The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
May 5, 2020

As a recluse, I’m glad the Taoiseach has again extended the lockdown

The Taoiseach lays out the roadmap to relaxation. A minority of us recluses guiltily welcome the fact that the clank of liberating keys will not be heard for at least two weeks, writes Terry Prone

I am the only woman you know, who, woken in the middle of the night by screams, breaking glass and the sounds of physical fracas, responds by barking like a dog.

Invader Cat is back, and my own black feline, Dino, is feeling the territorial imperative. 

Me barking like a dog goes back to when I was in the Abbey and got my big canine break one night when the actor who usually did the barking arrived too drunk to speak, let alone bark. I stepped in with such aplomb, I got the job for the rest of the run. 

Sadly, it was not a skill in much demand after the show ended, but I have found it’s the only thing that makes Invader Cat scarper.

Day 36

Much coverage, consequent on Tiede Herrema’s death, of his false imprisonment by two Republican headbangers in a house besieged by the forces of law while the nation watched. 

Some of us remember our admiration for Cyril Byrne, a photographer with the Irish Press, who, presumably based on his reading of spy craft in the Eagle or the Beano, put a glass up against the wall of the house next door. 

This glass allowed him to capture conversations going on in the house, which showed, among other things, that while Herrema mightn’t be enjoying his imprisonment, he was nonetheless firing on all cylinders and making a whole lot more sense than his two captors.

All of this my husband Tom Savage reported the next day on RTÉ’s What it Says in the Papers, noting, accurately, that the Irish Press was claiming an exclusive for a story that also appeared in another paper. 

He didn’t say that the other paper had nicked the original story from the country edition of The Irish Press, without letting on that it wasn’t their story, but the word “claimed” drove the editor of The Irish Press, Tim Pat Coogan, right around the bend. 

He sent a letter to Tom which hissed and seethed with outrage, ending “I must ask you to make a correction tomorrow morning.” The letter made me shiver. I was sure what we laughingly called our income at the time was about to disappear. 

Tom, on the other hand, profoundly unbothered, sat down at the kitchen table and in his flowing Victorian handwriting crafted a calm, evidenced and civil response. I typed it up before driving with it into Burgh Quay, where Tim Pat Coogan’s office was.

A deadly silence fell for two weeks, at the end of which Tim Pat telephoned. To offer Tom the job of Features Editor on the paper. Go figure. Such a quintessentially MALE way of having a row.

Day 37

It is inevitable. The first quarter of 2020 will go down in history as the Sourdough Spring.

Day 38

The death is announced of Eavan Boland. Poet of genius, discipline and application. Poet of such reach that her work is available all around the world. 

I shared a boardroom table with her twice. Once as founders, along with Catherine Rose, of Arlen House the Women’s Press as members of the Arts Council. I never knew her, though. Never. 

She had a dignified distance to her that kept her silent for the most part and meant that when she spoke, she was heard in a hushed way that presaged a willing consensus around the acuity of her views.

Day 39

My friend the insightful writer telephones to check on my level of uprightness and discuss the fact that, although each of us has been around the edges of history-making, this bloody orange with cloves stuck in it beats anything we’ve thus far encountered. And renders the lived quotidian oddly fascinating.

“It’s like joining an enclosed order of nuns,” he says, nailing it.

After the phone call, as I unload the washing machine, Aunty Nora comes to mind. She was really Grand-Aunty Nora, as the sister of our grandmother, but it was simpler to call her Aunty Nora. 

Simpler, too, than to remember whatever male saint she was named after in enclosed religious life, over there in New York State.

They let her out once, when her nephew Marty was being ordained in Rome.

On the way back, she stayed with us and we got to watch her doing enclosed nun things. I was six at the time, and fascinated that she wasn’t allowed to use an iron to flatten and smooth the white bib she wore, shoulder to shoulder in front of her black ankle length robe. 

It may have been a wimple. I’m not going to look it up, because, frankly, only perhaps three Examiner readers will ever have a real need to call it by its proper name.

Instead of ironing it, Aunty Nora washed it and then laid it out on a mirror, handsmoothing all the wrinkles out of it while it was still wet. 

More than half a century later, I decide to emulate her. Everything coming out of the washing machine gets laid out on marble kitchen surfaces and smoothed. 

It works a treat and requires no electricity. Although it would inhibit the preparation of a six course dinner.

Day 40

A month ago, I was due to give a communications workshop to a couple of hundred surgeons in Lisbon, which would have been fun.

When it is cancelled, I shrug and move on, being a great believer in not getting aggravated by what’s outside of your control. 

Paul Mooney, my contact within Polytech, the company orchestrating the seminar, decides, contrariwise, that this is a wondrous opportunity to do webinars instead. 

He sends out the word and the response is so strong that today, from the sitting room, I talk for an hour to 1,403 surgeons in just under a hundred countries.

I can’t see them, which always makes communication difficult. 

People you can see send you all sorts of signals, from “this is interesting” to “you made that point three minutes back, any chance you’d move on?” 

Without those visual cues, all you can do is deliver a monologue. A monologue to that many globally dispersed people carries twin dangers. 

The first is that you’ll use Irish slang – I have an almost ungovernable urge, on the day, to talk about things being great craic once the pandemic is over. The second is that your pace will lose people whose first language is not English. 

When it comes to Q&A, accordingly, I’m sick with relief to find the questions coming thick and fast – and interesting with it.

When it’s over, I let the cats back in. They have a concussed look to them, having spent the previous hour knocking their heads off the locked and blocked cat flap.

Day 41

The Taoiseach lays out the roadmap to relaxation. A minority of us recluses guiltily welcome the fact that the clank of liberating keys will not be heard for at least two weeks.