Irish lady!
You get off the land or, I swear to God, I'll put the dogs on you!
OLD MAN'S VOICE: I'll beat you with a stick if you come out here again!
I've got to go now. I'm going to make some buttermilk.
I'm a Catholic Buddhist.
I've got all the guilt, but I rise above it.
This morning takes me to Stroke City,
where Northern Ireland's newest Maritime Museum
is being developed at Ebrington Barracks.
My late-father was a submariner after World War II.
And as I've recently acted in a movie about U-boats, with Jude Law,
I was eager to chat to Peter Campbell, former Commander of
the NATO Anti-Submarine School,
and Margaret Edwards.
You were famous for... was it anti-submarine training?
After the war, we set up this joint anti-submarine school
here in Londonderry.
And we trained NATO ships
and, sitting outside, the Russians kept a monitoring brief.
So like a forerunner to The Hunt For Red October?
Very similar to that. Indeed. Great stuff.
Towards the end of the Second World War,
almost 60 submarines, German U-boats, were surrendered here
to signify that Germans now were on their last legs.
So the city was very important because
Commander...or Admiral Horton actually came here
to officially receive the surrender of
that number of U-boats.
So it was quite significant.
I've just done a film set on a submarine.
It's called Black Sea.
And it was especially poignant for me
because my father, who's passed on, was a submariner.
It was a period of his life that I have a bit of a blank about
because he went and joined the Navy.
I always assumed that it was his National Service,
but there was no National Service here. So he was a volunteer.
He was in a boat that was called the Totem.
Does that ring any bells with you? Very much.
What was he, a torpedo man, sleeping on the torpedoes?
Yeah. He said he slept by the torpedoes.
So he would have been a torpedo man, then, do you think?
He would have been. They were the guys
who had to prepare and maintain,
and there was an awful lot of maintenance had to go into them.
And then the big moment came when you fired the torpedoes,
and you then had space... Of course, you had all those torpedoes
taking up the room, so when you blasted them off,
you've a bit more space. Yes. Much more room.
And you could tell a submariner ten paces away by the atmosphere
of diesel that he carried around, particularly in his shoes.
The smell of diesel off his shoes? The smell of everything around them.
It took them a long time to get everything cleaned up
and returned to normal again.
So it's not unsurprising that my ma was from the markets area,
so she would have been used to the smell of offal and fish,
rotten vegetables. My da must have been like a breath of fresh air!
Of diesel air! THEY LAUGH
I love Derry. I had some great gigs here in the Delacroix.
I used to come up here on a Wednesday.
Tuesday was The Empire, in Belfast.
The Empire people used to shout at you, and you had to fight them
to get them to shut up so you could do your stuff.
Derry people used to sit in silence with their arms folded,
going, "Entertain me."
When I come to Derry, I come back home again,
I remember how beautiful it was,
and the coincidence that I got into doing stand-up.
I met a man, Stuart. He talked me into being a stand-up.
I knew I was funny, but I never thought I'd make a living out of it.
"You should ring up comedy clubs and get open spots,"
which is unpaid two to three minutes.
There was a club called the VD Clinic,
in Belsize Park in London.
It was on a Sunday night. It was especially for newcomers.
And the guy said, "We're fully booked this week,
"but why don't you come down anyway?
"Just get a lie of the land and see what it's like."
So I went down with Stuart.
He came up to me anyway, and he said,
"What did you say your name was again?" I said, "Smiley."
He said, "What did I say to you?"
"You said you were full this week, but come and get a lay of the land,
"maybe we can book you in for future gigs."
And he went, "Give me a second."
He came back and said,
"You're on first after the break, somebody's dropped out."
Oh, my days! A certain part of my anatomy was playing the clarinet.
About four beers and 20 cigarettes later, I'm up on stage.
I'd never been on stage before.
I could see the spotlight in front of me.
So I played it like Roy Walker
and said what I'd seen. I said to the audience, "I'm from Belfast.
"These spotlights are making me feel homesick!"
I got a roar of laughter.
That encouraged me to say some more funny stuff.
I came off stage, couldn't sleep that night.
Just thought, this is the best feeling in the world,
the most frightening, exciting feeling in the world,
I want more of it. So, I kept going.
I realised this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I started doing open spots all over the place,
getting as many gigs in as I could.
I went to a competition called So You Think You're Funny?
A split decision between me and Dylan Moran.
Dylan won it.
And that was it, I was on my way.
Another comic who's very much on his way is this man, Micky Bartlett,
a brilliant young comedian who knows his way around the comedy clubs
in this city.
Derry, have you got fond memories as a stand-up in Derry?
Yeah, I started here. I was at university in Derry.
That's when I first started my stand-up career.
It is quite an arty city.
Because it's away from everywhere else, it's very self-contained.
So when I started here, I found it easy to start doing stand-up.
You know yourself when you tell someone you want to be a comedian,
like your ma and da hit you, "You'll be a welder like your father."
or are you happy here? I've thought about it,
I've heard that, but I don't know how to work those.
No, I have thought about it,
but I think I am a home bird. I do like it here. Yeah.
People... I don't have to slow down when I'm speaking. Yes.
In your career, you always visit everywhere twice.
Once on the way up, once on the way down.
So it's good to be back. MICKY LAUGHS
What comedian wouldn't want to follow in the footsteps
of Will Ferrell?
Well, today, Micky and I get our chance... Sort of.
Probably the wealthiest of the lot would be Will Ferrell. Anchorman.
He turned up for my tour one day,
he spent quite a long time with me.
and it's about time myself and the Bartlett learned more
about the town we know so well.
I haven't been on one of these since I was a childer...
I do. I'm terrified, to be honest.
But you're excited, at the same time. I am. Exactly.
Last time I was on one of these, my da was holding the back of my seat.
When was that, a couple of weeks ago?!
That's it, boys, it's all ankles.
Spin those ankles, tap it out.
This is where the Londoners built their first Town Hall.
This is the first planned city in Ireland.
They built the first Town Hall exactly where we're standing
because, from here, they could see the four gates into the city.
The gate at the bottom of that street.
The gate at the top of the street.
And the gate at the bottom of the street.
I like the, er, shops. They just call it like it is, as well.
The Sandwich Company. Meat in a bap!
Aye. We sell spiders! MICHAEL LAUGHS
"How do you know?" "There's a few in your window!"
See, we're still within Derry's walls.
Do you know, I've lived here for four years and I've never been up here.
Why not? I was too drunk. HE LAUGHS
This section behind me is where the name "catwalk" originated from.
Oh, right. Catwalk originated from this part of the walls
because all the better-off people of the city
used to parade around here in their finery.
So became the name the Catwalk.
It's a cat going up the steps... Oh, it's a catwalk. It was a cat.
That was a cat, that.
What was interesting, when I started doing these tours 20 years ago,
I used to describe the wall that we're standing on today as a noose.
Today, I call it a necklace.
Because around these walls, the whole way around the walls,
on the top of these walls, there used to be 16 ugly-looking gates.
There's only three sets of them left now.
They used to be always locked, and only open for special occasions,
which was marching.
In my younger years, I called the walls of the city a noose.
But today, I call them a necklace.
'Spending time with Martin,
'I discovered we had something in common.
'We both got married 30 years ago.
'Not only that, but both marriages were mixed.
'I left the country, and Martin stayed.'
I wouldn't say I chose to stay. I couldn't afford to go. Right.
And times were very difficult when we got married.
Did you want to leave? Of course I did. Who wouldn't have
wanted to leave here 30 years ago?
Religion has never been mentioned in our household.
I have to say, I'd be annoyed when people arrive to the city
and they think all the Catholics hated all the Protestants
and all the Protestants hated the Catholics.
As you know, that certainly hasn't been the case.
It's only been a very small minority of people
have been opposed to anything. For me, when I left Northern Ireland,
I left because I didn't want to be part of this narrow-minded,
I wanted to go and see the big, bad world.
Anybody who stayed behind, to me, were sad and parochial,
and they could keep it.
I had a very... I looked down upon people who stayed behind.
But actually, to go to a new city
and start a new life, and start off...
I was homeless, with a child,
and we built it up to having the life that I have now,
which is a blessed life. I realise how hard it is to live your life.
So I can go back on those words and take those words back,
and say to the people who stayed...
and led a good life, and led a decent life,
and brought up their children to lead a decent life,
and pushed on through hard times,
to get a good job and keep their houses clean
and go about their lives as normal, human people, normal citizens.
They're the ones, for me, who are the heroes as well.
Right... So that was Derry.
Now the last leg to Belfast.
HE PANTS This is The Glenshane Pass.
If you think I'm cycling it, you've got another think coming.
What we need now...
is a montage.
# And until the leaves of summer turn to shades of brown
# I try and I try
# But, baby, you know that I... #
'I'm back in Belfast, and tired of being buffeted by the elements.
'But I just can't stop pedalling.
'This is White's Tavern, home of Joe Henry's roller-racing nights.'
I like this. I've never tried it before,
so I'm a bit apprehensive about it.
It lends itself to public houses.
The more people get a few liquors into them,
the more they want to try it out. Exactly.
And then there are people sitting at the back,
not wanting to have a go.
Suddenly, they've had five or six pints,
they're up there giving it loads.
It's fairly basic. You get a couple of sets of rollers.
You get some sensors that hook into some software on the laptop...
and project it on the wall, and that's it.
The thing is, you hit 10, 11 seconds at full pelt,
you start to hurt anyway.
So 20 seconds is what you've got to beat, to not be on the bottom. OK.
So, after...three programmes of me cycling all over Northern Ireland,
sleeping in a Bongo, climbing mountains,
cycling around with women's cycling clubs,
I end up, as ever, upstairs in a pub in Belfast,
with a young buck who's going to teach me a lesson.
Three, two, one.
CROWD CHEERS THEM ON
'Well, you can't win them all, but I'll get him next time round.
'Sure, life's cyclical.'
Michael Smiley, the award-winning actor and comedian from Holywood, pedals around Northern Ireland recalling funny stories from the past and meeting other cycling enthusiasts and characters. Today he joins some school kids at Enniskillen Integrated Primary taking their cycling proficiency test, meets 'Jedi' Jim Eastwood for a gruelling cross-country cycle high up in The Sperrins and goes to Derry-Londonderry for a two-wheeled tour of the maiden city's walls with comedian Micky Bartlett.