Terry Prone: Nphet's problem? Too much communication is happening

23rd Mar 2021
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Originally published in the Irish Examiner

Day 164

When are you grateful your floor is tiled? When your cat, overnight, leaves a gift for you on said tiles. I feel slightly wicked putting the dead mouse into the brown bin. He/she/it looks kind of sad in among the rotting vegetables, but will, in due course, make a major contribution to the compost under someone’s home-grown strawberries.

Day 165

A phone call arrives, related to an earlier invitation to tender for a gig. Normally, you find tenders on the website of the company involved. They don’t usually follow you home to your inbox. So when this one arrived, I halted and discovered it wasn’t addressed to my company, just to me, inviting me to pitch to be the life coach of a named individual. I vaguely remember having had some encounter with said individual in the past, but delete and forget the email.

Today, I answer an unidentified phone caller. It is the emailer, who cuts right to the chase. “You never answered my call to tender,” she accuses.

“You’re right,” I reply.

“Why not?”

“Didn’t want the job.”


“Well, YOU must be doing very well.” (This said in the sneering tone of one who had hoped to see me begging in the street.)

I don’t figure she needs to know how well or badly I’m doing, so I say nothing.

“I’m still surprised you wouldn’t respond to a former client,” she huffs.

“It was your company rather than you, who was the client, if I remember rightly.”

“Well, I’m not with them any more. They didn’t get me.”


“They didn’t get how good I was, because I wasn’t assertive at the time.”

(Coulda fooled me, but I figure the saying-nothing approach is worth another go.)

“I was a people-pleaser.” (Not so much that I remember, I think, as my memory of the caller firms up.) “But then I got a life coach and she trained me away from all that crap.”

I consider this for a moment and ask her what happened that life coach, if the woman on the phone is now looking for another.

“I fired her,” is the answer. “She was no good.”

Day 166

When a friend sends me a copy of Megan Nolan’s novel, Acts of Desperation, I have my doubts. Some of the extensive advance publicity suggests this is another of a current rash of female first novels characterised by a central character amazingly similar to the author of this supposed “fiction”, nakedly recounting her struggles with abusive boyfriends/alcoholism/drug addiction/eating disorders and her rescue by therapy/baking cakes/a caring but tough female friend. Not knocking those books. Just had an elegant sufficiency of them.

At first glance, Nolan’s is the quintessential example of this genre. Until it isn’t. Until you realise it is unique.

The writer is always sawing off the branch she’s sitting on while analysing the illogic of her own actions. She doesn’t seek to be relatable, but neither does she seek to attract by oversharing. Which is not to say she doesn’t overshare — she does. It’s just that the oversharing is mostly for her own benefit, something observed by her while she observes herself and judges how performative is her reaction.

Complicated? Oh yes. Centred on dislikeable people? Yes. Infinitely sad? Ditto. Leaves a coppery taste in the mouth? Certainly. But every second page has a sentence to be whispered aloud. Like when she writes of “The unbeatable feeling of being young and alone and on your way to the next thing…”

Day 167

Christmas Pudding with brandy cream for breakfast. The pudding, which came in a Yuletide hamper, is nudging its best-by date. And it’s St Patrick’s Day. Have to console myself over the lack of brass band music. Hey, I wonder if members of the Garda Band, which we adore and who always starred on Patrick’s day, had to lay down their tubas during the pandemic and go do traffic stops instead? What a comedown, if so. A high-viz vest and a notebook can’t compete with a big bass drum or a trombone.

Day 168

Dr Ronan Glynn is getting thumped for asking us to do a little more, and ends up being apologetic in the face of trolling for what’s described as a communication error. It’s actually the inevitable outcome of a much bigger communications error: The unexamined daily briefings, added to by public appearances by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, plus the health minister, HSE, et al. For the first time in history, too much communication is happening. It has always been assumed that you couldn’t overcommunicate with people. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s how what has happened has inadvertently broken the laws of good communication. First, a daily appointment in Sammara was created in the nightly Nphet briefings, which forced the two national broadcasters into obedient presence and promulgation. For several months, that was riveting and highly educational. But over time, the story became repetitive, the lack of pictures forced the nation into gazing at Covid yellow notice boards, and the Nphet guys became more famous than the famous themselves.

At that point, the political syndrome came into play. Nphet began to be seen as the real government, and a cohort within the public started to hate them accordingly, demanding that the Cabinet “stand up” to them.

At the same time, the Government, to prove they really are the Government, and also in the hope of retrieving and repeating Leo’s moment on St Patrick’s day last year, started competing with each other and Nphet for coverage.

Meanwhile, instead of saying “Here’s the data, Government will tell you what they’re going to do with it”, Nphet moved from pure information-delivery (which is safe) into motivational be-good-now health promotion, (demonstrably unsafe for Nphet) which led to the Glynn thumping and his baffled comment that all of us have only one enemy: The virus.

People citing Churchill’s constant communication with the public during the Second World War tend to ignore what happened immediately after peace broke out. The British public turfed him in an election.

Day 169

I’ve taken to asking colleagues, customers, and friends what they are most looking forward to post-pandemic, and have been struck by the gender breakdown.

The majority of the guys want to go play golf or visit the gym. Women, on the other hand, mention buying underwear. Yes, underwear.

“I want to physically touch the lace and try on posh bras,” one woman told me. “A year in increasingly tatty fitness bras is too much.”

Day 170

My sister and her husband get their first vaccination. I am thrilled for them, but because I have been reached just enough by the AstraZeneca negativity, a few hours later, I begin to worry a bit and lift the phone to text her a question about them experiencing any possible side effects.

At which point, up pops a text from her.

“Ireland beat England!”

In good enough shape to watch rugby, then…