Thursday, May 19, 2011

Garret Fitzgerald RIP

The one and only time I ever drank a cup of tea was in the company of Garret Fitzgerald.

I was sat in his house, in the room reserved for his thinking and writing time. It was the most chaotic space imaginable, filled with books and papers, plants which appeared to be growing out of the walls and out of nowhere at all.

It reminded me instantly of the film, Jumanji.

I think it must be what the inside of his head looked like too, an expanse of clutter that looked too busy for potential, but out which there came brilliance in various forms.

He had agreed to help me out with my thesis, and he patiently answered all of my questions, which I’m sure were predictable and inane. He spoke about his wife giving him a haircut before his first day in the Dail, and how he didn't like it when they called him "scruffy". Bertie was scruffy, he said, I was just untidy.

I sipped at the tea, and he continued on. Raced on, in fact, but that was his way, hurrying through each sentence as though his words were chasing each other.

Years later, we met again. We were both guests on Tonight with Vincent Browne, back when VB was still on Radio 1 late at night. I spoke about the subject that I knew well, and then I shut up. A verbal paralysis overcame me. As if there was anything I could add to a general discussion about the world that would be equal to a contribution from Dr Fitzgerald.

The second last time I saw him was at a debate in UCD. He was there with Jeffrey Donaldson, discussing the history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

I remember our rather youthful lecturer, from Northern Ireland, being shocked at the rapturous reception Garret received from the congregation of students. The lecturer pointed out that none of us were actually old enough to remember Garret as Taoiseach.

That was true, but I have often been told that when I was a baby I used to cry when Charlie Haughey came on the television. Garret the Good had the opposite effect.

I saw him last on March 9th, on the day when Enda Kenny was installed as Taoiseach and Fine Gael entered Dail Eireann with their massive majority. Garret was making his way around Leinster House, walking gingerly with the aid of a stick, chatting to everyone, but mostly just observing, and smiling.

Nobody would begrudge him the smug look he wore that day. I caught his eye on the grand staircase, and there was the peculiar glint of the political animal. For all the cynicism that must grow through a lifetime in politics, there is still a wonder about the world that keeps the politician young and in some degree of awe at the theatre, the power, the history of it all.

Today, Garret is the talk of the town, upstaging the queen. His last great gift to Anglo-Irish relations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Calvinists Rocked in '96

School meant nothing to me in the September days of the year 1996. In a disconcerting reaction to the events of the summer holidays, I was reluctant to return to the classroom.

That had never happened before. The weeks before classes recommenced were generally all about picking pretty pens and notebooks and looking through the new books, in unashamed, nerdish anticipation.

The apathy of that term was lifted only with one particular history class that brought me back to my learning. In studying the Reformation, we were introduced to the Calvinists, and I liked the cut of their jib.

Specifically, I liked the idea of Pre-Destination, which lay at the heart of their doctrine - the idea that before each human is born, their life is laid out, their course is already set, and the day of their death has already been programmed by god.

This brought me great comfort, because all at once the events of the August 8th just past made some sense to me. It was reassuring to think my Dad had died on a day that had been determined long ago, that he was taken because that was simply the plan.

I think about Pre-Destination a lot nowadays, and how it fits with my own circumstances. That was a revelation, the day it dawned on me that without the intervention of modern medicine, I would have died at some point in Summer/Autumn 2008.

Was that my time to go?

Maybe it was. I have always joked that I peaked too soon in life. I experienced and lived with loss as a teenager, I knew certain grown-up responsibilities and worries at a young age, I had success earlier than others.

Let’s say, (for the sake of my 96th blog post, bearing in mind that my material is becoming increasingly scant), that I was meant to die in August 2008. By that point, I had written and published a book; I had worked as a journalist with some degree of success; fallen in love; fallen out of love; lived for a time in America; seen sunsets and danced ‘til dawn; gotten drunk; tried smoking; tried some drugs; I had mourned and had known days of celebration; I had worn a cap and gown; had paid taxes and passed my driving test; I had walked the sand of several beaches on the shores of the Atlantic, the Adriatic and the Pacific; I had appeared on television and radio; had learned enough to know enough.

A life lived, really.

Then there is the reality of the last three or so years, and the person I have been in that time. I have felt lost. I have behaved badly, lost interest in most areas of life, lost ambition to pursue any kind of career, and have been unrecognisable at times, even to myself. I have definitely become harder, less kind, less sure of what is right and wrong, with less regard for the rules I have followed since I was young.

You might say all of this was a reaction to being diagnosed. But what if it wasn’t? What if all of this is because I’m not supposed to even be here at this stage?

Perhaps I am lost, simply because there was no path charted for me past some unknown date in 2008.

Perhaps I have outstayed my welcome in this world, and just like the house guest that doesn’t know when to go home, the conversation has lulled, things are strained, and the atmosphere is increasingly tense.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My left hand

I always fear a progression of my illness. I await it, in fact. You may call me a pessimist, but it’s just been that class of a life thus far.

I am conscious of the fact that I have escaped fairly lightly in dialysis terms. I have had no real, or at least no prolonged loss of appetite, so I don’t bear the...defined bone structure...that marks some of my fellow D patients. I have not had to spend any time in hospital, have managed to keep myself infection-free, and have had no difficulties with the tube inside my tummy.

It’s all going swimmingly, so I am prepared for the inevitable tragic twist that will no doubt hurtle in my direction one fine day soon.

I thought that day had arrived this week, when some odd looking blisters appeared on my left hand. To my increasingly forgetful mind, it seemed these blisters came from nowhere. They began as an itchy patch on the index finger, and painfully bubbled their way above the skin.

Aside from enjoying showing them off, in the same way I spent most of my childhood flaunting cuts and scrapes and scabs, I did genuinely worry that my condition had moved up a gear.

I visualised a gradual spread of Wicked Witch of the West type boils across my body, and wondered whether I should go straight to see the consultant.

Then I remembered an ‘ouch’ moment from last weekend. Getting ready to head to the Races for the day, I was in too much of a rush to give due note to the sensation of pain.

Had I paused, I would have allowed my brain to register the contact between my finger and my hair straighteners.

Panic over, but still. Ouch.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The replacement

Brendan has been taken away for his service. He needs a little TLC from his makers, a holiday, a few nights away from life-saving.

The lucky bastard. No such break from this toil for me.

His lights stopped working a while back, no doubt from the numerous car journeys I insist on bringing him on.

I don’t believe the dialysis machine was made for traipsing around rural Irish roads in the boot of my stupid car, which has a suspension that buckles at the sight of a pothole.

I now have a substitute in place in my home, and I like him even less. He is older, noisier, more obnoxious in the night-time hours.

He is probably a cantankerous old uncle to Brendan’s youthful boyishness. He has no time for my hasty set-up practices, the shortcuts I increasingly take, my strolling in home at 2am, with a tummy full of toxins mixed with vodka.

I feel the need to treat him as we did sub teachers back in the schooldays. With derision. You’ll note I’ve not even given him a name, and I name most objects in my possession.

But as with Brendan, and as with sub teachers, he will win all of our battles. I will return to him night after night, to curse him, and hate him, but knowing I need him.

Like a good little puppet on a string.