Saturday, May 16, 2020

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

Friday, May 15, 9:57am: I’ve got Zippy and Buddy out for another 5k walk in glorious sunshine and a man walking in the opposite direction offers a ‘hello’, adding: “I’m really enjoying the blog.” It’s not even 10 o’clock and that’s made my day for me! I’ve got some early note editing out of the way good and early and look forward to settling into some work when I get back to the kitchen/work station. I have to get copy filed for Tuesday’s print edition and schedule some copy for the website too. God bless the work and what not.

11:39am: Miriam Lord doesn’t spare the rod on Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath in her latest Irish Times Dáil sketch, whom she wryly labels “a firebrand”. Lord writes of McGrath: “He thinks Covid-19 could be a conspiracy, ‘a great con job’ on the people. He went off like a rocket, lashing out at the Government for making such a mess of handling the crisis, particularly in relation to nursing homes, healthcare workers and personal protective equipment (PPE). ‘These people don’t matter,’ he roared at the Taoiseach, ‘but we see what your value of life was when you introduced abortion here.’ Leo shook his head. ‘There are a lot of questions here. I am beginning to question – is it a great con?’ Unlike AK47 (Labour leader Alan Kelly), Deputy McGrath blew his top completely. Covid-19 – a great con? Perpetrated by the liberals? Seriously Mattie. Where is this bilge coming from?”

2pm-2:18pm: I enjoy a lively chat with Jim ‘Flash’ Gordon for our ‘Pride of the Deise’ feature and our conversation veers off in a direction I’d not anticipated before picking up the phone. It’s what ought to happen during every interview. I’ve had a few of them this week and it’s made working on the subsequent pieces imminently more enjoyable.

The Sarah M livestock ship, moored off Dunmore East.

3:12pm-3:47pm: I take the short drive from Williamstown to Dunmore East to see the anchored Sarah M livestock ship, whose local presence I was alerted to while reading this week’s Irish Farmers Journal. I park above the harbour and make for the new footpath which officially kicks off the cliff walk nowadays. I scale the steps and reach the ‘summit’ at the Shanoon Car Park, where only one car is parked so that I can get a better look at the vessel moored between here and the Hook Head Lighthouse. The light breeze makes it as benign as this portion of Déise coastline is ever to likely to be, with the din of kittiwakes and gulls providing their regular soundtrack to this lovely part of the world. I am genuinely uplifted to walk along the mossy blanket above the rocks in a way I hadn’t anticipated when I got into the car to see the moored vessel.

Gulls circulating at Dunmore.

Before returning to my car, the words inscribed on a memorial stone seat above the footpath sing to me: “To live in hearts we leave behind us is not to die.” That message, etched in honour of the late Noel Allen, is the most beautiful text I shall read between now and bedtime. It might be the most wonderful thing I’ve read since our reality was suspended.

4:28pm: An Irish Independent story into the pandemic-impacted nature of work is worth reading, even if its findings do not entirely surprise me. “Trinity researchers also found a major shift in attitude towards working from home in the space of a year,” notes Eavan Murray. “In 2019, just 25pc of 500 surveyed said they would favour working from home up to two days a week – now that figure has jumped to 80pc.” The survey research team, which is led by Professor Brian Caulfield of Trinity’s School of Engineering, first surveyed the group of 500 last year and repeated the feat over the past month.

“One of the positive findings is the potential shift towards working from home, which is shown towards working from home, which is shown to provide both personal benefits related to travel time saved, but also emissions reductions contributing to our climate change targets,” said Prof Caulfield. Speaking for myself, I’d happily drop in and out of the office in due course while cracking on with my reporting and editing duties primarily from home. I’ve put in 21 years working five days a week in a few different offices. That working culture now feels like a hamster wheel I’m no longer altogether keen on clambering back onto.

Compiling this diary has given me a chance to enjoy some lesser journeyed roads in my locality.

5:38pm: I’ll be compiling this online diary in its current format until Monday and then presenting a weekly round-up of my mental and physical ramblings in print and online over however many weeks of semi-quarantine still lie ahead. This means I’ll have catalogued every day from Monday, March 23 to Monday, May 18. I’ve not noticed any other journalist in the country doing what I’ve done so I take a small bit of pride in that status. Running, Star Trek, misplaced ironing boards, tulips, whitewashed walls, James Bond, foxes, herself, the dogs and cats and so much more have been included in a time capsule which will have some value – at least to me – in the many years that hopefully lie ahead for all of us.

6:04pm: Another story in the Irish Farmers Journal catches my eye. “A suspected case of BSE is being investigated by the Department of Agriculture in a dead cow taken in by a fallen animal collector in Co Tipperary.” Caitríona Morrissey’s report says the Department of Agriculture “is awaiting test results to confirm whether it is a case of atypical BSE or classical BSE. However, the finding will not result in change to Ireland’s OIE status with the World Organisation for Animal Health or the country’s controlled risk status for BSE. Neither finding would pose a risk to public health.”

The ‘IFJ’ also reports about an ongoing investigation “after 23 common buzzards were found dead in west Cork.” Amy Forde writes that testing of the remains “confirmed that the cause of death was the banned insecticide Carbofuran,” which has been banned in Irish farming since June 2009. Interestingly, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson (via the National Parks and Wildlife Service) said the deaths were unlikely to be “related to any agricultural practices in the area or the landowner”. The buzzard has made for a magnificent addition to rural Waterford. Why anyone, anywhere, would in any way wish to bring harm upon these majestic creatures is as bewildering to me as it is infuriating.

A lesser snapped angle of Dunmore Harbour.

8:22pm-10:55pm: Two duties annex a chunk of my Friday night: compiling yesterday’s diary entry and piecing together, as best I can, the story of the still empty Sarah M livestock ship in the Waterford Estuary. Journalism is an odd profession. It pays only a small minority of its practitioners brilliantly yet it probably commands far too many of its practitioners’ non-working hours – regardless of pay grade – away from a computer, phone or notepad. It may take an hour or more to present a 400-word news story in a largely legible format. Some stories, sometimes for no logical reason, take longer to come together than others. A thousand words regularly feels like a pitifully shallow basket that fills far too quickly.

Said Oscar Wilde: “The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.” In ‘Generation Goldfish’, where lining up 30 successive paragraphs online and presenting it in a semi-coherent format is apparently beyond the reach of some readers. More’s the pity. Finding that magic web reading formula appears beyond my intellectual powers. Maybe I’ll find gold one day. Best keep prospecting then.

On the home stretch of another late night run.

11:52pm: I take in another anti-social run on my regular loop, running 5.09km (3.16 miles) in 29 minutes, 43 seconds, running down Ballygunner Hill and up Viewmount on my way round. It might be the first night during this pandemic in which I’ve paid very little attention to the numbers of others out at this hour: I passed a group of three on the Williamstown Road but I didn’t really pay attention to anyone else thereafter. Was I that lost in my run? Had I endured a lack of oxygen to the brain while I strode along the largely empty roads? No and no again.

Maybe I’ve just loosened out a little. Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday night and I’ve put in a relatively competent week’s work again, thus rendering me capable of disengaging from this still scarcely believable reality. I’m not wholly sure why and as I complete my interval running as home approaches, I opt not to give it much more though beyond what I’ll write about it the following day. Running is enjoyable again and this delights me. By the way, my Fitbit Cardio Fitness rating now stands at 49, just 0.4 of a point away from putting me into the ‘Excellent’ territory for men aged between 40 and 49. This data-led development represents another piece of good news at the end of another week out of the ordinary.

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