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Mon, Mar

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“Out of that Childhood Country What Fools Climb…?”

There have been times of late when I’ve felt like going full-on Howard Beale, the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves*, and just yelling TURN THEM OFF! ALL OF YOUR APPS AND SOCIAL MEDIA DEVICES AND BLOODY FACEBOOK PAGES AND ALL OF THEM! TURN THEM ALL OFF! TURN THEM OFF NOW!

Hell, I’ve felt like doing a Ray Bradbury-at-his-grumpiest and screaming There Are Too Many Internets In The World!

Then I take a few deep breaths and try to remember if I’ve taken my meds.

You know, there is a difference between sifting for genuine information and willfully descending into the darker and more extreme realms of the internet in our dubiously wonderful techno-savvy age.

Of course we should be educating ourselves to the best of our ability about the global Covid-19 scare. But I know some people who are becoming simply obsessed with the whole thing, to the point where they don’t need the virus in their lives - due to the fact that they are making themselves genuinely sick with worry alone. They are receiving regular updates on their phones as well as being glued to every bit of info – mis-or otherwise – that is coming in… and even buying a few newspapers into the bargain just in case they’ve missed something.

Folks, there are people out there whose actual mission in their miserable lives is to frighten you. Not having much of an existence themselves and with something here that makes them feel important, they are in their element. But c’mon now, don’t encourage them. I mean, if you read on your latest unmissable Coronavirus update that holding your breath for fifteen seconds whilst drinking upside down from a glass of water and swinging from a vine yelling ‘Me Tarzan!’ will keep you safe…use a bit of cop on. Apply a bit of logic.

I never thought I would say this, but it is a pure blessing that the pubs are closed. I say halleluiah to that and I don’t care who it upsets. Can you imagine the amount of certified Bar Stool Philosophers and Experts on Everything that this has spawned and are even now chomping at the bit, just waiting for the opportunity to get back in there and bore to death every poor unsuspecting sod that crosses their path?

Now before I go any farther, don’t get the idea that I am making light of this. I took it seriously enough that I went into self-isolation back on March 15th. But you can read all the doom & gloom you want elsewhere. I’m not going to throw any more scary statistics at you.

I’m walking on eggshells here because I know that tens of thousands of people have died and many more are suffering. But for me (and won’t I feel like a right thick if I now get the virus myself?) it has been an eye-opener and a wake-up call to how shallow I’ve been treating life, how much I have been taking this wonderful gift for granted. So keep in mind that this is simply my personal opinion.

I set up a routine from the start: no lying in bed but up, shave and have a decent breakfast. [In the case of shaving this morning that included my whole head, since I don’t know when a barber shop will be open again.]

I set aside a certain amount of time for reading, especially since I now have the time to attack all those enormous, heavy, worthy works that have been sitting on my shelves daring me since time immemorial – currently James Cowper Powys’s ‘A Glastonbury Romance’ which, if I never do finish it, I will at least be able to use to knock senseless any muggers I might run into – if I can lift it.

Pursue my passion for early cinema history. It’s extraordinary how much good stuff is available on youtube. With a nice big monitor you can be as happy as pass-the-popcorn. I’ve recently been watching the 1926 silent movie ‘Sparrows’ with Mary Pickford and an astonishingly clear ‘print’ of Bela Lugosi in the 1932 ‘White Zombie’. And incidentally if you’re into this stuff then check out a blog by a lady called the Self Styled Siren – she’s great.

Music – where do I start? My first day in isolation and I put on a recording of Beethoven’s 9th by your own Chicago Symphony Orchestra and it appears from the comments that I wasn’t the only one who was ‘discovering’ this gem. Back in the 70s I was also very keen on what was called ‘Progressive Rock’ and I’ve been rediscovering Rick Wakeman, Vangelis and Steve Hackett. If you THINK that you don’t like this stuff, then here’s a challenge: Sit back and play Hackett’s ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ all the way through. Gorgeous is the word we’re looking for here. Oh and when was the last time you listened to all of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’?

But best of all is rediscovering that there’s this new-fangled thing out there that I’m hoping will catch on. It’s called Nature. We can meander 2K from our abodes in order to get a bit of exercise after all that literature, cinema, music and all-round culture; and my daily constitutional now invariably takes me down to Oranmore Bridge and a short wander along the bank where the river goes into the bay. I’d swear that I’m getting to know the daily routine of these swans and ducks (a swan glowered threateningly at me the other day and I’m sure a duck quacked in sympathy); and there’s something that would normally have passed me by ** just as surely as the extraordinary goings-on in the ‘empty’ field next to me. I’ll never refer to any patch of land as empty again, that’s for sure. It’s a bonus that it also recalls childhood walks with my dad, who really was an outdoors man.

And so I like the fact that the world has slowed down a little, whilst acknowledging the harrowing side of all this.

 In Scotland my sister-in-law has lost two brothers in one month. Neither was due to the illness, but the fact is that there is the knock-on effect where she will miss the very necessary ritual of the burial service, something that we’ve always taken for granted. My brother tells me that there will only be five mourners allowed which is actually five less than in Ireland.

This article has no real beginning or an end, because we are in the midst of something that is quite unprecedented. I’d like to talk about how we’ve adapted to this with such astonishing rapidity – and the good side and the bad of that apparent docility – but that can wait for another day.

For now, let me wish you and your loved ones safety during these strange days. Take care of yourselves.

*If you’re wondering who Howard Beale was, ask someone over 50 – or even better, type in ‘Howard Beale Rant’ on youtube and watch a Master in action.

**Isn’t it funny how beautiful and placid swans look? You feel like turning into a cut-rate Patrick Kavanagh (and thanks to the great man himself for the headline) and doing a poem about them. And then you get up close and they’re right aggressive bloody buggers. This column recommends trying to make friends with swans responsibly – from experience. And a distance.

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