Monday, May 11, 2020

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

Sunday, May 10, 8:17am: I’m sat in bed reading my Sunday Independent e-paper, flick beyond the Johnny Ronan apologia interview and arrive on page 22 where Paddy Agnew is writing about the lifting of the Covid-19 lockdown in Italy. Agnew, whose byline I first read in ‘World Soccer’ magazine almost 30 years ago, reflects on buying an ice cream at a bar in Trevignano, 50 kilometres north of Rome on Monday last. “So we gleefully took our ‘coppe’ over to the lawned area in the centre of the piazza and sat down on a bench. At that point, one of our local policemen came over. Oh no, I thought, he is going to move us on. Well, no, in fact. He had about where certain parties had parked their car and wanted it removed. But finish your ice cream first, folks, he added genially.”

Paddy Agnew (via Twitter), whose byline I’ve been conscious of since the age of 11, enjoying the great Italian outdoors once more.

Agnew adds: “As we sat there, another familiar face walked past. With a big grin, he greeted us warmly, saying: ‘Look at us, it is as if we have all just been let out of prison…it’s great.’” Agnew, a decades-old link to when I first became curious about pursuing a career in journalism, has been a trusted observer of Italy and the Vatican for as long as I can recall. Long may he reign. And Forza Italia!

Piers Morgan has gone some way to rehabilitating his journalistic reputation over the past two months.

9:36am: With breakfast eaten and the first cuppa of the day downed, I turn to my Sunday Times and read a lengthy interview with an unlikely British media hero of recent weeks, Piers Morgan. In the wake of his excessive criticism of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a point he concedes to interviewer Decca Aikenhead, Morgan “has emerged as something approaching a national hero in his efforts to speak truth to obfuscating power” during the pandemic.

“Let’s put all the stupidity and the nonsense and the silliness and the point-scoring and the culture wars behind us,” he tells Aikenhead. “All that stuff has to be changed. We have to put all our concerted energy into being different people coming out of this. Better people. Because this whole crisis, I think, has been a recalibration for everybody, about everything. And to me, if it doesn’t make everybody recalibrate in some way, there’s something intrinsically wrong with you.”

Challenging journalists to not shy from asking tough, necessary questions, Morgan says: “I think any journalist who thinks that they have to be measured and polite and wait until this is all over, they’re not proper journalists. I would argue the journalists who don’t accept bullshit, who do interrupt, who do get proper answers, they’re the ones who are doing proper journalism. The ones who sit back and let people just spout complete bollocks, they’re not.” Morgan’s Damascene conversion of recent months is a development few, perhaps even Morgan himself, could have foreseen.

Another fine morning for a physically distant walk.

11:27am: I bring Buddy and Zippy back out onto the rural loop that takes us in and out of Bishopsfield via McGinn Park and Havenwood. There aren’t too many people out as we stroll along, with a neighbour offering a friendly ‘hello’ as she ran in the opposite direction. It really feels like a Sunday morning.

1:28pm: Social media alerts bring me to Róisín Ingle’s interview with Johnny Logan in the Weekend Irish Times Magazine and my goodness it doesn’t disappoint. “What would Dickie Rock know about being a musician?” the three-time Eurovision winner questions. “Dickie’s idea of an international tour was to have a gig in England. He bought a pub in Spain so he could gig there. That’s the reality of it. We know Dickie in Ireland but go out of here and say ‘Dickie Rock’ and people will think you are talking about some kind of stone you’d find in a museum.”

Logan continues: “I love Dickie but he’s a legend in his own head…he lives in a fantasy world. You know, I’ve sang for Pope John Paul, for the Queen of England, for Prince Charles, for Lady Diana – when she was alive – for the government of Ireland, for every head of state in Europe…I toured with the Royal Symphony Orchestra. I’ve done the London Palladium, about 20 times, Top of the Pops about 14 times. Get Dickie to match one of those, you know? I’m still touring. And I’m busier than ever.” Forget ‘Normal People’. You know the ‘Liveline’ switchboard will be like a Christmas tree on Monday about the previously publicly undeclared Logan/Rock schism.

Zoom has become an interviewing and socialising tool in recent weeks.

2pm-2:20pm: I enjoy a ‘Zoom’ interview with Cathy McEvoy and Hannah Moran Jackson about the protective headbands they’ve been producing for the past three weeks for frontline health workers. Before the night is out, their production tally will have come to a remarkable 1,100 and, as both tell me, they’ll keep making them a long as the demand remains. “It’s been insane in the best possible sense,” says Cathy in what represents my first foray into a mash-up of fashion/public health journalism. Both Cathy and Hannah are a pleasure to talk to and they’re to be commended for putting their respective shoulders to the wheel.

4:17pm: Being Sunday, I’m paying a bit more attention to the newspapers than I do during the working week and another ‘Sindo’ piece on Covid-19 headlined: ‘Nobel scientist predicts virus will ‘burn out’ in next week’ is naturally eye-catching. Professor Michael Levitt of Stanford University told Niamh Horan “that Ireland’s infection is burning itself out and will ‘taper off’ at around 30,000 cases and fewer than 2,400 deaths. Ireland now has 22,385 cases and 1,403 deaths. He says the death rate is more difficult to predict, due to a number of factors, such as some countries counting coronavirus deaths in those who would have normally died from underlying health conditions.” Prof Levitt contends: “I did this calculation 12 times with different parameters and the number of cases look like they will rise about 30,000 and then it will taper out because the virus doesn’t grow exponentially from day one, again and again, it will burn itself out. In all European countries, it seems the numbers of deaths from Covid-19 amount to the equivalent of a month of natural deaths for that country. So there is a pattern here.”

Boris Johnson gave another blustering TV address which only served to further confuse many viewers on both sides of the Irish Sea.

7:37pm: In a pre-recorded television address, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a customarily confusing and desperately worrying message on the pandemic, primarily within England. He says the adoption of social distancing measures “has prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst-case scenario was half a million fatalities”. Sorry, Mr Johnson, but the UK is well and truly in catastrophic territory already and there’s no dressing that up.

In what history will surely rank as one of the most baffling addresses ever delivered by a British Premier, Mr Johnson states: “We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must. We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work. And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.” So how do you get to work if you’ve no private transport on the basis of the above? Oh, you can walk or cycle – which doesn’t amount to much if you’re living one side of London and work on the other.

And on ‘Bojo’ lamentably went from there, with the devolved leaders in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales largely ignoring what he said and effectively relegating Johnson to English Prime Minister. New British Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks for those with brain matter when stating the address raised “lots of questions but contains precious few answers”. The buffoonery made Boris Johnson a media star. That same buffoonery may cost many more lives in addition to the 30,000 to 50,000 Covid-19 fatalities already recorded (though not adequately) in our neighbouring country. It will be a blessed relief when political idiocy is no longer championed.

10:05pm: On what ought to have been the day Waterford welcomed All-Ireland senior hurling champions Tipperary to Walsh Park, GAA President John Horan is on ‘The Sunday Game’ talking about how much of the inter-county season could be potentially salvaged.

“I can’t see it happening to be quite honest,” he says. “If social distancing is a priority to deal with this pandemic, I don’t know how we can play a contact sport. That is what Gaelic games is. It is a contact sport. When you look at the level of contact in sports, scrums in rugby are probably at a different level. But I don’t think to say our games are non-contact is correct, no.”

GAA President John Horan. Photo: The Irish Times

Horan states: “The key thing is contact sport. Our concern has to be the players on the pitch and their families and work colleagues. They are all amateurs and it is a hobby to them. I know they take it very seriously at inter-county level and they have a very serious approach to it.

“But we can’t risk anybody’s health. When this is all over and we are all back to normal life, I would hate to think as an organisation that we would have made a decision that cost any family a member of their family. We are holding those July and October dates out but if we can’t realise those dates, then we will have to make more serious decisions and push it out more. If we push it out more it may mean we’ll have to call off club or inter-county championships and maybe then we’ll have to call off both.” My gut feeling? Tipperary and Dublin will still be defending their 2019 senior men’s titles into the Spring of 2021.

11:24-11:43pm: After an enjoyable social evening on Zoom – it’s better than nothing right now – we get our canine duo out for their final walk of the day. I don’t check my devices when we get back in. It’s time to switch off before another working week kicks off.

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