Terry Prone: After 100 days in solitary, I’m still staying put

Terry Prone: After 100 days in solitary, I’m still staying put
There are concerns about social distancing now that pubs have reopened. Picture: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Day 96 

Five days left, I keep telling myself. Before the end of the week, I will have been 100 days in solitary, with the exception of two runs for medical appointments and three shopping expeditions. 

Even those minor outings have had their moments, like the dermatologist whacking her transparent, plastic hood with her mobile phone, because she hadn’t got used to slithering it up sideways from neck level, and the guy (at least 20 years younger than me) who went cowering away, even though we were both masked, in the supermarket.

I watch the squabbles in the media about house parties and managing crowds in pubs and I wonder how many people, like me, are realising that their circumstances won't be changing much. Medical appointments, slow-march shopping, and a bit of a walk will remain the routine. But, for that new category of human, the older one with an underlying condition, the ongoing advice is to stay put. Benidorm, big weddings, and house parties are a no go. How will I manage?

Day 97

 Wasn’t it the Forth Bridge, in Scotland, where the painters, as soon as they finished dickeying it up, had to go right back to the beginning and start all over again? That’s the problem with housework at any time: Drearily repetitive. Except now, you scrub and polish and tidy and buff (the floor, not yourself) and nobody comes to see it.

Day 98 

Those parents being driven out of their tree by ever-present toddlers need to do a variant on the approach adopted by the mother of novelist Rex Stout, who had rather more children than was strictly necessary. Her  commitment to reading  conflicted with  her children's needs and with her duties,  so she devised a strategy. She would seat herself, book in hand, in the middle of the main room, with a bowl of water and a face cloth beside her. Any child who approached her got its face and ears briskly washed in chilly water, which  made  them forget what they had bothered her for and also  made  them want to get speedily away from her. Adopt the same process, maybe switching a laptop for the book, and today’s parents are set.

Day 99

It’s just been announced that US president Donald Trump’s niece’s book about him will go on sale, despite his brother injuncting it. Having been son-shamed into not buying John Bolton’s book (“He saved evidence for that book which could have made the impeachment a success and you’re going to reward him for it?”), I can’t wait for this one.

Day 100 

At dawn, I open the online version of this newspaper and find Victoria White on the masthead, announcing she’s departing her weekly column, because her husband, Eamon Ryan, has been made minister for climate action, communications networks, and transport. 

Inside the newspaper, Ms White says that she is “sad and almost disbelieving”, as she lets go of the job she liked best out of all the journalism posts she’s held in her career.

I should perhaps make it clear, here, that columnists may occupy the same space within the same paper each week, but, for the most part, don’t know each other well. I think I’ve met Victoria White once and although I may be mistaken, got no impression that she wanted to make that twice. She has taken a poke at me in print for stuff I did of which she didn’t approve. Vested interest in her, therefore, have I none. Except as a reader. 

As a reader, I fall (see the hopeful, continuous present tense there) on her column each week, full sure that it will be like no other column and pretty certain it will surprise the boots off me. Her column is equally likely to irritate the boots off me, assuming we’re booted and spurred to start with, and I get the impression she always is.

That’s what makes her such a good columnist. She’s always up to 90. She doesn’t do neutral. She doesn’t do beige. Most of the time, she doesn’t even do reasonable. She may, occasionally, visit a consensus viewpoint, but you can bet she’ll be out the door of that consensus pretty damn quick. 

She is a foot-stamping, window-breaking maverick, with whom you may rarely agree, but who may, if you’re open to it, widen your frame of reference and annoy you with an insight you’d totally missed, until she planked it down in front of you.

Ergo, Victoria White should not be quitting her column for this paper and women’s organisations should be saying so, loud and clear. Her departure rationale is, first of all, that she might destabilise a government by her writing. 

Now, I’m the first to inflate the importance of writing a column, but I honestly can’t see Victoria White’s opinions bringing down a government, not least because she is (see above) a foot-stamping, window-breaking, maverick columnist. When has such a figure brought down a government?

One of her fears is that if she did a rant about a Cabinet member other than her husband, it would be assumed her rant represented Mr Ryan’s secret thoughts. That’s where a red light has to come on. No: Two red lights. The first red light flashes over the notion that if you’re man and wife, you move, speak, and think as one. Untrue. 

The second red light comes on over the idea that a woman married to a Cabinet minister is the covert channel for his thoughts. Of course, troglodytes exist out there and are given to such theories, but no troglodyte articulating such a theory could be allowed to limit the woman’s career and self-expression.

Many people marry people they meet through their job. The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, and his wife met in their teens, within Fianna Fáil. The deputy leader of the Greens is married to another party member. Other councilors and TDs are married to, or partnered with, politicians of their own, or other, parties. 

Each is entitled to a safe, separate ,individual identity and career. (In fact, though, Victoria White and Eamon Ryan didn’t meet through politics.) One way or the other, her choices should not be limited by his — or by the perception that, in some way, becoming a minister necessarily reduces the career freedoms of their spouse. 

Two hundred years ago, a woman abandoned her rights when she married. Last time I looked, that was over.

Victoria White loves her husband and wants him to succeed in this Government and so she has made a major personal sacrifice. Of course, she’s not going to go broke, nor will she be bereft of writing possibilities. That’s not the point.

The point is that a marriage of equals should not lead to career inequality. No woman should feel she has to retreat from a job she loves lest what she does be used to damage her husband in his job.

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