Monday 22 July 2019

Rude health: Sharing the shelf

The wise words of Michael Harding provide good company for Maurice Gueret as politics becomes a youngster's game.

Author Michael Harding
Author Michael Harding
Maurice Gueret

When you glue a few pages between covers of your own, it's hard to resist that temptation to wander around bookshops to see where they might be hiding. For much of Christmas and New Year, Eason in the Dundrum Town Centre elevated my latest offering high on their bestseller shelves. It was very satisfying. I felt like George Hook, or something. There is no prouder moment in life than standing in Fantasy, Sport, Travel or Politics, and still being able to see your own book towering over the hordes of readers on a prominent shelf. Some booksellers place me in with the detox diets and miraculous cures of the Health section, which is all very nice, but more often than not, my books end up in Irish Interest sections, somewhere between the F of Diarmaid Ferriter and the H of Michael Harding.

Michael Harding's wisdom

Now, Ferriter and Harding are good names to be associated with. I have all of Professor Ferriter's books. He has a memory that makes Jimmy Magee look absent-minded, and like all the best historians, he tells rattling good stories with a moral at each core. Until last week, I had never read anything by Michael Harding. I kind of knew him and his little beard from a few thoughtful interviews he gave on the television. Like most men over 60 from the midlands, Michael was once a priest. And he had to battle the blues when his vestments were mothballed. His new memoir has something to do with elephants, so I took his first book, the one about gazing into lakes, just to get started. Harding has a great way with words. He describes depression as "a dark, brooding shadow that watches him with indifference or wants to wander in the past, along the laneways of regret and remorse." He writes of an enlarged prostate gland, the nasty effects of an inflamed colon, the factors that affect the length of a doctor's queue, and the queer way that a hospital ward can smell of enema and breakfast at the same time. He is one of those exceptional writers whose ink effortlessly spreads extraordinary truths. In time, I will buy and savour every single book of his. Should he ever train as a doctor or a prophet, I would gladly wait in his queue all day. His wisdom is rarer than rare.

Scottish Nationalists

Our noisy neighbours have a general election coming up soon. Quite an exciting one if your education was stunted and you like polls. Smart money is on an unpopular coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists. All the more likely now that the bigger party has gone to the trouble of ruling it out. But what I find most scary about this election is that I am now older than every single party leader. It was a moment of profound shock to discover than I am a year and a bit older than Nigel Farage, who himself is older than Cameron, Miliband, Clegg, Sturgeon and Bennett. Thank goodness for the grizzly old leaders in Northern Ireland, or I'd be feeling both radical and redundant.

UKIP leader

I'll watch Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party very closely during the campaign. He has pledged to resign as UKIP leader if he doesn't win a seat. Though his party has a fair 20-something percentage in the polls, this is no guarantee of bums in the House of Commons in first-past-the-post elections. Farage is of Huguenot descent, with German roots and a current German wife. This colourful plane crash survivor was once married to an Irish nurse. At the age of 21, he walked in front of a car after an afternoon's drinking. He landed on his head, and a nasty compound fracture almost led to amputation of his lower left leg. Farage was cast in plaster and traction for a year, and like so many young orthopaedic patients, fell in love with his plaster nurse. She hung around, nursed him through a bout of testicular cancer a year later, married him and gave birth to two young Farages. Alas, they took to separate wards after a decade together. There is always something of an accident-waiting-to-happen about Nigel Farage, but his dissenting voice on the ongoing experiment of European unity, is a voice we sorely lack in Ireland.

Polio survivors

There are almost 7,000 survivors of polio in Ireland, and I'm sure most were glued to a recent documentary on BBC Four called The Polio Story - The Vaccine that Changed the World. It was the most inspirational television programme I have seen in many years, focusing mainly on the work of a young laboratory medic in Pittsburgh called Dr Jonas Salk. For a decade, Salk researched everything there was to know about the polio virus. Assisted by the March of Dimes fund-raising and the interest of President Roosevelt, himself a polio victim, Salk went on to develop the world's first inactivated polio vaccine. His vaccine saved millions of children from death and disability. He refused to patent his discovery, saying that to do so would be akin to patenting the sun. Dr Salk died in 1995 and it was the 100th anniversary of his birth recently. Life wasn't always easy for this New York son of uneducated Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants. He won a scholarship to high school and then attended New York University, one of a handful of colleges that didn't restrict the number of Jews who took places. He married the daughter of a wealthy dentist from Manhattan. The snooty tooth-puller regarded Salk as socially inferior, and delayed the marriage until Salk could be named as an MD on the wedding invitation. He also insisted that Salk obtain extra gravitas by giving himself a middle name. Dentists can be the worst snobs of all.

Dr Maurice Gueret is author of 'The Doctor's Case'

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