Thursday 18 April 2019

Bertie bounces back -- and so does the nation

I see Bertie is back. The old Bertie. No one really warned us. He just started popping up here and there, looking energised and confident and talking about normal things, things that aren't the details of his banking transactions, things like Down Syndrome kids, even the economy. Even at that, it's not so much what he's been saying, it's the bounce, the more bearable lightness of Bertie last week. He seemed positively non-defensive. He even seemed slimmer, less dark and heavy of jowl, straighter, fitter. And, boy, was it a relief. Because if we ever needed the Bertie bounce, we need it now.

In his heyday, Bertie used to rival Tom Cruise for bounce. He'd bounce out of his car and do the crowds with that incredible energy that Tom Cruise brings to premiere nights: a word and handshake for all the waiting fans, saying hello to people's mothers on their mobile phones.

Whatever darkness might have lurked behind the public face, Bertie had manners, and put his self to one side and focused exclusively outwards when necessary. He became the public man, the man with no personal life, the man totally devoted to public service and to his public, the man totally devoted to bounce. The bounce always seemed healthy, energetic, extrovert, outward and forward looking. Bertie used a fitting talisman for our confident little nation.

And while Bertie has hung on to normality in almost impossible circumstances since the last general election, the bounce went a bit flat for a while there. He was defiant, sure, a smile plastered on him and salutes for the public no matter how bad a day he'd had in front of the tribunal. But there was some of that essential Bertieness missing, and there was a sense that he was no longer really connected to the national grid of energy that he always seemed to feed off. He was slightly disconnected from us, not quite meeting our eye, not quite plugged into us.

Irish men are desperate fellas for doing a Hamlet. While Irish women have always expressed their pain -- though ultimately they would take to the bed if "the nerves" really got too much -- Irish men have a far more insidious and dangerous pattern in times of trouble. The brooding paralysis of isolation has always been Irish men's refuge.

In times of trouble we tend to turn in, to disconnect. You can call it whatever you want -- isolation, introspection, depression. It is a web of related issues that feed each other. Depression and isolation are like the chicken and the egg, each giving rise to the other.

You can always spot an Irishman when he goes into this bad place. Never mind the fact that you won't hear from him much, when you do, he won't be fully connected to you. There will be a perceptible difference in gait and manner, a slight elusiveness of the eyes. No one will really say anything, but everyone will note silently to themselves that so and so has turned in on himself a bit.

It barely needs to be said anymore, for example, why the Irish rugby team aren't doing so well despite us having a great bunch of players. Reading between the lines, Eddie's gone in on himself a bit. And, equally, everyone knows that if the top guy turns in on himself a bit and cuts himself off, the whole team suffers.

While there were small signs that Bertie might have gone to the

bad place a little bit -- tetchiness, less of the usual willingness to talk to the press -- it was only when the Bertie bounce returned last week that we saw what we'd been missing. As much as isolation and depression are two sides of the same coin, with the disconnection feeding the depressive lack of energy, Bertie and we are two sides of the same coin too, very much locked in a symbiotic relationship. He draws strength and energy from us, and we from him. That's what being a leader is about. Hence, the bounce of the last week was good for everyone.

Take a snapshot of it: Bertie with the Down Syndrome kids in Dublin last week. He looked genuinely delighted with himself. And they looked delighted, too. Bertie's never happier than when he's connected to his people, getting the love. And he was totally getting the love from those kids and their families and it was a tonic to see. He had the bounce. He looked energised. And he fed off his people and they showed it on the news and we fed off him.

Or take him cautioning about the economy the other day. Yes, it was cautionary news he was delivering in saying that, with America being the way it is, we were looking at a tough enough year in this country. But it takes leadership and energy to be prepared to deliver bad news.

A lot of Irish men shut down if there's bad news. They keep it to themselves, brood over it, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. But last week Bertie had the courage, the authority and the energy to be able to show a bit of bottle, stand up there and tell it like it is. He wasn't whingeing about it, he didn't seem freaked out by it, he was just quietly, confidently warning us that we might need to mind ourselves. He was being in charge.

And you can bitch and moan, too, about the Government all decamping abroad for the weekend, but Bertie didn't run away from it. He took it square-on in the Dail and talked about it in strategic marketing terms. And he did that old thing he used to do, of explaining things slowly and patiently and almost condescendingly to the infantile Opposition.

Those were always Bertie's greatest shows of power -- the quiet, composed but deadly half-gurrier in the Dail, dismissing the Opposition while slightly suggesting that Enda Kenny and co are hysterical women who are wasting everyone's time while the men are trying to get on with running the country.

And as much as it's old fashioned and sexist, we do like to feel that there's a benevolent but tough patriarch watching over us. And it was difficult to watch the Daddy seeming to lose his power. But it seems like the Daddy is back and we can sleep easy in our beds. He has thrust the darkness to one side

and is focused outwards and upwards.

Come to the light, Bertie. We need you here. And our love will buoy you up.

And you know, maybe it's crazy to think so, but as Bertie regrouped and came out from under his cloud, it seemed last week as if the country was experiencing somewhat of a Bertie bounce itself. Despite more bad news economically, property seemed to be moving a bit more, and indeed everything seemed to be moving a bit more. It felt like we were getting back on our feet, and back in business, after the torpor of recent times. The rising tide of Bertie's mood could be lifting all boats. He's back to match fitness, and so is the country. The paralysis of the last year or so is lifting. All we're missing now is for the sun to come out.

I'll leave you, and Bertie, with the inspiring words of Jesse Jackson, as sampled on Primal Scream's Come Together: "This is a beautiful day. It is a new day. We are together, we are unified. And all for the cause. Because together we got power."

And Amen to that.

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