I get most of my news from David O’Doherty’s Isolating podcast and the snippets of Joe Duffy and Sean O’Rourke I catch as I potter making coffee and elaborate quarantine breakfasts. It is perhaps, not the best of cocktails: a smattering of wildlife trivia (the Irish term for ladybird literally translates to ‘little cow’), fun facts about the 1988 Tour de France and then a heady dose of truly scarring death stories, statistics I don’t fully understand, and an unavoidable segue into THE LEAVING CERT SITUATION that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot bring myself to summon more than a teaspoon of sympathy for. Sorry, kids.
Why is it, no matter how far you go in life, no matter how many years you put between you and the very worst version of yourself (acned and trying to remember what the word ‘comparative’ means and why it’s necessary to spend eighteen months of your life writing useless scribbles on the topic) everything STILL always comes back to the good old Coimisiún na Scrúduithe Stáit and the incorrigible and interminable Leaving Cert?
Asking, not for a friend, but for ME, the ALMOST THIRTY-YEAR-OLD ADULT who still gets PTSD whenever she turns on a national broadcasting channel because someone somewhere is still debating the merits of Maths Paper One versus English Paper Two and whether orals really are that important.
My lack of any kind of empathy or compassion is troubling: I think we all silently wonder if I’m a sociopath.
The poor students!! my mother screeches at me as I continue making my marmalade-laden breakfast, unmoved. ‘I know’ is the extent of my reply and I know she is thinking me callous and uncaring. Forgetful, too, given the hysterical nightmare I was throughout my Leaving Cert year.
I hate being reminded of it.
‘Holly’s Math’s Paper One Meltdown’ is one of those anecdotes my family love to wheel out on any and every unwarranted occasion, premising it with “remember when Holly” (even when I am present and the story is directed at me). Without getting too into the particulars, I had something of a breakdown the morning of my first Math’s Paper. I had stubbornly insisted on doing Higher Level, despite lacking anything approaching proficient in the subject or even a vague interest in completing its homework. Thus, in a shocking turn of events, the morning of the exam found me WAILING in my father’s study as I stared at sums I knew I had once written but now for the life of me couldn’t make sense of. It is an experience I’ve never had to repeat in my life – the harrowing trip of staring at a page and seeing only shapes and symbols where letters and numbers used to be.
It was like in those really bad (and by that I mean brilliant) 90s movies where the programmer suddenly cracks the code and the figures lift off the page and from the incomprehensible tangle, like a Bond girl emerging from the waves, one equation forms in neat, concise, eye-wateringly symmetrical conclusion. Except in reverse.
1+1= 5,679,043 and x = the spot where the pen had actually run off the page in the soda stream of my tears.
I was wheeled into the exam hall with my water container filled with a whole bottle of Rescue Remedy. I remember my teeth chattering – I don’t think I’d spoken a distinguishable word in well over two hours. My favourite English teacher was hunted down and sent to console me. Even with the melody of her husky voice ringing cajoling and motivational in my ears, I was inconsolable.
Reader, I still frigging counted that Maths paper in the totemic pile-up of CAO points. Like passing my driving test first-time with barely any learning and even less of an understanding of spatial awareness, it is one of life’s truly unsolvable mysteries – a shiny pearl of a miracle my family all point to in times of struggle and say, ‘well, if that happened, I guess anything really is possible.’
I have a very supportive family.
Now, though, I feel the tale of my ever-so-slightly dramatic Britney moment is on the cusp of once again being summoned to manipulate or humiliate me until I surrender into shedding tears on the plight of the poor old students. I fail my mother again because whenever I hear the whining on the radio all I can think is GET A GRIP. WELCOME TO LIFE. WELCOME TO AN EXISTENCE CHARACTERISED BY UNFAIRNESS AND UNPREDICTABILITY – BUCKLE UP.
It’s not the students I’m annoyed at, per say, but rather the system that encourages such individualistic entitlement. Why have we created these monsters? Why have we broken such wonderful human beings for something that honestly couldn’t matter less? It should never have come to this – tears and implored pleas on Joe Duffy. As someone who impatiently sweated (note: that does not say swatted) through their Leaving Cert, I can confirm that the approximate 17 hours you will spend physically doing exams really isn’t an experience to write home about. I would happily pass and skip straight to getting a root canal – far less painful with infinitely better results.
In short, I’m out of touch with the news. And then I hear snippets and wonder if the news has been taken over by martians and if this is all one giant hoax because how else to explain the belligerent puppets dictating nonsense to an empty room?
I’ve been in the sun all day and no longer know if this makes sense.
Trump has dubbed the mainstream press the lamestream media. I know it’s bad, but it made me chuckle. It is so hopelessly ridiculous. I watch him tell journalists they “know what Obama has done” in the biggest cover-up the world has ever seen. I can barely see him refuse to answer the most basic of journalists’ questions, my eyes are reduced to a weary nothingness.
Tia, an 18-year-old from the UK, is spending her lockdown continuing her volunteer work with Care4Calais in Northern France. I pore over photos of her bedsit and wonder how scared and lonely she must be. I scan the BBC news report that pans the debris called “home” to families exiled to life’s edge. I’m not looking at the destitution, I’m scanning for faces I knew in a previous life. I’m looking to see if anyone still remains. I am clambering to count just how many people I abandoned to come home to luxury, how many people’s humanity I ignored to hunker down into this lockdown life that sees me go to bed too-full on cake and gluttony, too entitled to even begin to come close to appreciating this.
This, while our own Irish government negotiations continue today, focusing on justice and discrimination and I feel sick to my core thinking of the fact that, as these discussions continue, residents in a direct provision centre in Caherciveen are receiving anonymous letters from the “HSE” denying them the right to step outside for the next 14 days and lambasting the residents as the problem, the cause of the rampant virus spread. No one knows if the HSE did send this letter and I cannot think which is worse: that someone could be so malicious and xenophobic in their outlook to fraudulently write and send this odious missive to people in severe distress and ill-health, or that it came from the belly of the service designed to protect human health – in all of the multi-faceted meanings of that word.
Meanwhile, the doctor in the UK leading the COVID advisory group, AKA the professor nicknamed ‘Professor Lockdown’ because it was his projections that forced the UK into actually taking proper action resigned last week. Why? Is it stress taking its toll? Is he no longer equipped to perform his job to the best of his ability? Nope. Instead, it has emerged that while thousands of couples across the UK were cruelly separated in a Montague-Capulet style of social distancing for the good of humanity, he was ushering his married lover into his apartment to make sweet, sweet, germy love. Only in the UK. This is also the doctor that tested positive when Boris et al all began dropping like flies.
As I rolled my eyes to this nugget of news, a journalist then went on to say that this indiscretion didn’t seem to be the worst part – apparently it’s been common knowledge for weeks and is only breaking as a story to cover up the fact the UK death toll had peaked, overtaking some other European country I should know but don’t (because I’m too cool for the lamestream) and a decoy was needed. I wonder how much other news is being kept from us. We are so quick to forget that the most interesting stories are the ones never told and I wonder what massive black holes of information are being hidden in the dance of misdirection we all partake in.
I feel guilty watching the news and then I feel guilty blithely ignoring it. And now, I feel sad having written all of this and subjected you to reading it. Maybe I’ll put a disclaimer on this one.
Is it selfish to be only interested in my news and the tidbits of my loved ones right now? Is it ok if that is about all I can bear to take on?
Irrespective of how terribly sociopathic I am, I’m going to start writing my own bulletins (yes I know that is kind of what these are but I mean actual, factual, chronological items of newsworthiness – none of this tangential essayist shite) because the need to hold onto every delicious moment feels more urgent for me with every passing day. I am close to tears when I muddle the details of the previous week, I almost lost my head completely when I couldn’t remember on exactly what day we had last puzzled. Perhaps that is why I’m now obsessed with taking photos of my food. Perhaps tomorrow I will share it. For now, I’m going to get out into that fat world, play with some paints, and find 1,000 reasons why I’m too cool to ever be lamestream.
Well that was a real downer so I guess I really need to life the mood, huh? What’s making me happy? Oh, TONS of things!
- David Sedaris. Get your hands on everything he has touched and he will make you feel less alone in your weirdness, darkness, absolute cynicism. His essays collections burst with humour and searing observations on the human condition but they are also teaching me humility (necessary) and the power and importance of being generous with your time (not my strong suit).
- Hook Greek food up to my veins. I can’t stop making spanakopita and huge colourful bowls of Greek salad and it’s like every mealtime is a Mamma Mia holiday.
- The ritual of our sisterly sea swim. The almost-daily dunk is a reset button and a baptism of ice (yes, I punned, it was very good but subtle and classily understated) and I’m not entirely sure how I would cope without the suffocating embrace of the ocean.