Terry Prone: Remotely doing everything but regretting to call back Revenue

Terry Prone continues her isolation diary for Covid-19.

Terry Prone: Remotely doing everything but regretting to call back Revenue
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan at one of the nightly statementa from the National Public Health Emergency team, in the Department of Health, Dublin. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Day 15

Wonder Woman who can’t currently come to clean my house didn’t want to tell me where my own vacuum cleaner was. She clearly thought I would do it a mischief and gave me worried warnings. Yeah, sure, I said, but where the hell does it live?

She instructed me, giving me the impression she hides it behind mops and Wellington boots to protect it from me. Even with her guidance, it took me a while to recognise it. I was expecting something like my mother’s upright that looked like a fire hydrant and sounded like a strangling motorbike. I swear to God, my vacuum cleaner had a face on it. Big googly eyes and a smile. It even had a name: Henry. Is this anthropomorphism, or does that apply only to us attributing human foibles to animals?

Henry and me tackled the Dust. I use a capital D advisedly. Old buildings generate dust so formidable it’s like Vesuvius visited the day before yesterday and had a good eruption in the sitting room. Up to now, I’ve got off hoovering and dusting because of an underlying condition called asthma, but unless I want to be found at the end of the plague like Miss Havisham with cobwebs knitting me to the walls, I have no choice other than late-onset domesticity.

Day 16

Watching Six One News is like being crisis-tested. By the end of it, on a scale of one to 10, you know just how worried you should be. If they have a package before they
finish like an escaped item from Nationwide — about local communities making masks or feeding nurses — you know the surge hasn’t really happened yet, so you’re at a seven. Watching tonight I suddenly recalled Bunny Carr’s observation about a previous generation of newscasters. “Don Coburn,” Bunny said, “read you the news. Derek Davis performed you the news. And Frank Delaney sold you the news.”

Seems to me RTÉ’s Gavin Jennings impresses you with the news, Eileen Dunne reassures you with the news, and Brian O’Donovan browbeats you with the news.

Day 17

The message said I was to ring a named officer of the Revenue Commissioners, who, when she contacted the office, had been unwilling to divulge why.

This didn’t bother me as much as it bothered the office, mainly because me and the Revenue have a good relationship, going back to the early days of my marriage, when the two of us a were earning roughly three thousand quid apiece, the first year, if I remember rightly. We hired an accountant to keep us right on tax. The following year, we made at least six thousand each, and the third year more than doubled that. At the beginning of the fourth year the accountant unexpectedly popped his clogs. We were sorry, although the distance of our relationship left us with only a vague impression of him. Someone recommended a replacement, who, within weeks, called to tell us we were in deep doo doo. His predecessor had returned three thousand, quite correctly, as our earnings the first year, but had done the same the second and third year, perhaps because he was unwell. The end result, in terms of tax compliance, was not good.

“What do we do now?” I asked the accountant, who said we must be honest and open with the Revenue. Agreed. And that I should go and meet them. Why, I asked, would someone who couldn’t add or subtract and had panic attacks in the face of long division go meet the Revenue? The accountant shrugged. My husband smiled, and gently suggested that the Revenue would quickly see I wasn’t smart enough to have done this deliberately.

It’s not often you qualify for high level negotiations by being as thick as a plank, but it worked for me. They were understanding while also making it clear we must repay on an agreed timeline. Which we did. So me and Revenue are old friends and I put the callback on my task list.

Parkinson’s Law applies to self-isolation: Work expands to fill all available time. I’m mystified by newspaper features telling me to manage my boredom by making papier-mâché bowls. What boredom? I’m remotely doing everything I usually do, plus worrying if I should pull out Henry’s innards lest he get constipation. It’s like what was said about Ginger Rogers: She did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels.

I’m exhausted by bed-time, whereas each night, before the plague visited us, I would sleeplessly watch the planes coming in to Dublin Airport. My bedroom sticks out from the main house, giving a three-sided, three-windowed view. Not saying I did the Falklands thing of “I counted them out and I counted them back”, but it beat counting sheep, watching those twinkling lights coming steadily in, one after another, about 90 seconds between them, like distant confirmations of continuum.

Tonight I saw only two planes with a great dark interval between them.

Day 18

“The hell was THAT?” a participant in a Zoom meeting asked reverently today when one of my cats leaped from behind me to the top of a cupboard. The interruption was riveting because Dino is the size of an Alsatian, jet black against the white of the cupboard, and when he arrived at the summit, he collided with a rake of items up there which took him by surprise, even though he’s visited before. He seems to be the feline equivalent of a returning Everest climber forgetting the top of the mountain is littered with other people’s leavings.

Day 19

Tony Holohan caused the nation a major wobble in the last 48 hours. The headlines said Covid-19 hadn’t directly put him in hospital, but we were still worried until George Lee, who generally speaking owns the Urgent Gravitas Division of media, did a brief excursion into his happy place and told us Dr Holohan would be “raring to go” in no time.

This good news was carried in newspapers today, accompanied, in one case, by a puzzling picture of Holohan. It’s difficult to work out what he has in his left hand. Pencil box? Spectacle case? It looks most like something missing from a wall, irresistibly suggesting (apologies to Teddy Roosevelt) that Holohan’s approach is to “speak softly and carry a small brick”.

Day 20

This lockdown is causing me to be good and I hate that. One of the great unsung freedoms is the liberty to get up in the middle of the night, drive to a 24-hour garage, and buy chocolate. You don’t have to do it often, or at all. Just knowing you CAN gives a great sense of peace when you wake up in the middle of the night. Instead, waking tonight, I suddenly remember I didn’t call the Revenue back.

If this column fails to appear next week, you’ll know it’s because I am in isolation — behind bars.

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