Notebook: A look at the week that was
On the regular Monday train journey to Cork to visit Daithi O'Se and Maura Derrane on the Today show, I get traumatised by the toilet. Not so much the toilet itself as the foreign-accented nag who starts in on you at the top of her recorded voice the moment you lock the door.
"To ensure privacy, engage locking mechanism," she says. Mystifyingly, since you've just done so. But she won't shut up about it, so you get obsessed trying to lock the door even more than it's already locked. Nothing works. What's worse is that when you eventually depart the loo, the woman says: "Thank you," which, if you think about it, is frankly creepy.
Driving through Dublin city on a Tuesday night just before Christmas is pure magic at ground level, although you'd have to wonder why they don't do something festive with the Spire. Something creative to make it more than a boring cross between a surgical instrument and a well-pared pencil. All they'd have to do is copy the cranes - most of them, at the moment, gloriously outlined with Christmas lights, the one close to Liberty Hall a geographic theorem in red and white. It's a twofer: Each crane serves as Yuletide illumination and symbol of the risen tiger. It will be so dull in January when they come down. I'd be for leaving the Christmas lights up all year round - on cranes and at home - but my family doesn't buy into this redneck approach.
How times have changed, I think to my intimidated self on Wednesday, facing the prospect of participation in Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge on RTE. Time was, when you were invited on a TV programme, they were happy if you turned up sober and on time. That still applies, but this programme has rules. This programme doesn't even allow you to bring your own paper. Swear to God, they give you a little spiral bound notebook in which to insert your trigger words, or whatever you want in front of you on the night. Me, I go for prayers. Those short aspiration jobs.
In addition, they tell you to bring what you're standing up in, plus your preferred outfit, plus an alternative. I suspect this is mainly aimed at the women participants, lest two of them turn up in matching outfits and fight to the death in a dressing room. (The worst one of the men can wear is something like Neil Delamere's granny-printed shirt. But he's a comedian anyway, so it's part of his shtick.)
Now, the chances of panellist Brenda Power and me turning up in the same outfit are somewhere between slim and none. The chances of me ever having two clean outfits at the one time are even smaller.
On the night, I throw a spare dress not too infested with cat hairs into the back seat of the car as a fallback, but it doesn't get called upon.
The programme itself was so much fun all the way through that I developed a version of Minister Michael Noonan metaphorically sitting on my shoulder and making warning noises. This is because I once witnessed him warning a group of his colleagues against being seduced by the enthusiasm of a live audience.
"If the live audience likes you, 'tis grand," he whispered in his conspiratorial way. "But 'tis the audience at home in their sittin' rooms that matters. You wouldn't want to cod yourself that the ones in the RTE seats are looking at you the way the ones in the armchairs at home are looking at you."
Thursday, and with the news of Gillian Bowler's death, the shine comes right off Christmas. There's talk of her innovation, drive, marketing genius, glamour - and of her advice to women that to succeed in business, you have to sideline family distractions. All of it true. None of it coming anywhere near the totality of this direct, funny, uncomplicated woman who loved argument, loved to beat up assumptions to test if they could stand up to challenge, loved listening and learning. Gill was a 'shovel' friend: the one you ring in the middle of the night to tell: "I have a body that needs burying"; who's there within minutes with a shovel and shuts up about it afterwards.
Gillian Bowler sat on the top of the Friendship Honour Role. And showed boundless quiet courage in the face of dire illness in the last few years.