The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
February 1, 2021

Originally published in the Irish Examiner

Day 115 

The Oireachtas is sitting in the Convention Centre, right? So why are RTÉ political correspondents standing outside Leinster House, where the lights are on but nobody’s home? 

They moved Mícheál Lehane around a bit this week — he was at a city crossroads for one edition of Six One, but his location didn’t seem to have a connection to his story. 

It’s puzzling, but I suppose any option is better than looking up the nose of someone on Zoom with a white wall behind them.

Day 116 

Irritating communications habits, recently emerging. “I get it” from politicians trying to prove empathy with the rest of us. If you get it, prove it. But don’t think claiming shared understanding amounts to the smallest row of fava beans. 

The other one is from interviewers, mainly on RTÉ, who turn to the screen representation of a colleague and ask, “what can you tell us?” 

The question implies that the correspondent’s back pocket is stuffed with things they can’t tell us, and that we’re bloody lucky to get as much as he or she is prepared to let out.        

Day 117 

It’s not that I’m planning to pop my clogs in the immediate future, but being stuck indoors is a fine opportunity to “get my papers in order” as the Victorians used to say. 

I am, accordingly, ploughing through old cuttings of columns written when God was a girl, when I find this, from November 1, 1971. It takes me a few minutes to work out that I wrote and published this, slightly more than 50 years ago, in a national newspaper now defunct. 

The piece itself was in reaction to a major report that emanated from the Commission on the Status of Women, which was filled with truths, all applicable then and — appallingly, many still applicable today.

“Big deal” is the bored reaction of most women in a position to assess clearly the findings of the recent commission on the status of women. 

Big deal that it should say that all women should receive equal pay for equal work. Big deal that the marriage bar should be condemned. 

Big deal that it should be found that Ireland will have to toe the EEC’s line in regard to women.

All these things were known before, at least by women. What is important is what relevance it has, how much notice will be taken of it, and to what degree it can be used as a weapon. This is where we women become just a little cynical.

What happens if the findings of the commission are implemented? 

What we want is for women to have positions on company boards where their common sense would, hopefully, influence the introduction of staggered working hours, which would a) benefit those family women who could do a NON-nine-to-five job, and b) lessen traffic chaos at the current “rush hours.” … The likelihood of our getting these things is small.

How right I was. The corporate boards situation, over the past 50 years, has improved only a little, and the management of time to help mothers ran early into the sand.

Today, we have employers who, the minute restrictions were lifted, ordered all staff to stop working from home, thereby indicating that idea that human beings can be paid to do a job and trusted to do it from home has not really caught on. 

The fact that the Government is going to have to bring in legislation or new rules to cover the maternity leave of justice minister Helen McEntee — 50 years after the commission reported — suggests that the answer to the perennial question “What do women want?” might just be “A hell of a lot more than we ever get”. 

Day 118 

A package arrives via An Post. One of those FedEx toughies so stuffed as to be spherical. From Mr Yang Yuzhen in Shanghai. 

I give it a poke with the point of a sharp knife and it is so tightly packed, it explodes, spewing four dresses onto the floor. Lest you believe I am losing the run of my spending, the total price for the four was less than a hundred quid. 

I abandon work and go try them on. One of them would fit me and two of my friends, and I could make another dress from what needs to be cut off at the hem.

The second I manage to get closed across what we’ll laughingly call my bust, but it’s so tight, if I breathe in, I’m going to machine-gun the cats with buttons.

The third would serve as a nightdress if you didn’t mind wearing a nylon nightdress, and the fourth is so ugly, you couldn’t give it to a charity shop without feeling you were insulting them. 

I get dressed again in my normal clothes and look up then internet ratings for Mr Yang’s offerings. 

He has something like a 180% dissatisfaction rate. The whole world thinks his offerings are rotten quality. I suffer buyer’s regret for a while but only up to a point. Cheap, after all, and one dress is extensive but wearable.

Day 119 

Another package, this one a tidal clock which should be a lovely birthday present for a guy I know who has a boat. I approach it with great care after yesterday’s explosion and find an enveloped, hand-written card inside. Beautiful card designed by George Callaghan. 

With a handwritten note from Tom and Claire at The Old Mill Stores in West Cork, hoping I enjoy the clock. 

Even though I won’t, because it’s not for me, it’s wizard to see an Irish company doing successful pandemic online selling while staying personal about it.

Day 120 

I’ve just encountered a lovely new word. Scofflaw: A person who flouts the law, especially by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively. You could probably call those tanned holidaymakers RTÉ caught in the airport on their way back from Lanzarote scofflaws.

Day 121 

A friend sends treats to complicate the Covid Stone. Out of the package falls what looks like a tiny Ladybird children’s book but turns out to be a Dung Beetle book, and the funniest thing in years. 

Hadn’t come upon this publisher before, but according to the back cover, it was set up in 1935 by a family of retired Presbyterian manure workers [who] set out to deliver to children’s publishing “the same fine standards of workmanship and attention to detail they once did to dung”.

This particular book, entitled We do Lockdown, follows a family coping with the pandemic. One episode involves them going to the supermarket for emergency supplies.

“There is no lemongrass!” says Mummy.

“Oh, dear!” says John.

“I’m starting to understand what life was like in World War II,” says Mummy.