Wednesday 24 October 2018

Brendan O'Connor

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It's very difficult to please some people

The subtle art of making other people happy 

Niamh Horan is somewhat of a guru to me. She devours books of all kinds, but her specialist area is the upper end of the self-help ouevre. Not that she reads every "love yourself" book out there. She focuses more on the ones that have 'New York Times bestseller' on front of them - the ultimate badge of respectability for self-help chancers, and indeed for literary chancers. Whatever it is about the rest of us, if we see 'New York Times Bestseller' on the front of a book, we make a presumption of quality. Somehow if it is good enough for the readers of The New York Times, it is good enough...

'Do you really want the worry of a house sitting in a remote area of Spain'

How I became an expert on foreign property 

Don't get me wrong. I binge on all the must-watch quality TV. Succession is gilt-edged high-end trash with plenty of laughs, and Sharp Objects is a hypnotic, creepy classic. But sometimes you just want pure, unadulterated low-involvement bubblegum, and that, for me, right now, means A Place in the Sun in all its various incarnations - summer sun, winter sun and, of course Home or Away, where the 'contestants' make the no-brainer choice between buying a dusty Tudor cottage in the rainy Lake District or a condo with a pool in sunny Florida.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims from the Popemobile as he makes his way around the gathering at the Phoenix Park. Picture By David Conachy.

Brendan O'Connor: Did the Pope's visit signal the beginning of the end? 

Like many of you, we had the papal visit on TV in the background all weekend, dipping in and out of it when we were around. An English person in the house, with the clarity of an outsider, eventually pointed out what he found oddest about it. It was the fact that there was this kind of reverential, respectful coverage of the visit, but then, every time it cut to commentators, they had to discuss child abuse. But then, it was a weekend of contrasts and incongruity.

Pope Francis speaks during the Festival of Families at Croke Park during his visit to Dublin. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope gets a belt of the crozier 

Pope Francis, you would have to say, looked a bit shook as he got up to speak. It had all been going reasonably well up to now, warmth all around at the airport and the Aras, and then, the Pope got the equivalent of what used to be known in this country as a belt of the crozier. He was effectively called out from the pulpit, in the most polite and respectful way, by an 'intrinsically disordered' man half his age. Pope Francis may have won many people over on this visit. But perhaps Saturday, August 25, 2018, will be remembered more as the day Leo Varadkar won us over. It marked his...

Brendan O'Connor. Photo: Andres Poveda

Why I'm 'donating' my archive 

After much soul searching, and having consulted with my family, I feel that the time has come for me to ''donate'' my archives to the State. I would like to see it go to the National Library, or maybe they could put it with the Book of Kells in that room in Trinity. While it might not draw the same queues as the Book of Kells, I feel there would be a certain initial flurry of interest, as former friends, girlfriends and people who no longer speak to me come in for a gawk. We would need an indexing system of course, so people could access material relating to themselves quickly and easily.

I could open a barber shop that is also an avocado shop, called Avahaircut

What would I do if I were a millennial? 

Do you ever wonder what you would do if you were a millennial? In terms of a job? I think it's a good exercise to do, just to ascertain how much of a dinosaur you are, and how long more likely to be remotely relevant. And also to make sure you're not stuck in a rut, that you could survive if civilization collapsed in the morning and we all had to start again. If you can easily think of what you would do if you were, say, 25, then you are clearly still employable and you might still have a hope when the robots take over all the jobs our generation does.

Leo Varadkar sent a letter to Mr Martin on Friday seeking talks on extending the deal
Photo: Getty Images

Brendan O'Connor: An Taoiseach, mindfulness and the Politics of 'Likes' 

It's easy to see why Leo likes new media more than he likes the pesky old media. He has said as much himself. The old media is obsessed with the story over the truth; even the political hacks are more interested in titbits of gossip. Whereas new media, like Facebook and Twitter, does what it is told, largely. If you want to put out a message - anything from a picture of you filling a dishwasher to a statement on something less important, like politics - you can put it out directly on social media, where it won't be mediated or distorted by mischievous journalists.

SYMBOLIC ROLE: President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: Tony Gavin

Isn't it time for us to have a president with a disability? 

Finian McGrath floated a brilliant idea last week. He was out talking about the presidency on a few occasions. Obviously he said the usual guff that everyone has to say about how amazing Michael D is and what a fantastic job he has done. You are contractually obliged to say that if you are going to go on to suggest that Michael D shouldn't be the president for 14 years. McGrath went on, in various places, to say that actually even seven years is a long time to be president, that five years would be enough, and furthermore that it would be "boring and stale" to put Michael D back in without...

SOLUTIONS, NOT SOUNDBITES: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris during the government press conference on the cervical cancer controversy

A loose wire shaped like a noose just says so much 

The term 'safe space' can be a bit overused these days, but if ever there was an argument for a safe space it is in young people's mental health services. Those who work in young people's mental health will tell you that many of the children who present to them are not presenting with a pure illness or a simple chemical imbalance or pathology. They are there because of stresses in their lives, things like bullying, abuse, family problems, and increasingly, life pressures that are exacerbated by the online world.

Illustration by Tom Halliday

Lessons from a week in the twilight zone 

One day before he left the HSE, the day after he got permission to exercise his share options as a director of a US healthcare company, Tony O'Brien announced the setting up of a culture unit in the HSE, which will be led by the head of the HSE Values in Action programme. On reading this, it was hard not to think of W1A, the sitcom about jargon-addled corporate dysfunction in the BBC, where the main character is the Head of Values, and one of the plotlines is the competition to fill the new post of Director of Better, with one of the characters noting that, "We do things well, but we...

SIGNAL: Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Brendan O'Connor: They were as pious as us back in the 'dark chapters' 

When Philip Roth was living in London, the playwright David Hare used to meet him for lunch, latterly in fast food baked potato joint Spudulike. "He kept trying to persuade me to go to the Middle East," Hare wrote recently. "He thought the fanatical Jewish settlers were hilarious. When I protested that religious zealotry was his subject matter, not mine, he replied: 'I promise you, David, these people are so crazy there's room enough for all of us.'"

'The weather is much more unpredictable than it used to be, isn't it?' (Stock image)

High pressure, rising slowly 

It seems like a nice day. It should be a nice day. The indicators are good. The figures, on paper, are good. Temperatures are high, we are told, even though many people can't actually feel it in their own areas, in their own backyard. And while there is a bit of sunshine here and there, a lot of the time it's quite heavy. You could even say that for some it still feels a little oppressive around the place. The air seems pregnant with something. There is an unsettling stillness, maybe a sense of a calm before the storm.

Ed Sheeran pictured performing at Pairc ui Chaoimh during his Irish Tour 2018. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision.

Thank God for Ed and the sun 

Kicking and screaming is the only word for it. And we thought we'd come so far. We were world leaders in tech and artisan hipster coffee shops. Being gay was not only not illegal any more, they could get married and be the Taoiseach and everything. Your granny didn't even know we had gay men of Indian extraction in the country and we put one in charge. A lot of people weren't even sure if he was any good. But we put him in charge anyway. Because that's how we roll these days. We don't bat an eyelid at change, at modernity. We had even sorted out the North at one point,...

ORDEAL: Vicky and Jim Phelan leaving the Four Courts after the €2.5m settlement of their action for damages. Photo: Collins

Using her precious time to shine a light on the rot 

The country is in awe of Vicky Phelan. But that's no good to her. Neither is the €2.5m settlement this terminally-ill woman got after being dragged through the courts by the HSE and the clinic in Texas which did not spot what were, according to expert witness Professor John Shepherd, obvious abnormalities on the slide of her cervical smear. The money might buy her some more time with her children, and some of it will be there for those young children when they turn 18. But none of it is any good to them, is it? Terminal illness has a way of putting everything else in perspective.

The Gloaming hypnotise with melancholy and flashes of tender beauty

Communing with the ancestors through trad 

I want to talk briefly about art. I hasten to add that it is one of the many things I know nothing about. But I had an encounter with an artist and a class of an epiphany last Monday night at the National Concert Hall. In one way it was the last place I wanted to be, as I was gearing up for the first show in the new run of Cutting Edge and I prefer to be keeping the head down and focussing on work at these kinds of times. But the tickets had been bought ages ago and I love the Gloaming.

The Cliffs of Moher (stock picture)

Brendan O'Connor: This is Ireland 

At this time of year, when we gaze deep into our navels and ponder what it is to be Irish, this great, unique, state of being, we like to make a video, to puff ourselves up a bit to the rest of the world, and tell them how special we are. These videos are what used to be called ads. Ads were about 30 seconds tops and they were an inconvenience that broke up TV shows. Now they are three, four, five minutes long and they are what's called content, and people actually choose to watch them. And the people making them love making them. Especially when they are making them...

Two more pounds down in week 4, which brings us to nine pounds lost

I am not being ruled by my gut any more 

There are those of you who are saying that the Diet of Diets is not an original diet and that it is actually based on the big new fad in losing weight - the two-meal day. And I'll concede you're right. Fitness guru Max Lowery is the poster boy for the two-meal day, but everyone from Brian O'Driscoll to 5:2 guru Dr Michael Mosley practises this style of eating. It also obviously contains the notion of intermittent fasting. For those of us who think the 5:2 version of intermittent fasting is a bit extreme, this is a more leisurely version.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips

My tell-all book on life with Leo 

Leo Varadkar never really wanted to be Taoiseach. In fact, friends say he looked as if he had seen a ghost (Enda Kenny) the night he was elected leader of Fine Gael. His partner was openly weeping, and not with joy. These are just some of the crazy claims I will be making in a new tell-all book about life inside Leo's Fine Gael. For the first months of the Varadkar regime, I enjoyed unprecedented access to Leo and his inner circle, though he denies ever having spoken to me and claims not to know who I am.

Sunrise over Co Tipperary. Photo: Getty

From darkness into light 

Nine months ago, in a different time, in a different country, Simon Coveney told me in an interview about how he was walking across St Stephen's Green one day when a man came up to him and spat in his face and said something like, "I hate you and I hate what your government is doing to this country." It was one of the things that crystallised in Coveney's mind that there was something very corrosive about the divisions and the anger in Irish society and that made him decide he wanted to bring people together again. And this was a central part of the pitch he made to become leader...

Joan Didion... 'this was a woman who was clearly not that clued into her own truth'

When a five-year-old on acid is gold 

It was hilarious at the time, but it stuck in my mind and niggled at me afterwards. I was watching The Centre Will Not Hold, a fabulous and revealing documentary about the writer Joan Didion. She was talking about Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her reportage essay about the dysfunctional underbelly of the hippie scene in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. The documentarian, who is her nephew Griffin Dunne, asks her what it was like when she was in a room with a five-year-old child who was on acid, a famous vignette from the essay. "Well it was..." she says, and then...

The water is so calming and reflective, it's like climbing into the sky

Swimming with ghosts to find home 

It's nice to visit with the ghosts now and then. I had been determined for a while to swim with them. If you walk down past Poul Gorm in Glengarriff and head left along a beautiful woodland path you will come to what my mother calls the Point. And I like to think that the uncles, the mother's brothers who loom over us all, used to hang out there and swim on long, lazy summer days in different times. I guess I felt that by bathing in these same waters there would be some benediction or baptism, or maybe even absolution. Or maybe it would just be good to wade into the waters...