Saturday, May 09, 2020

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


Friday, May 8, 9:08am: Asleep past nine o’clock? These truly are rare and unusual times. I’ve got some local notes that need doing so up I get, click on my various paraphernalia and try and get myself up to date with what’s what. Newly elected Waterford TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh is among the five-strong Green Party team which will negotiate programme for government talks with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, The Irish Times notes. Writes Jennifer Bray: “During the election he described himself as strongly social democratic, and said in any green transition the most vulnerable must be protected. He is viewed in the party as being down to earth and pragmatic.” I can’t readily recall a Waterford TD involved in government formation talks. Successful or unsuccessful, the talks should prove a useful learning experience for the Butlerstown native.

A sad scenario encountered by a mother with a severely disabled daughter is reported by my fellow DIT alumnus Conor Feehan in this morning’s Irish Independent. Daisy McDonald, aged seven, “is wheelchair-bound and has Rett Syndrome, with combined symptoms of cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and lung disease. She also suffered a broken leg during lockdown as she was being lifted into bed.” Daisy’s mother Lynn said she had planned to bring Daisy to Bushy Park in Templeogue, “the first time in 11 weeks to leave the garden and do one lap” of the park during a time designated by the local authority for the elderly and those with compromised health. “But when we got to the park it was just a free-for-all with family joggers and dogwalkers everywhere. I just had to turn around and go home. Daisy cried all the way home.” A palliative care fundraising campaign for Daisy has raised over €20,000, which Lynn said she is incredibly grateful for. She is in no way out of line to suggest that the public might grant her daughter a few more favours in the weeks ahead. It also gets me thinking: the only person I’ve seen in a wheelchair for the past two months was on the grounds of University Hospital Waterford.

The front page of the Irish Farmers Journal underlines the tough time facing the agricultural sector. “Covid-19 could hit farm incomes by between €600m and €1bn. An analysis carried out by UCD Professor of Agriculture and Food Economics Michael Wallace for the (Farmers Journal) shows that income on farms could fall by €570m or €990m, depending on how prices move…under Prof Wallace’s modest forecast…the average 78-cow dairy farmer would lose €24,000, or 37 per cent of their income for the year. An average 23-cow suckler farmer would lose €2,300 or 26% of their income, while beef finishers would lose €3,000 each, or 19% of their annual income.”

I walk or run past St Mary’s Church almost every day of the week.

10:12am: With my initial set of local notes filed, I reach for the dogs’ leads, stick three ‘doggie bags’ in my pocket and bring them out for their first walk of the day, taking in a return trip between home and the Ballygunner postbox. I stroll past the old and new cemeteries which surrounds St Mary’s Church and notice that one of its side doors is open – presumably someone is cleaning the church. In any other circumstance, an open door to a church is one I’d avail of. Every now and then, I sit for a few minutes in buildings which typically elicit silence from its occasional occupants, including a church. Away from screens, away from conversation, away from the noise of daily life, I’ve always valued that time. These walks I’ve been on of late have become my quiet time. While my job generally makes me quite the social animal and that’s a role I’ve come to embrace, I’ve never had too much difficulty with solitude – an altogether different sensation to loneliness, which I experienced for a time several years ago. Loneliness is incredibly difficult. Solitude isn’t. I write – a solitary activity, I run – a solitary activity, I sing – that too, regularly can be solitary, at least in its application. Right now, and for quite some time, I’ve enjoyed a decent balance between the joy of solitude and the warmth of good company. I don’t intend to lose sight of either.

10:57am: I sit on my Granny’s chair upstairs for a pre-recorded interview with WLR’s Maria McCann, where I talk about what I’ve learned about myself and life in general during this public health emergency. It’s completely fine and I don’t say anything I feel I shouldn’t say but I’m not entirely happy with it either. A few minutes after we say our goodbyes, I message Maria and ask can I take her up on her earlier offer of talking about it live tomorrow, which she agrees to. Maria has a great sense of fun and I always enjoy talking to her.

12:48pm: A phone conversation full of laughter and good humour completely takes the notion of work for the rest of the day out of my head. It was akin to the chat you’d have on the last day of school such was its breeziness. It gets me thinking of all the Sixth Class kids around the country who have been denied that excited rush of pre-summer holiday conversation due to Covid-19. Speaking of education, the confusion over the Leaving Certificate is set to be resolved in some way shape or form today. The whole system requires restructuring and has done for years. Piling a series of exams into an eight to 12-day window in June makes no sense. It applies a level of pressure on candidates that few final year exams at third level will ever replicate. There’ll, no doubt, be all manner of outrage heaped on the Government by many of the Twittering classes. Most of these ‘experts’ have never corrected an exam paper, let alone attempted to humour 26 adolescents of varied abilities and temperaments for eight months. Frankly, the ‘bad teacher’ narrative has always troubled me, because it’s about as representative of the profession as ‘bad students’ are of their own national complement. I can only presume some of these uber critics of, well, pretty much everything, hear the word ‘nuance’ and suspect that someone is referring to a village on the Normandy coast.

2:06pm: I sort out some additional local notes for next week’s print edition and file them into the network basket the news team can access from the comfort of our respective kitchen tables. Today has not been quite as productive as I thought it would be, but in saying that, I still know I’ll have filed at least 2,000 words between now and day’s end. By Monday or Tuesday of next week, I’ll have written between 100,000 and 110,000 words for the paper in the presence of our two dogs, a quietly playing radio on the cabinet to my right and, 15 feet away, a garden now devoid of tulips. I’ve maintained a decent level of work over the past seven weeks and, on the whole, my daily output has definitely increased. I’ve started my own blog too in the midst of all this, even if I’m not quite as active on it right now as I was initially. But I’m not going to be hard on myself over this either. Journalism isn’t a robotic process.

It’s time to send off some good old fashioned ‘snail mail’.

4:45pm: It’s a glorious afternoon and I bring Zippy along for my walk to the Viewmount post box, where I have two items to drop off. I’d written my 19th handwritten letter of this pandemic window earlier today and that writing time is easily the most enjoyable scripting element of my week now. I’m sending a letter one every two or three days and I generally write it just after my lunch. Having it written and then ready to go by 2pm gives me an excuse to go walking prior to the 4:45 collection at Viewmount. This essentially wraps up the regular part of my day’s reporting/editing/website story scheduling duties and bring me into the evening and thought of dinner, television, reading and further exercise. I’m not finding the time hard to put down. I’ve never entertained the concept of boredom but I have got a great deal better of accepting the need to just stop, sit and breathe.

A sun-kissed Viewmount on Friday, May 8, 2020.

My Fridays still feel like Fridays, so clearly the level of structure I’m applying to daily life is having the desired effect. I miss my family interactions enormously; I miss the chat with herself’s parents in their lovely home and of course I miss the laughter and occasional devilment that’s had in the office. I long to sit in The Book Centre, the Parlour Vintage Tea Rooms, The Granary and Number 9 again and leaf through a chapter of a book while having a cuppa or something sweet. A pint in Tom Maher’s, Tully’s or Geoff’s right now would be heaven. But, all in all, I’m managing all of this pretty well. All I need to do is look at the Dunmore Wing, as I did while out with Zippy, and remember that no-one I love or know well is in there to remind me that things could be so, so much worse.

A Regional Assembly report on the economic disruption caused by Covid-19 made for insightful albeit worrying reading today.

6:28pm: I file a story based on an interesting albeit slightly disconcerting report which our three Regional Assemblies have compiled as an attempt to assess the post-Covid-19 economic landscape in our cities, towns and the tens of thousands of commercial units throughout the State. The report suggests that while Waterford will be the fourth least impacted county in terms of significant economic disruption, our city and its suburbs will be second worst affected urban settlement in the State using the same parameters. According to economist John Daly: “Ultimately, solutions-based on an evidence-based approach – are needed now more than ever and it is imperative that there is greater awareness of the potential economic exposure of our regions, counties and towns.” There is no editorialising in this report, and Daly’s foreword is admirably devoid of conjecture and hyperbole. It’s as cold and statistically based as a report like this has to be. I’m glad it took me longer than I’d anticipated to read through this report today. Once I’ve ticked that box, I write and then I file.

7:06pm: I depart Ardkeen Stores – a haven of calm on this sun-kissed evening – having bought a few essentials. This feels like a good time to visit a shop and I suspect it’s a time each Friday in which I might work in one of my shop visits. The newspaper shelves are relatively spartan. This pleases me. People are clearly buying newspapers. We’re all at home more, we all have more time at the moment to read and my own eyes tell me that shop goers, at the very least, need something other than unresearched, uncorroborated online guff to scan their eyes over. People like that are keeping me in a job. I’m very grateful to them – but nor can I ignore the fact that most of our newspaper’s output is now being read online. Right now, what we produce has probably never been so heavily read. We’ve essentially become a daily paper during these unusual times and I feel we’ve risen well to this particular challenge.

8:08pm-10:21pm: Perhaps it’s indicative of this particular working day but I take a little longer than usual to file yesterday’s diary entry. This feels like the day I need to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the preparation of this ongoing pandemic-connected journal. It ought to be part of my regular working day as opposed to a self-inflicted extension of it. I vow to get up early tomorrow and get this particular entry filed good and early – ideally before 10am. The deeper I get into this window in time, the more I’m learning about myself and my approach to life and work. Why do we talk about ‘work/life balance’? Surely we now need to start talking about ‘life/work balance’?

The ‘Flower Moon’ pictured from the Williamstown Road.

11:47pm: We bring Buddy and Zippy out for their final walk of the day. Buddy takes his customary umbrage with the internal combustion engine, leaping towards each passing vehicle while Zippy is so relaxed I can’t help wondering is there some Californian DNA in his composition. Incidentally, the ‘Flour Moon’ makes for a magnificent sight, looming over the Williamstown Road. Someone with a really good camera is having one hell of a night looking at this heavenly wonder. We meet only one other pedestrian during our walk. Another week has drawn to a close. For my good health and the company I keep, I feel enormously grateful.

The whitewashed gate at Williamstown: a delightful daily sight and one I suspect I’ll never tire of sharing in this diary.

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