Eoghan Harris

Friday 1 August 2014

A week off to work on my hip but not on my computer

Published 14/07/2013|04:00

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Last Sunday, I left my wife, Gwen, in Dublin to monitor the abortion debate, put my computer in storage and conscripted my daughter, Constance, to drive me from Dublin to Baltimore by way of Lough Hyne for a full week's rest, during which I hoped to bring my new hip up to the hucklebuck standard of the old one.

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The big plus in having a daughter who is totally like you in temperament is that you know which buttons to push to get her to drive you on what Constance correctly dubbed "a guilt trip". Like me, she is driven by the demon of duty, so she could not refuse a request to act as chauffeur from what Dickens calls the Aged P.

Admittedly, the downsides of this affinity are considerable. Chief among them is the chance that the drive gave Constance to recall my shortcomings when I was a Younger P. Long before we had reached the Curragh, she had covered a lot of ground. Like many in the media, but for different reasons, she is consumed by a passion for commenting on my long years as a Workers' Party activist.

Accordingly, her review ranged from how party work meant her not being collected from creches on time ("Or not at all") to being strapped into a buggy with a sugary soother stuck in her mouth as a gag ("No wonder I have type 3 diabetes") and forced to listen to long speeches at the Workers' Party Ard Fheis ("Most of them by reactionaries giving reasons not to do something you wanted them to do, but which they did eventually and are now drawing big pensions because of it").

She also blames being baby-sat by members of Eamon Smullen's Department of Economic Affairs for her habit, after a few drinks, of affronting lawyers she fancies at social gatherings by recycling my belief that some bankers should be subjected to what communists call "administrative measures" also known as "the leather process".

Pressed by a plummy-toned barrister, she sometimes can't resist refreshing her glass and recklessly responding: "My father says they should be knocked up at 5am by police in plain clothes wearing leather jackets for the arrest, carrying leather truncheons for the interrogation and wearing leather aprons for the execution."

She also shares my wife's scepticism about the sincerity of my conversion to conservatism and healthy eating. So when she comes across me expounding either the need for due process, or barley's low glycemic index, to an audience of belly-rubbing contemporaries, she has the habit of sitting down and saying: "Hi, I'm his daughter, don't believe a word of it – my father is a recovering Leninist and recovering sugar addict, but is liable to break down at the first sight of a banker or a good banoffi pie."

Which shows the truth of the old French saying: "You can fool your wife, you can fool your mistress, but you can't fool your daughter." But she still shares my weak spots. As soon as she draws breath, I divert her with a sure-fire silencer: "Why don't we stop for tea and cake at the Horse and Jockey?"

* * *

Baltimore was bedlam. People drunk on sunshine and the shock of enjoying a real summer for the first time in many years. And nowhere in Ireland does a summer's afternoon like Baltimore.

Let me remind you of the layout. You are sitting in a sunny piazza backed by a half-circle of bars and bistros, gazing in gauzy stupor at a half-slice of heaven in the form of a bay with Sherkin Island at its centre. A small space that can comfortably hold a hundred expands effortlessly to hold five times that number.

The Lonely Crowd it is not. More like a Moving Crowd, with people pausing briefly at a table before moving on restlessly in search of fresh stimulus, a microcosm of Ireland itself, the country with the lowest boredom threshold in the world. And because the crowd is less about booze than catching up, it never seems crowded.

Best of all, I am accosted only by those with something to say. A retired journalist wonders why RTE makes such a fuss of David Drumm's few frugal words from America, where he is not accessible, but can find nothing to say about the lengthy Lowry Tapes, although Lowry is very accessible.

Ask David Nally, the RTE current affairs chief, I tell him. Ask him why he said he couldn't find a story in it. Ask him about RTE beating up on soft targets such as the Bethany homes, but avoiding awkward stories like Michael Lowry's long trail to the sources of Fine Gael funding in the 1990s. And I move on.

* * *

LAST Wednesday, I set out at dawn for Lough Hyne. At full tide it lay like a floating mirror, its glassy surface broken only by mullet flicking their tails. Terri Kearney is putting the final touches to its biography. I have read the proofs and believe it will be a bestseller.

But even in Eden there are people who bring big dogs (but no black bags) and let them dump their loads on the little green space where later in the day children come to play. At my age I don't need new friends and don't mind aggro. So I will soon start taking pictures and posting them to the county council.

Although I have sworn not to touch the computer, I get texts from Gwen who has been watching the Dail debates day and night. "Do Mattie McGrath and these male wafflers never tire of wallowing around in women's wombs?" and "Alex White's head is protruding up all over the place" and "Thank God for Timmy Dooley – he just gave us a break from abortion and took Kenny apart on the axis of collusion".

* * *

ON Thursday, Constance drives me to the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford where I get a good report on my hip recovery. On the way home we pass Seanphobal in the Ring Gaeltacht, and fondly recall our friend, the late Patricia Redlich, who retired there to learn Irish and live the good life.

Constance suddenly surprises me. She says that Patricia, who was possibly the most progressive woman of her time, once told her that apart from rape and a dire medical prognosis, most of the women she had counselled only sought an abortion to save their relationship after the father had made it clear he did not want the child.

Later that evening, Gwen texted: "Creighton is a class act. Standing alone to make a stunning speech. Shatter nit-picking her legal arguments, visually supported by Redface O'Reilly, big-headed barrister Alex White and Frances Fitzgerald, who nearly nodded her head off supporting Shatter. Hope Creighton can hack it."

That is why I have borrowed Constance's computer. To congratulate Creighton and her conviction colleagues. To remind them of the South American saying: "Better alone than badly accompanied."

Irish Independent

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