Wednesday 19 June 2019

My final problem – I have no clue what to write for my last column

Back from the dead: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Back from the dead: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

Dave Robbins

I am sitting at my desk, watching the cursor blink on my screen. It is the day I am supposed to file my column for the paper and, as usual, my mind is wandering.

My wife walks past. "What are you going to write about this week?" she says.

"I don't know," I say. "It's my last column, so . . ."

"What?" she says.

"Yes. They're revamping the Review section. This is my last one."

"Wow," she says. "How long have you been doing it?"

"Ten years," I say.

"That's a good run," she says.

"Not as good as Fintan O'Toole," I reply. "He's been doing his for 25 years."

"Yes, well," says my wife, "he has something to say."

I let that pass. "Maybe something about Pipsi getting obedience training," I say. "Or Grace's hockey and her learning something called the 'Indian Dribble' . . ."

"Haven't you done those before? You're always writing about the same things," she says.

I bristle a little. "Samuel Beckett spent his whole life writing about the same things!" I reply. "He just came at them from different angles. So did Jane Austen for that matter, or Henry James."

There is a silence and I think back on the 10 years of column-writing. At the start, my articles were like other newspaper columns: provocative, contrarian and sure of themselves.

A couple of problems quickly became apparent: (i) I didn't have that many strong opinions, a distinct drawback for an opinion writer, and (ii) I didn't like slagging people off.

So I was forced away from public events and into the world of family and memory. I began to write about being a dad, or a son, a husband or the owner of a dog whose legs were so long her bum didn't reach the ground when she sat down.

I wrote about births, marriages and deaths, about First Communions and Confirmations, about the rituals of middle-class life, about school plays and Barbie dolls.

"I could always do what other journalists have done when they got the old heave-ho," I say.

"Like what?"

'Well, there was this guy who was sacked by Richard Desmond at the Express. The first letter of each paragraph of his last article spelled out the words 'F**k you Desmond.

"Or the TV guy on the old Irish Press. His last review was of a TV programme that didn't exist."

"Hmm," says my wife. "Not your style."

"No," I say.

I think about the columns that seem to have touched – or amused – people, about the security guard who keeps a copy of a column about my daughter's First Communion in his wallet.

Or the ones about my uncle, or my mother, or my aunt the nun. Or the ones about cricket, rugby or Sherlock Holmes.

"I could start off with the opening lines of The Final Problem . . ." I say.

"The what?"

"It's the story where Conan Doyle tries to kill off Sherlock Holmes. He has him fall over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland."

"I'm not sure where this is going," says my wife.

"Well," I say, "there is this huge outcry and Conan Doyle is forced to bring back Holmes due to weight of public opinion."

I let the metaphorical significance of this approach sink in. Suddenly, my wife gets it.

"Dream on," she says.



Irish Independent

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