Friday, April 03, 2020

A daily blog by Deputy Editor Dermot Keyes from his #stayathome office

9:30am: A good night’s sleep has me in good stead for the day ahead. I contemplate walking down to the shop again to kick off my day’s activities but it really isn’t an essential journey so I opt against it. Both Zippy and Buddy are kicking back on their respective couches after herself rolled the larger couch (which had been out in the hall, under the staircase) last night. Needless to say, the small house dog is cosied up on the larger couch while the oversized house dog is spread-eagled on the smaller seat. But both hounds seem happy with the arrangement so whom am I to question it? They remain unmoved as I click on the kettle and fire up some porridge. The dogs then need walking – and it’s an absolute belter of a morning.

The small dog is on the big couch and the big dog is on the small couch. Go figure.

A stunning Thursday morning in Williamstown.

10:15am-12pm: I pound out my latest diary entry – a good chunk of it anyway – tracing the previous day’s events. I ponder what this diary may account for in terms of an overall word count were I to maintain it for a month. It could well run to between 30,000 and 40,000 words, roughly half the length of most contemporary novels. The discipline of writing such a piece day in, day out for almost 90 minutes per writing session is also providing me with an interesting journalistic and somewhat philosophical challenge. It has become an unexpected positive of working remotely during this public health emergency and has rooted me in my direct environs in a manner I’d never been previously experienced. It’s as immersive an assignment as any ever previously put to me.

1:30pm: A great chat is had with Sean Corcoran about his sand art tribute to our healthcare professionals at Kilmurrin Cove. “We need to support the frontline staff by acting responsibly,” he tells me. “We need to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbours and the wider community. We need to stop the spread of this virus. We need to be informed and we need to take this seriously.” It’s a rare conversation where I’m the one doing less of the talking – ask anyone who knows me – but Sean’s words happily cascade down the phone. He’s utterly enthralled by his work and it’s always a pleasure to talk to someone driven by a clear vocational pursuit. Forces of energy such as Sean are vital in terms of sustaining the lifeblood of both our artistic and wider community and it’s a pleasure to talk to him.

5:15pm: I’ve retreated upstairs to a spare bedroom in which I’ve relocated a few of my items, including a chair that belonged to my Granny Keyes, from where I conduct an interview with Ray McGrath. I did much of my (first) Leaving Cert homework while sat in this chair, which was positioned at the foot of her bed in Ivy Cottage, just a five-minute walk from Curraghmore House. I was far from the only person who sat on it while Granny held court, but I felt a natural sense of attachment to it given that I was her most regular housemate during the last three or so years of her life. I loved living with Granny. I loved sitting in that chair, chatting about anything and everything with her so to be sat in that same chair (re-upholstered for me as a gift for me by my Mother) now, listening to other people share their stories with me, feels utterly fitting during so unsettling a time. I feel as home in this seat today in Williamstown as a 40-year-old man as I did in the months prior to my 18th birthday and I draw great comfort from that. By the way, my conversation with Ray (of Gaultier Heritage Rambles fame) couldn’t have been more uplifting. He is testament to the value of remaining engaged and energised by the world around him. It’s a pleasure to spend 45 minutes with him, albeit over the phone.

My Granny Keyes’s chair remains a place where many a lovely conversation is still had.

6:45pm: It’s a stunning evening. Despite the pleasant weather, the Williamstown Road is not overly busy and those who are out thankfully maintain their physical distances. I bring Buddy out for a solo walk (Zippy had a lengthy stroll with herself earlier in the afternoon) and I’m pleased to report that he does not come close to dislocating either of my shoulders during this particular ramble. There are a few very chilled out Blackbirds bounding along on a slip of grass in front of a flank of conifers in Williamstown Glen. One of them is Robin-like given the level of indifference he/she shows to our presence as we approach. I attempt some nature photography in a bid to capture my little friend’s calm demeanour. Let’s just say I won’t be emailing ‘National Geographic’ anytime soon given the end result. Buddy and I are soon on our way, as I stop repeatedly on the way back to take some other shots. I’m in one of those moods, clearly – and that’s not a bad thing at all.

It was a glorious evening for a walk, as locals continued to observe physical distancing guidelines.

A Blackbird in a tree near Williamstown Glen. He/she proved quite sociable!

8:31pm: I step away from the laptop, relocate in the sitting room and leaf through Billy Connolly’s latest book, ‘Tall Tales and Wee Stories’. I’ve read 50-plus pages thus far but I am drawn to what he pens on the final page. “Acting your age is about as sensible as acting your street number. You can volunteer to take life seriously, but it’s going to get you anyway. It’s going to win against you in the end. It’s harsh, and you can either break down and complain about how miserable your life is, or you can have a go at it and survive. I think that’s the basis of it all. And laugh. Always look to laugh. Nothing else will keep you going like laughter.” In each of the handwritten letters I’ve busied myself with between filing newspaper copy, I’ve included the same message: Keep Smiling. Knowing the ‘Big Yin’ would approve of such a sentiment pleases me. I’ll take Billy Connolly every day of the week over some anger exhaling social media blowhard.

Billy Connolly, unsurprisingly, has words of wisdom for these unusual times we live in.

9:55pm: In pleasantly benign conditions, I run two and a half miles in 25 minutes and then break the final mile of my excursion into a series of interval runs. Once more, running at a relatively anti-social hour has its benefits as I meet only a handful of people the whole way around, including two Gardaí on the beat who offer a friendly ‘hello’ in my direction. I suspect running has never been more beneficial to me in terms of mental well-being. Listening to Sam Harris in podcasted conversation with Stephen Fry takes my focus off the physical exertion of my run and relocates it into the depth of their chat. Theirs is an utterly soothing and insightful exchange. That I’m still fitting into all the pants I was wearing prior to this shutdown is something of a relief. Ensuring that remains the case is minimum objective of mine given that I suspect my part-time diarist’s gig will extend beyond Easter Sunday. A kind message from a friend reading this diary in Western Australia feels particularly validating. Such words are always welcome.

All was quiet on the Dunmore Road as the night drew in.

11:25pm: A final walk with Buddy and Zippy – a very short one, mind you – takes us back onto ‘Footpath Incomplete’ and, surprise surprise, we’re the only creatures in circulation. It’s a beautiful, peaceful night. From this juncture, it remains difficult to comprehend the level of chaos and misery that has befallen so many Emergency Departments all over the world while I’m surrounded by such a thoroughly deep silence and profound sense of inner calm. My good fortune at my physical and mental well-being in addition to the lovely company I keep doesn’t need to be spelled out to me. As sods go, I’m a bloody lucky one.    

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