Terry Prone: As Ireland drops many Covid restrictions, we all have much to be grateful for

We owe gratitude to friends and family, to vaccines, and even to — whisper it — politicians who made unpopular decisions 
Terry Prone: As Ireland drops many Covid restrictions, we all have much to be grateful for

People surged back to large gatherings, from hospitality to sporting events such as Saturday's McGrath Cup Final between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. Picture: by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Sunday

We think we invented click-and-collect, but apparently during the Spanish Flu more than 100 years back, shops in Colorado banned customers from going into stores. Instead, they had to shout orders through the door, then wait outside for their packages. Lower tech. Same deal.

Monday

In perhaps the ultimate “cold case” investigation, a former FBI agent has examined how the teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family were shopped to the Nazis, leading to the deaths of all of them, bar the father, in concentration camps.

They were betrayed in 1945, when Anne was just 15, after two years in a hidden annex in a house in Amsterdam.

 Retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke led the investigation into the betrayal of Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis. 
Retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke led the investigation into the betrayal of Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis. 

Commentary leans on what’s seen as the double tragedy of the man most likely to have been the betrayer, Arnold van den Bergh, being himself a Jew, as if betrayal by a Jew-hating racist, rather than one of their own, might be somehow more understandable.

But when it comes to preserving me and mine over thee and thine, familial instincts win, going right back to the Old Testament which recounts how an army besieging a city and seeking a secret entrance into it spotted a man emerging.

“Show us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city,” they said to him, “and we will show thee mercy". 

The Biblical account has him showing them the entrance into the city, allowing them to massacre the inhabitants, “but they let go the man and all his family”.

Tuesday

The day starts with a text beginning: “For Terry age 72. Your new Covid Certificate is ready.”

Being age-smacked in the kisser at dawn ruins my whole day. I even blame it for me ostentatiously losing my train of thought on  The Today Show that afternoon, where I flounder for eight seconds, thinking ‘Oh dear God, I’m on live TV and thousands are watching but, more importantly, the production team up in the box are watching and they’ll never use me again and I’ll lose the day job as well because the company can’t have their chairman on telly looking and sounding daft’. 

At this moment, the two presenters simultaneously give me a one-word prompt and normality breaks out.

It reminds me of Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time, written in the early 1950s but still in print. In it, actress Marta Hallard tells Detective Inspector Grant how the play she’s in has been running for so long, an actor “dried up” onstage the previous night. She explains: 

We’ve all got to the frightful stage when the lines have ceased to have any meaning at all for us. 

“I don’t think this play is ever coming off. It’s going to be like those New York ones that run by the decade instead of by the year. It’s too frightening. One’s mind just won’t stay on the thing. Geoffrey dried up in the middle of the second act last night.

“His eyes nearly popped out of his head. I thought for a moment he was having a stroke. He said afterwards that he had no recollection of anything that happened between his entrance and the point where he came to and found himself halfway through the act.”

That was precisely how my “dry” on Today felt, except that the audience was a lot bigger than a full theatre. You know how they say if you’re in a life-threatening situation, your past life unreels before you? During my “dry”, my future life unreeled before me, and I’m not over it, still.

Wednesday

Overheard in Dublin airport: “Is tonight the night the boob flight comes in?”

This being the flight from Turkey carrying people who have undergone bariatric, knee, and hip surgery there. Plus cosmetic work.

Thursday

Senator Victor Boyhan makes a magisterial speech about the Irish Thalidomide Association’s request that the minister honour his commitment of a year ago to meet them.

He quotes correspondence received from the association’s spokesperson, Finola Cassidy: “Thalidomide caused severe foetal damage. We were born without limbs or with limbs foreshortened. With impairments of hearing and impairments of vision, as well as injury to internal organs. This caused pain, suffering, not only to ourselves, but to our parents, our siblings and to our own children and our own partners.”

Her statement welcomes what she calls the “handbrake turn” executed by the minister, whereby he re-committed to meeting the association a week after saying he couldn’t meet them.

The minister has now given himself a chance to stop hiding behind the courts and the state bodies mandated to deal with this issue and find an innovative and humane way to stop wasting state money fighting these 40 people who were in the first place maimed because the state didn’t act quickly enough.

This is the one issue where the minister or the Taoiseach or both could do the right thing without engaging in legal nitpicking or succumbing to fears of creating precedents. Starting with a state apology to the mothers, now in their 80s, who have suffered all their lives from the knowledge that a drug prescribed to them played hell with the lives of their children.

Friday

EU governments get it in the neck from Ursula von der Leyen over them failing to agree legislation that would ensure at least four out of ten members of company boards are women — ten years after the idea surfaced. The 40% target named by the commission exactly 10 years ago is mired within the EU Council.

Quoting male power figures complaining that their best efforts have failed to produce properly qualified women, she rightly responds that “If you are seriously looking for them, you’ll find them.”

Saturday

Absent a moment like the sailor kissing the dental assistant in Times Square on V-J day, 1945, this paper runs a cut-out-and-keep cartoon by Harry Burton of the CMO as Meat Loaf, tearing up a sheet of restrictions while singing “Like a bat outta hell, they’ll be gone when the morning comes.”

 Tony Holohan as Meat Loaf in Harry Burton's cartoon in last Saturday's Irish Examiner Forum pages. 
Tony Holohan as Meat Loaf in Harry Burton's cartoon in last Saturday's Irish Examiner Forum pages. 

Ubiquitous euphoria and determination to enjoy the benisons of an earlier life is tempered by a need to take into account the five million people killed by the coronavirus.

And gratitude, in my case, to a son for not just being helpful, but relentlessly vigilant against my irrational optimism and potentially loose compliance with regulations. 

Grateful to the practice manager at the local GP clinic, who was calm and funny during the most pressured days. 

Grateful to the folk at Jane Brennan pharmacy who moved heaven and earth to adapt their service to customer needs. Grateful — whisper it low — to Nphet and HSE. 

Whatever mistakes were made, the vaccination campaign alone was magnificent. Grateful — whisper it even lower — to Leo and Micheál and the others who did their unpopular best, knowing nobody’s ever going to thank them at the ballot box.

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