Only in Ireland would you hear people say: “It’s great to get a bit of normality back” while queuing at 5am outside Penneys to buy pyjamas.
The good thing about this particular two-day course by Zoom is that participants don’t have to come from Poland, Spain, and the US to Rome, and I don’t have to travel from Ireland. The bad thing is when one participant rids himself of a bad communication habit and I say: “NOW you’re sucking diesel”. Six mystified faces stare out at me and the individual addressed looks scandalised. It’s amazingly difficult to explain that usage to people whose first language isn’t English. Although, in fairness, the American doesn’t get it either.
Recovering alcoholics and drug abusers never berate those currently drinking or shooting up, so it ill becomes me, as a recovering anti-vaxxer, to mock those promising to avoid the Covid-19 vaccine. Now, let me make it clear. I never bought into or promulgated the theories of that English medical consultant — subsequently struck off — who falsely linked autism to particular vaccines, nor made any effort to persuade others to avoid vaccines. I was decently selective in my profound silliness.
I read up on medics and alternative thinkers with reservations about the whooping cough vaccine and, as a result, decided not to have my toddler son vaccinated. The end result was that he caught whooping cough. While he weathered it well, the plane incident was not fun.
The plane incident happened when the flight had reached cruising altitude and my husband could let his son stand on his thighs to survey the world. It was at that point that a bout of coughing hit the child, ending, as frequently happened, in him throwing up, in this case down the back of the neck of the passenger in the seat in front. The man silently unbuckled himself and headed for the lavatory to wash himself down. We waited. He returned. And leaned in to speak with us.
“Whooping cough is a communicable disease, you know. And it is illegal to take a child suffering from it on a plane,” he said quietly and sat back down. We were frozen. My mother came as close as the arms of the seats permitted and whispered. “That’s F.X.O’Connell, the surgeon,” she hissed.
At the end of the flight, Mr O’Connell, with admirable tolerance, patted his whooping assailant on the head, nodded courteously to us and left the plane. We gave him room. We gave him plenty of room. And I began a fast journey to the realisation that if I wanted to become a vaccine expert, I could go to medical school and devote a decade and a half to it.
If I wasn’t prepared to do that, I should be quietly compliant. None of my family has since thrown up on an innocent bystander.
You have to leave yourself plenty of time when you’re appearing on live radio or TV, so today I leave the house around 5.40am to get to Virgin Media for theirprogramme. Increased traffic, no doubt about it, but onto the M50 no bother and I am congratulating myself on being close to the target when I stupidly take the exit just before the correct one and am suddenly plunged, by my own hand, into mad confusion in the dark. I don’t know where I am.
I don’t know whether I’m going north or south. I drive speedily in what turns out to be the wrong direction and can find no way to get back on the M50. Time is passing, but I tell myself that I have enough buffer minutes within which to get lost and found. Ain’t no found. I see signs for Liffey Valley and worse and eventually find a place to turn around, in the process irritating several truckers who lean heavily on their horns.
Now the clock on the dashboard has stopped being my friend, and turning around has not solved my problem. I am going to be late. Unforgivable. Unprofessional. Late for the appointed prep time, but still, if the force is with me, OK for on-air time, and I have already read the papers.
Then it becomes clear that I have arrived into the middle of the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, which is a hopelessly long distance from Ballymount, where I am supposed to be. At a red traffic light, I get out of the car and run to the vehicle behind me, realising as I arrive that I have no mask on and neither does the driver who has rolled his window down.
I put my two hands across my face and keep it simple. Get me to the M50 going south, I instruct. Please. He repeats the request and reveals himself to be Polish, before giving me crisp instructions and gesturing that I should get back into my car because the light has gone green.
I follow his instructions, which require me to cross so many lanes that I figure I may die, which doesn’t seem the worst option right then, because if I die on the M50, Virgin Media won’t hate me so much because being dead is possibly the only good excuse for being late to a broadcast.
I am now 14 minutes off airtime, giving vent to the agnostic’s prayer: “O, please, please, PLEASE.” My mouth is so dry from panic that I have to put my hand out the window, rub it over the dirty rainwater on the windscreen and lick it as I go. I cannot pull in anywhere to use my phone although I can see its screen brightening with a message, which I figure asks me where the hell I am and what kind of a disgrace am I.
A few minutes from transmission, I take the correct exit. One minute later, I pull into the parking slot for people with disabilities and run past the security man going: “I’m late, I’m late” like a latter-day version of the hare in that Disney movie. Roslyn, who is in charge of delivering me to studio, smiles calmly. “I’ll just let them know you’ve arrived,” she offers.
I run into the bathroom and drink water from my cupped hands, in the process realising my hair remains shower-wet and is uncombed. I do not care. In fact, I am slightly surprised that I still have hair. A few seconds later I am on the air. Letting on to be cool as the proverbial cucumber.
I venture out to buy Christmas lights for the tree a friend bought for me. When I’ve finished hanging them and stand back to admire, I am reminded of Wallis Simpson’s rule — “You can never be too rich or too thin.” At Christmas, you can never have too many Christmas lights.
Even when you think you’re in gross oversupply, you’ll always find a gap.