Monday 14 October 2019

John Daly: 'Facing the end with gin and humour'

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(stock photo)
(stock photo)

John Daly

Who knew Georgette Heyer would become an addiction? Up to three months ago, my favourite novelists fell into your basic thriller category - John Grisham, Lee Child and Stephen King.

Then, by chance and circumstance, I found myself engrossed by these tales set in the Regency period, hooked on the manners and mores of an elegant world of which I was completely ignorant. Sybil, who was my boss in a college job I had decades ago, is the source of this literary compulsion.

Confined to a hospice, or 'God's waiting room', as she likes to call it, she asked me to read her a few chapters, and now it's become our shared weekly gig of "derring-do, dashing blades and maids in peril" - all well flavoured with Heyer's sharp sense of humour.

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Sybil is terminally ill, but you wouldn't think it to look at her. Similar to many of Heyer's heroines, she's feisty and spirited, full of wickedly funny asides on just about everything. She doesn't know how long she's got, and prefers to address this particular elephant in the room with the advice: "Well, I wouldn't be troubling yourself about a Christmas present on my account."

Some of us would whistle past the graveyard, Sybil leads a brass band. On that first, desperately awkward visit 10 weeks ago, I asked the usual facile question: is there anything I can do?

"There is actually, and it will benefit the both of us," she replied. Thus began our regular Heyer afternoons, and which I've now livened up considerably with the addition of a surreptitious alcohol enabler. When I told her there were now more than 20 Irish gins on the market, her reaction was typical: "What say we taste them all before I pop my clogs." At 76, she's philosophical about the road of life shortly to end. "I wouldn't have minded a few more years, but I've seen 17 countries, climbed Kilimanjaro and been made love to in a hot-air balloon - it's been a decent enough run." As to my delicate enquiry on how it feels to peer over the dark precipice, Sybil is succinct: "Bloody awful, not to be recommended, postpone as long as you can."

To that end, she has made an advance healthcare directive - a legally binding document that informs family, friends and doctors of her medical treatment preferences in the event of no longer being able to communicate them.

"I didn't have much say about how I came into this world, but I'm damned if I won't get to choose how I'll exit."

People who visit and talk about everything but the obvious are another torment of the terminal condition, she confides. "It's not like I'm unaware of what's coming, this is a hospice, for goodness sake." And her advice for being happy? "Be kind to those you care for, give bores and blackguards a wide berth." As a mantra for life, it's a counsel that's hard to top.

To sleep, perchance to dream, is a total joy...

So many people I know can't get a decent night's kip. While I can snooze hanging off the proverbial nail, it's clearly not so easy for vast numbers of people - and getting worse.

Russell Foster, Oxford University's professor of Circadian Neuroscience, came to UCC last week, explaining how the third of our lives we spend asleep is vital for mental health, decision making, learning and creativity. He's preaching to the converted with yours truly. I regularly take afternoon naps. Utter bliss. Check out the professor's Ted Talk - 'Why Do We Sleep?' A deserved eight million views.

Brexit jokes? Leave it out

Brexit walks into a bar and the barman says: "Why the long farce?"

Brexit is now so recognisable they're going to make a romantic comedy with Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage - it's called 'Leave Actually'. Boom boom.

Irish Independent

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