The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
November 25, 2020

Originally published in the Irish Examiner

Day 49 

Greater love there cannot be than sending the latest Lee Child to someone before reading it oneself. 

This is what my sister does, and I fall on it with glad cries. 

Lee Child, after a couple of decades of thrillers starring Jack Reacher, has decided he’s had enough, but, finding that his readers have NOT had enough, he’s handing the franchise over to his novelist brother, Andrew. 

Presumably, to reduce the shock to readers, the two have produced a kind of transition volume, entitled The Sentinel, written by the two of them.

It’s a dud. In fairness, Andrew Child may not be culpable for its dudness. The problem with contemporary thriller-writing is crafting a plot that doesn’t involve computer programming. 

Any book predicated on computer programming is tedious, Reacher is permanently outside of, and averse to, communications technology. 

So bringing him up to speed requires him sitting through explanations of such bog-standard stuff, it diminishes our hero.      

Day 50 

Tesco Ireland recalls a batch of its ’16 Spicy Chorizo Slices’ due to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. 

Never met a monocytogene in person, so I look it up. It is “a facultative anaerobic bacterium, capable of surviving in the presence or absence of oxygen.” 

More adaptive than us humans, then.

Having investigated this, two thoughts strike me. The first belongs in that category of generalized worry characterised by always wearing spotless underwear lest you get knocked down by a bus. It’s this. 

Say if, for some reason, my computer’s search engine were examined, what would it say about me? 

Whenever murderers’ computers or phones are looked at, they find the bad guys had spent weeks searching for “40 Ways to Kill Your Boss” or “Poisons that do the job quietly.” 

Going through my own search history, I decide that, while the Guards wouldn’t find anything that would testify to my intention of breaking a law, they might nonetheless decide I was barking, since in just one day, it shows me to have looked up the Gutenberg Project, the derivation of the phrase “the pole position,” the origin of the quotation “My name’s Paul,” the Holodomer and what “the tree of heaven” in a novel from the forties is.

The other thought is around recalls. Twenty years ago, when a company recalled a child’s car seat or a brand of beans or a shampoo, it was a shock/horror issue, a hold-the-front-page matter. 

Today it’s routine. Now, in the interim, the level of regulation and compliance with those regulations on the part of manufacturers has risen exponentially. 

So how come recalls are happening with greater, rather than lesser, frequency these days?

Day 51

Rumour hath it that someone eminent shouted at Dr. Tony Holohan. 

Not saying it was a waste of time, but throwing marshmallows at a cliff to bring it down might be more productive.

Day 52 

Delivery arrives, delivered by a guy in a white van, who tells me to stand back because it will be too heavy for me and steps past me to put it on the kitchen surface. 

He then scans the carton like he was an obstetrician expecting it to give birth to a smaller carton and departs, spinning his vehicle around and rolling down the driver window to call out a final instruction. 

“Lock that door, now,” he tells me. I smile and don’t do as told, instead walking around the house demanding out loud what the hell gives him the sense that he is entitled to instruct a customer on their security in the middle of the afternoon. 

Of course, I opine out loud, I know bloody well why he thinks he can do that. 

It’s because he carries prejudicial and discriminatory notions about older people and he knows what he — at this point, the roof falls in on me. 

I literally see stars and clutch walls. When the stars recede, I find it isn’t the roof, but a mahogany beam that has whacked me and that I have a massive lump on the top of my head. 

I am also bleeding down the side of my face as if I was understudying Rudi Giuliani. 

Once I have myself mopped and iced, I go back and lock the front door, on the basis that ignoring good advice causes your house to smite you.

Day 5

Once upon a time, dropping into a conversation that you knew Professor Anthony Clare would turn everybody wide-eyed with envy. 

Especially if you called him Tony Clare. Because he was the brightest and best. 

The Dubliner with the floppy black hair and the sparkling boot button eyes and ready wit who had written a classic book about psychiatry while still in his thirties and attained pre-eminence in prestigious mental hospitals in the UK. 

Not only that, but, starting on BBC radio before it moved to television, he had presented an interview programme called “In the Psychiatrist’s Chair” and become a media star. 

His public speaking was legendary. A colleague, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, in a new book* about Clare, recalls his after-dinner speech at the 750th anniversary of Bethlehem Royal Hospital in 1997: “Clare’s delivery was a model of humour, timing and irony, with at least one prominent psychiatrist falling from his chair with uncontrolled laughter.” 

Anthony Clare also managed to be a superb teacher, a researcher who wrote or co-wrote dozens of important papers on his trade. He was well-read, funny and deeply kind. 

The biography quotes someone who worked with him as saying “He made you feel good about being a psychiatrist and was the kind of person you so look forward to meeting. It made your day.” It did. 

Working at the time with organisations like the Mental Health Association of Ireland, I found, when you asked him to appear at an event or provide a foreword for a document, he would always oblige and never ask what he’d be paid. 

If a charity couldn’t pay him anything, he would still do the job, delightedly and with absolute commitment.

It is, accordingly, heartbreaking to learn that, before his unexpected death in his early sixties, he felt rejected by Ireland and less than happy with his own career achievements. 

Maureen Gaffney says she “noted at the time that he was sometimes the object of a kind of disparaging envy by some people.” 

He was such a buoyant rescuer of others, it’s achingly cruel that he could not do the same for himself. A beautiful man with a beautiful mind.

Day 54 

Hands up anyone who believed the Government would actually let the Zoo close for good?

Day 55

A current cliché needing extermination is where a broadcaster asks what something is going to look like, as in “What will post-vaccine air travel look like?” 

Who cares what it looks like? 

The question should be about what it’s going to BE like.