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From zero to hero

People change. We all change ourselves, but it is easier to see the change in others. Mark Twain had a well-known anecdote about a young man who thought his father knew nothing, but found after a few years it was astonishing how much the old man had learned. They probably had both learned a few things; maybe how to listen was one of them.

I recently met somebody who knew me, but I couldn’t recall him at all. We had a great chat entirely. When I found out who he was I could not believe that the surly teenager had blossomed into such a nice chap.

I recently find that I have become fond of people who used to annoy me. For instance, I could not stand Chris Packham for years. He is the one on BBC nature programmes with the quiff, the lisp and the superior attitude. He seemed unbearably full of himself and he ruined many a wildlife programme on the BBC for me by his sneering presence. Two things altered my opinion of him. I saw him identifying a tricky bird song and he knew his stuff so well you could forgive a bit of superciliousness. The other is that he has announced that he is on the autistic spectrum and has not had it easy. It is strange how a tincture of compassion can alter the whole portrait.

I have always liked Ryan Tubridy. Like his mentor the late Gerry Ryan, you get the feeling that he is far cleverer than he lets on and as most of us like to pretend that we are cleverer than we are that is unsettling. He seems to have sprung straight from the Drones Club, chattering enthusiastically about American politics, books, pints, Connemara, his girls, Irish history and goodness knows what else. He is the undisputed master of The Toy Show, the biggest kid in the place, with a Dick Van Dyke smile and elbows and knees moving like a string puppet. In fact The Toy Show could have been designed specifically with him in mind and if he had not rescued it the whole show would have had to be humanely put down. If Ryan has a fault it’s that he tends to declaim that books are for nerds like him, but there is steel there too. He once silenced a grim and terrifying film star on the subject of Christmas and proper order too. Maybe some day he will shed his popular younger brother/fun uncle/comic sidekick role and be more serious and it will be a pity. There is quite enough gravitas about these days.

Daniel O’Donnell has inspired as much derision as respect, not that he cared. He glides through life like a dolphin, unperturbed and smiling. He is a kind of Donegal Zen master. He gives heavily to charity without any fuss and my musician friends tell me that he is as kind and thoughtful as his reputation. His music is not exactly my kind of thing, but you can’t have everything.

Louis Suarez is a South American soccer player who handled the ball, dived and bit people. Superficially there is not much to like, but he plays football as well as anybody ever did and has his demons. He was a wizard at Liverpool, running through defences like a collie through sheep, and thereby created a lot of joy in my house and I will look backward fondly to the Suarez years when I am old. He is happy in Barcelona, has stopped diving and is good to his family. A villain no longer.

Dr Ruairi Hanley over in Irish Medical Times may have a different view to myself on practically everything, but he reads PG Wodehouse, so he is okay in my book. He also attended the Erne Hospital school for stray Galway SHOs and interns in Enniskillen, involving soirees in the Railway Hotel some years after I did, so that brings many plenary indulgences.

Most of us just want to do our thing. If you stick your head over the parapet at all, whether you are Imelda May or Michael D, you will be trolled and criticised unmercifully. We may find that our view of people changes as time goes by and maybe we find that they did not change at all, but we did. The train may be moving away but we are moving on the platform, whether we know it or not.

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