Dr Pat Harrold
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.
Dr Pat Harrold recounts a cautionary tale of a GP driven to madness and despair by endless bureaucracy
Dr Pat Harrold contends that it is time to amend the Mental Health Act of 2001 to better cater for addiction patients
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
When our children and grandchildren see the despoiled planet they inherit, they will wonder why we did not stand up and shout ‘stop’, writes Dr Pat Harrold
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
As he examines differences in general practice across this island, Dr Pat Harrold wonders what would happen if the NHS and HSE amalgamated