The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
June 8, 2020

Originally published in The Irish Examiner

Day 70

You have to love the baffled and reproving reaction to drunken house parties. 

Can the partygoers NOT SEE, the reaction went (moving into capital letters the way we shout English at foreigners in the belief that volume will get them to understand it) – can the partygoers NOT SEE THE DANGER they are causing themselves and their grannies?

Short answer is no, they can’t. Of course, the facts have been put in front of them, but – as President Trump’s folk would say – they have alternative facts. 

Anybody who works in health promotion or road safety will tell you that the sense of consequence is skewed in the young. Particularly in the male young. 

The sense that you might bend your future out of shape by being reckless on the road, by smoking or by ganging up together in one house to share booze and the coronavirus is simply missing. No point in shouting it at them or trying to persuade. The seatbelt/drink driving issues prove coercion, rather than consciousness-raising, is the way to go.

In the US, the Democrats don’t like that idea and never have. Show a Democrat a piece of high moral ground and up they go on to it to lecture voters in portentous, public-good terms; the equivalent of capital letters. 

Joe Biden – now the Dems’ official nominee – is constantly at it. It has to stop. It appeals only to the already converted. If Biden is ever going to sit in the White House as other than an honoured guest, he needs to focus on the floating vote that floated to Trump last time and must be helped to float away from him now. 

Yelling at those floaters that Trump is a disgusting disquieting ethic-free eejit will force those floaters to stick with him. Here’s a little-known rule of politics: Voters never change their minds because someone calls them a gobshite for voting a particular way.

Biden’s campaign doesn’t have to do much, right now. The killing of George Floyd and global protests have done even more than the coronavirus to give a sinking feeling to Trump’s floaters. 

That said, three radical but relatively simple changes must be made by the Democrats: 

1 – Allow floaters to feel their belief in Trump has been betrayed by him – he’s gone further to the dark side than reasonable people like them ever planned, so it’s OK to abandon ship

2 – Use short sentences

3 – Talk people, not principles

Day 71

In a lockdown, weeding and housework are equally pointless. Nobody to show off to and three days later it’s as if you’d never bothered in the first place.

Day 72

My friend who has worried her way through isolation contacted me at dawn, panic-stricken at the lockdown ending. When I suggested a grip might be a good thing to get, she got shirty with me and implied that if I wasn’t so shallow, I’d be properly unhappy and fearful, too. 

It reminded me of Bradbury’s observation that “Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and get sadder younger than anyone else in the world…” 

Day 73

I took a mad notion at dawn, thinking I must introduce my fearful sad friend to Mary Linders, my next door neighbour. Mary Linders was the grandmother who charmed the boots off Dermot Bannon in that TV series.

Why Mary Linders should meet my timorous pal is because she lived through an epidemic and came out flying. It was the 1944 diphtheria epidemic, which put her, as a nine-year-old, into Cork Street Fever Hospital for a year. 

Now, remember, this was at a time when nobody but the rich had cars, so visiting by parents (in Mary Linders case, parents who had ten other children) was a rare thing. Total loss of the people to whom they are close is disastrous for children, as we know.

“Hundreds and hundreds of children died and adults with diphtheria, there were several nurses in Portrane [Mental Hospital] who were very ill and one of them died,” Mary says. 

“There were children coming in beside me in a big ward and mammies and daddies were crying and the children died there. I was on the danger list for months. You had a number and a neighbour in Corballis used to get the paper every evening in Donabate and it would put your number under ‘Very ill, critical, improving.’” 

Her education stopped. Completely. No teacher ever set foot in the hospital. Nor did lessons happen the following year, which Mary Linders spent in a convalescent home. When she returned to school, however, two teachers took her in hand, taught her to read, understand numbers, tell the time. 

She went on to become a nurse, a wife and mother and a major fundraiser for charity. If she could do that, back then… 

Day 74

Before this lockdown, I hardly knew the postman. Now I’m on first name terms with his dog. Benjy.

Day 75

Surprised, at dawn, to receive an email headed YESSS! from a client given, usually, to emotional restraint. I scroll down to find the untrammeled glee refers to the judge’s finding against Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters, leaving them with a substantial legal bill. 

Something about these two former journalists maddens people with a concern for the law, the forces of the law, and the over-arching framework of the Constitution. Something about it is saddening, too. Waters’ “Dancing at the Crossroads,” apart from playing an accidental role in the bringing down of Charles Haughey, was an insightful and funny exploration of the tribalism of local politics. 

Waters followed the harmony line rather than the melody, forcing the reader to question their pre-existing certainties. He was never as coherent on his feet, irritating the hell out of radio presenters whose blood pressure rose as they tried to get him to a point. Any point.

He was nearly as maddening, each year, at the Trim Swift Festival, where, largely to placate Noel Dempsey, speakers including Fergus Finlay, Elaine Byrne and I would turn up to opine. 

Early on, the unanchored randomness of Waters’ thought process was easy to forgive because it was outweighed by slanting insights and the pervasive sweetness of his personality. No harm in him, we all agreed.

That he has ended up where he has ended up – insulting the judicial system with unsupported and insupportable drivel drawn from his own questionable convictions, is infinitely sad.

Day 76

I text my sister announcing we can do our three-months-postponed joint shopping spree on June 29, according to the Taoiseach. Back comes a terse text: “That’s a Monday.” 

She’s been in house arrest for three months and she’s getting picky about which day she’ll go shopping? With some restraint, I respond: “We’ll use my car.” Unwritten but unmistakeable is the sub text: all the better to run you over with, my dear.