Dr Pat Harrold
Being blessed with lots of curly hair saves me a lot on hats and umbrellas. I am now working on the gravitas. Let me explain. Having reached the age when having a social life is something to be pitied rather than celebrated, I am happy to watch gardening programmes until I become exhausted at the sight of so much hard graft that I then switch to cookery shows. I have noticed that the best presenters on garden and cookery shows are adorned with great shaggy heads of hair, like an Irish Water spaniel in his prime. Think of Monty Don. Think of Marco Pierre White.
On the BBC, Monty stands tall, his voice quiet, a lump of muck in his mighty hand as he tells you exactly what to do this week. The birds sing decorously. The dogs stretch discretely, not missing a word. The garden has become a cathedral and Monty is the bishop, quietly praising nature and its Creator. God is in his heaven, all’s right in this world and if you want to know what God is like then his personification on earth is before you. If he tells a plant to grow it will and in the right place.
Over in The Restaurant, Marco enters the restaurant to an ovation for just being his splendid self. He does not acknowledge the applause. He is only interested in the food before him. He is judge, he is jury and he is comfortable in his great knowledge. It might be a boiled egg, and it might be cooked by a legend of stage or sport, but the egg is all that matters.
Jeremy Paxton is another one. “Oh come on King’s College Cambridge!” he snaps. How did such young idiots get into college/into parliament/on television, he wonders, sometimes aloud.
The Supervet tries hard and has plenty of hair, but he is scruffy and intense and he looks like he has been up all night. Monty and the others sleep the sleep of the just and trust that tomorrow will be on time and in good order. He is also Irish.
You see, the Irish do not like to be told what to do. Hooky and Ivan Yates try, but nobody really listens to them. We just let them off. We have no time for the heavy grandfather – we prefer the fun uncle, like Ryan Tubridy or Dermot Bannon. Eamonn Andrews was a hit in Britain but we preferred the light touch of Terry and Mike Murphy, Marty Whelan and, of course, Gay Byrne who was once referred to as ‘the oldest Young Man in the business’.
They are all chatty and convivial and go easy on the gravitas. I know The Restaurant is an Irish show, but there is always a rowdy and disrespectful gang in the kitchen. Not for us the cursing Gordon Ramsay. We have Neven chatting away like an old pal over the garden wall, or the impish Francis Brennan who can insult you more painlessly than any man alive.
Jeremy Clarkson should have the gravitas factor, but he doesn’t. He is big and imposing and he has the curls, but he is peevish and he can be petty. You could see him and Boris Johnston as the kids in school who tried to be in with the ‘In Crowd’ by poking fun at other kids. They are funny all right but would you turn your back on either of them? Boris Johnston is particularly unnerving, with his Malfoy hairdo and permanent smile.
Ivan Yeats and George Hook certainly don’t have the curls and while they both have a modicum of gravitas they are more contrarian than authoritarian. Dunphy and Brady are diminutive and while they clearly have a great opinion of themselves, if not always each other, you could hardly imagine them planting an acre of spuds in a day, or even cooking some. Anyhow, they barely have a decent head of hair between them.
Simon Cowell has the hair and I would imagine that it costs him as much to maintain as Monty’s garden, but he uses his domineering character to harass teenagers who sing. Nobody has asked him to sing. He is a mere critic and not seriously worth any attention.
I am working on the gravitas. Someday my dog will lie adoringly at my feet instead of charging about yapping like Louis Walsh and when I enter a CME meeting I will get a standing ovation. I just have to watch more television.
When I buy something online – which I try not to do, but sometimes you just have to – I will get a request to put in the name of the city I am supposed to live in.
I get great satisfaction from typing in ‘Tipperary’. So far I have not had ‘ah come on!’ or ‘are you having a laugh?’ pop up in reply.
I suppose it is a sad reflection of our times that it is presumed that I should live in a city, like more than half the world.
Many a person living in a city is forced to migrate to some wretched slum because the land has been taken over by corporations, war or climate change. They are doomed to scavenge from the rich. If they get a job it is probably in the gig economy, where there is no security, the minimum wage is paid and most of their wages go on overpriced accommodation.
I have lived in big cities, but never for longer than a few months. They are all right if you are learning some skill, or getting money together to go back to college, or even if you are very rich and you can afford the theatre and taxis and huge property prices. But if you are at the bottom they can be hell.
Dublin is great for a spin up to see an exhibition or a play, but I wouldn’t like to live there. There is supposed to be some kind of spatial policy to spread the population of Ireland about, but as I type this in Dublin Airport, it is hard to take it seriously.
Dublin Airport is 170km from my house and my house is about two miles from the M7 motorway so in theory I can just pop up. But any kind of a flight involves several hours of waiting; in Naas, at the roundabouts, in the terminal, through security – you probably know yourself if you have had the misfortune to travel through there.
I cannot take the train as it does not go to Dublin Airport. The airport bus has a disconcerting habit of taking a roundabout trip to the city and parking up and it is a common sight to see groups of terrified travellers hailing taxis in the the city centre to take them the last bit of the journey for which they have already booked and paid. Dublin Airport is obviously bursting at the seams and yet there is a proposal to build another runaway there.
If I go to Shannon all is as calm as Brian Dobson. You park up and stroll on in. Would it not be more sensible to put more runways or terminals in Shannon and join it up to the railway?
The Swiss have the right idea. They have Geneva, Zurich, Bern, Basel and Lausanne sharing the load; several smallish cities with a high quality-of-life, as Cork, Galway, Limerick and (gulp) Athlone are supposed to do in the future.
But votes are votes and while a lot of votes remain in Dublin don’t expect much to change.
The Swiss also like to invest in railways, as do the Japanese and the Scandinavians, but sure what do they know? Shane Ross, who seems to know as much about transport as he does about rugby, is keen on closing a few railway lines down.
The University of Limerick (UL), which has about 10,000 people attending it on a daily basis, is about 20 minutes from Nenagh yet few students stay there. The bus service is unreliable and patchy. If they hooked up the railway line from Nenagh station to Castleconnell and on to UL it would solve a lot of problems with accommodation and employment for both Tipperary and Dublin.
It seems that from the moment a minister gets a Mercedes under their be-suited backside all they can think of is cars, piling them into Dublin and Dublin Airport, destroying the environment and ruining our quality-of-life.
It’s a great little country to do business in alright, if that business is repairing burnt out clutches on diesel cars.
The Western world has recently realised that we have lost the essential art of doing nothing. We are urged to turn off our devices (as long as they are not pacemakers) and be still. Some call it mindfulness, some call it meditation, and I have heard it called masterly inactivity.
I wish that I was better at doing nothing and I envy poets.
If a poet stands looking out the window, the children are told to hush and everyone tiptoes out of the room. “Daddy’s working,” they are told in stern tones. Daddy may be wondering if Liverpool should spend the Coutinho money on a new goalkeeper, but he is a poet so that’s all right.
If a doctor stands quietly it is presumed that he doesn’t know what to do next and he should be prodded into action without delay. In fact, one of the first things a rookie intern learns is that if they stand still they will exude a kind of pheromone and nurses, ward clerks and worst of all, consultants, will appear from nowhere and order them about. They have to keep moving and always carry a chart.
One of the most difficult things to do in medicine is to do nothing. It is very tempting to prescribe something that ‘just might help’ or order up some weird test ‘just in case’. Osler said that his duty was to amuse the patient while God cures them, which if true would make you wonder why more of us don’t work harder at our talent to amuse.
Oscar Wilde used to lie on his couch for half an hour a day and think. As he said at the time, most people don’t think at all. Your modern doctor has no time for Wildean nonsense like that. They have to charge about like an anxious sheepdog, in a constant state of crisis management. But you have to admit that Oscar did accomplish a lot in his short life (much of it scandalous – fair play to him). In Wilde’s era and for decades afterwards a writer was expected to spend a large amount of time doing nothing. Periodicals like The Strand and Punch carried essays titled, for example, ‘Idle thoughts of an idle fellow’.
Jerome K Jerome and his friends from Three men in a Boat would lie in their straw hats and Oxford bags by the side of a river, pondering the world, waving carelessly at Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Mole and Ratty as they drifted downstream, their oars shipped and their eyes far away. Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West would drift through their gardens, listening to sprites and dead heading dahlias and abandoning lovers. Yeats would sprawl his long legs on a hillside, brooding on his broken heart and listening out for fairy music. I don’t know how anyone got the harvest in with literary legends occupying every vacant patch of grass.
In Ireland a few years later, John B Keane would observe corner boys from his window above the pub, write about their lives and sell them drink in the evenings.
Patrick Kavanagh paced the bohereens in the evenings, Homer’s ghost whispering comfort in his ear. If Kavanagh had been scrolling on his phone, Homer’s ghost could have been screaming in his face and he wouldn’t have noticed. That was a time when thoughts were kicked around playfully and slowly in your head like a beach ball on a sunny day.
There are moments that make a place special in memory. The seductive and false life of the screen has come too soon for our evolution. Before the electronic age, in winter, a farmer would sit by the fire all day. He would go out to fodder a few cattle at some stage. In the evening somebody would drop by, or he would go to their house to sit by their fire. The fire is lively enough without having to do much more than stare into it and dream. The farmer, like the poets, artists and dreamers knew what people have now forgotten. If you sit and contemplate movement, your mind becomes still. It may be a river, it may be the ocean, the flicker of birds at a feeder or gently falling snow. The eye is bewitched and the mind is at peace. If you sit staring at a flickering electronic screen your mind becomes agitated and distressed. It can make no sense of the chaos before it. You feel ill at ease and bad tempered and before you know it the day has gone and you can’t remember what you did with it.
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Dr Pat Harrold presents a Dickensian tale of Irish general practice
Dr Pat Harrold on how people and our perception of them can change over time
Dr Pat Harrold despairs at the Dáil’s TDs, some of whom behave like a classroom of unruly teenagers
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Dr Pat Harrold reminisces about the trials and tribulations of the musicians, poets and writers of his youth
Dr Pat Harrold on the familiar sounds that signal the dawns and departures of our lives
The retreat into defensive medicine hastens in the face of volatile patients, when GPs often feel scared and alone, writes Dr Pat Harrold