Terry Prone: Even a phone call from the past isn't the oddest thing this week

29th Mar 2021
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Originally published in The Irish Examiner

Day 171

I think I have a flea. I know. I know. It’s mortifying. Shameful. Disgraceful. I would find it easier to confess to alcoholism, kleptomania or doing PR for Piers Morgan. I grew up knowing that developing a flea was actually worse than contracting an STD, because at least an STD starts with some good times, but nobody has ever had good times with a flea.

If my mother were alive right now, to mangle a metaphor, she would turn in her grave. First turn for the flea. Second turn for me confessing to the flea in a national newspaper. Common Decency should prevent me shaming all belonging to me, she would say. My mother believed that political parties come and go and religions likewise, but that Common Decency is an eternal verity, and for the most part, she’s not wrong.

Along with his full-time job as a consultant oncologist in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, Austin Duffy has written the gorgeous ‘Ten Days’.

I did think about claiming that I had hives, but who gets hives in winter? Anyway, hives don’t happen only on legs, arms and the back of your neck. I also tried to convince myself that it might have been ordinary respectable insects attracted to me when I went to throw coffee grounds in the flowerbeds, but that would have required SAS swat team coordination on the part of the garden bugs, because coffee-ground-tossing takes no more than about 30 seconds and anyway, I would have noticed the concerted assault.

No, time to bite the bullet and face the truth: Nothing other than a flea explains the swollen lesions, one of which, on my jawline, gives me the look of Desperate Dan in the Beano comic, only one-sided.

Of course it’s Intruder Cat. Neither of my cats is much for a social life, but I assume when they have territorial fights with that wall-eyed wonder, a flea saw its opportunity and changed political party. I am washing me and everything else, searching, scratching, and annoying the cats trying to get flea-killer powder onto them.

Day 172

Book of the Week: Ten Days by Austin Duffy, published by Granta. About a quarter of the way into this interesting novel, largely set in Manhattan, you go back a few pages and wonder at an entire paragraph being repeated and sympathise with the line editor who missed it. Then it happens again. It’s at that point you cop on. This is no accident.

This is the finest portrayal ever of what it’s like to develop early Alzheimer’s. It stops your breath, it’s so good.

The book is about fathers and daughters, about Judaism, about infidelity, and the kindness of strangers. Gorgeous. Apparently, the author is an oncologist and rumour hath it he lives in Howth.

Day 173

Turning over the most recent New Yorker, I am startled to find, in a full-page advertisement on the back cover, a defunct Irish telephone box. Beautiful model. Beautiful handbag. And “Telefón”. It makes no sense, but gives me a brief bizarre patriotic jolt. Land of saints, scholars, and telephone boxes.

Day 174

One of the great things about the pandemic is that it has led people to ask questions of older people. Like today, when former education minister (and other things) Gemma Hussey, who’s just been vaccinated, is asked what kind of pandemic she’s having. Lousy would seem to be the truth of it, at first glance. Her lovely husband Derry died just before the end of the year. She’s on her own.

Then ministers Gemma Hussey with Michael Noonan (left), Alan Dukes, and Liam Kavanagh at Áras an Uachtaráin after a reshuffle of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government in 1986. Picture: Eamonn Farrell

How’s she handling the pandemic? Not by complaining about her lot, but by writing a book. She’s not the only one. Another friend has embarked on a novel, attacking it the way she attacks any project — setting out the wordcount to be achieved before the publisher’s deadline.

Some people are going to look back on this year, or year and a half, as the best time in their lives. The time when they learned and loved their toddlers to an unexpected degree. The time when they wrote, or painted, or crafted, something to be proud of.

The time when they looked at their life with the clarity that comes from a reduction in distractions, and quietly chose to abandon a marriage, a business, or a career and take a different route.

Day 175

Much shock that The Telegraph is looking at paying its writers according to how popular their output is. The shock runs along the lines that this is a filthy concept designed to drive us all into writing about reality TV stars.

Given the Telegraph’s market niche, this doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, the truth (which doesn’t need to be shared with the editor of the Irish Examiner) was nailed by novelist John D MacDonald when he marvelled at being paid for writing, and confessed that he loved it so much, he’d do it for free.

Day 176

You know the way kids drive their parents around the twist on car journeys by asking “Are we there yet?” I have a shameful desire to ask the equivalent question — only about the Covid vaccine – of my GP clinic: “You won’t forget me, will you?” But I am abiding by the rules they keep belting out on the radio: don’t ring them, they’ll ring you. Reminds me of theatrical auditions, back in the day. Not a good memory: they never rang me then and they might not ring me now, either.

I console myself by deciding I need the flea damage to die down before I present either arm to a vaccinator. And then — courtesy of the Daily Mail — comes the scoop about the CEO of the Beacon Hospital doing a little bit of a favour for the posh school by dishing out some leftover vaccines to 20 teachers.

The consequent rage is impressive and it’s fair to predict that vaccinated teachers from that school are going to stay amazingly silent about getting lucky.

Day 177

Having made the resolution that I must reduce my dependence on my company’s financial controller, I airily tell her that I will take care of money transactions from now on. No bother. Starting with taking money from my current account and putting it into my credit card account. It is a matter of just a few clicks and I am ridiculously pleased with myself as I log out.

Today, two days later, I find the worst has happened. The money has left my current account. The money has not reached the credit card account. I am terrified. Terrified, first of all, that me and my flea are not only insolvent, but that this is somehow the beginning of a personal financial mudslide.

Terrified, also, of having to ring Bank of Ireland’s helpline, where they will ask me to prove I am me by telling them secret clues I gave them years ago and have now completely forgotten. My situation does not compare, on the misery scale, with that of the Beacon CEO, but a great week this isn’t.