Paul Healy’s Week

Friday

Johnny was a creature of habit, and he liked it that way. Up to a few years ago, he’d go to the local pub every Tuesday and Saturday night. Tuesdays he loved, because the same few characters were almost always there. They talked about old times, with the odd token gesture to events of the 21st century. On Saturday nights, a high stool was reserved for Johnny in the small bar, away from the madding (young) crowd, if not from the incessant thud of music he couldn’t understand and didn’t care to.

About three times a week he’d spend a while in the village shop, by then fourth generation. On Lotto day, Johnny usually joked about how he’d spend the millions that were his destiny. Some days he spent half an hour there, chatting with customers and staff, sharing the news of the village and the world.

When the pub closed its doors two years ago – shortly before Covid – Johnny was surprised at how much it upset him. Over the following couple of months, he rarely saw the inside of a pub, and when he did, it wasn’t his local. His nephew would bring him into town, where there were new faces. Friendly enough faces, but not familiar ones.

When Johnny saw the sign on the window of the village shop, he got an awful land. ‘It is with regret that we have decided to close our doors, after serving the community for almost a century. Thank you for your loyal custom over the years’. Johnny strained to see inside the window, and sure enough, the shelves were empty and the lotto machine had been disconnected and placed on the floor. No chance of a windfall here.

The very next day, when Johnny went into the Bank of Ireland, as he did every Friday, he was delighted to meet a couple of neighbours. His friend Paddy agreed that it was very sad about the village shop closing. “I suppose that’s the way things are going” Paddy said as he waited for the nearest internet banking booth to become vacant. “Sure it’s hard for the small shop to compete with the multinationals, and the online shopping”.

Johnny felt alone when his friends went off to do their internet stuff. He looked around the bank. Nobody was talking. The nice staff were tipping and tapping on keyboards, and the customers were grim-faced, expressionless, their gaze on the screens in the booths.

As Johnny was the only one heading for the counter – one teller on duty where there used to be five – a bank employee swooped. “Have you tried the online banking? You can lodge and withdraw…let me take you through it step by step. You’ll have the hang of it in no time”. She gestured towards one of the booths. But Johnny mumbled that it wasn’t for him. Too much like Star Trek.

When he insisted on making a human connection at the counter, the staff member who attended to him could not have been friendlier. They had a great chat. Her daughter is in Sydney, where Johnny’s son is married (to an Australian). I see the shop is closed, Johnny ventured. Ah sure you can get everything in Lidl and Aldi, the bank teller said, looking none too impressed herself.

That was a few months ago. Today, when Johnny’s nephew dropped him into town, the old man saw that the bank branch had closed. Forever. It had closed on this very day. Johnny stood for a moment, staring at the familiar building, now suddenly dormant. He felt some form of personal loss. Fridays there had been so vibrant.

For a moment or two, he was in a world of his own. Since Anne died, he had enjoyed or endured those trips to the shop, to his local, to the bank on a Friday. Briefly now, he became emotional, as he thought of how things are changing. Composing himself, he wandered, head lowered, past his old local and the boarded up shop, into a small café. On the radio, they were talking about the Bank of Ireland closures.

“The bank says they’ve closed all 88 branches because footfall was down” a young reporter said. “And all their customers were going online”.

Well I’m not online, Johnny heard himself saying aloud. And I was here every Friday. But no one was listening.

Later, back home, Johnny sat back in his favourite chair. No news from the village, he thought. No company. No yesterdays.

He had just drifted off to sleep when the business correspondent on the radio said that Bank of Ireland’s profits for the first half of the year were €465m.

 

All week/weekend

All week, controversy raged over Republic of Ireland striker Callum Robinson’s stance on vaccination against Covid-19. It seems daft to me that a prospective role model who has actually contracted Covid twice, should choose not to be vaccinated. I didn’t attend the People’s Court last week – I mean Liveline – but I gather that Joe Duffy & Co. didn’t spare the young footballer. That sounds rather unfair.

Today, Irish manager Stephen Kenny, himself still waiting on an anti-critics vaccine, was asked about Robinson’s stance.

Kenny commented: “He’s a breath of fresh air. He always comes in with a smile on his face. He’s infectious”.

It was a funny choice of word – ‘infectious’ – well, only if we’re allowed to laugh at such things any more. (I’ve haven’t seen the Laughter Police in a while, but I know they’re never far away).

For the record, Kenny went on to strongly defend his player, saying Robinson has great qualities as a human being, and that he’s been unfairly vilified.

I think people should get vaccinated, but it really is a personal choice. And people certainly should not be vilified.

 

Saturday

A heartbreaking ‘story’ in today’s Irish Independent, where a front page headline screamed: ‘Downfall of the Dubs: Where did it all go wrong?’ Inside was an analysis of the anguish that has apparently befallen the Dublin senior football team, now “mired in doubt” and hit by “goal droughts” and “point-scoring famines”. We were told that manager Dessie Farrell is “sifting” through the “wreckage of a difficult second season”.

Yes, this is the same Dublin squad which picked off six All-Irelands in a row before losing to a miraculous Mayo comeback in this year’s semi-final (after leading on the stroke of full-time). I understand that Leitrim, Carlow and Antrim players are setting up a WhatsApp group to see if they can generate any ideas that could help solve Dublin’s crisis.

 

Saturday afternoon

A rare competitive away win for the Republic of Ireland, who defeat Azerbaijan 3-0. Naturally, Callum Robinson fires in two goals. The villain of the week has turned into a hero. On Twitter, the Permanently Angry turn on Joe Duffy for (allegedly) turning on Callum. What times we live in!

 

Saturday night

According to the RTE News, a man stated today that “urgent action is needed to tackle hospital waiting times”. The man in question is Stephen Donnelly, whose day job is being our Minister for Health.

 

Sunday

‘A shot in the arm’ is how the Sunday Independent reports on Callum Robinson’s double for Ireland. It beats anything I saw on Twitter. Long live newspaper sub-editors!

 

Monday

Tonight’s evocative documentary (RTE 1) on the late Barney Curley – poignantly featuring thoughtful contributions by the man himself – was excellent. Curley, famous as ‘the man who beat the bookies’, was a legendary gambler who in later life devoted himself to charitable ventures. He was a remarkable character and this was a touching and endearing tribute to him.

 

Tuesday/Wednesday

I was far too busy at work to pay much attention to Budget 2022. Grabbing a sandwich on a 20-minute ‘lunchbreak’ at home on Tuesday, I actually tuned into ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ on Sky Arts, in preference to the rather tedious speech-making in the Dáil. The acting was better (on Sky) and there was some genuine suspense.

On Tuesday night I ignored much of the blah blah on Prime Time, preferring to catch up on Callum Robinson’s hat-trick against Qatar (over to the sub-editors).

On radio on Wednesday, Leo and Micheál were both busy defending the latest ‘Give and take’ exercise. I think I’d had enough of Budget 2022 when I heard a reporter on radio say that a person on the minimum wage could see their annual salary rise by about €400, while their fuel costs alone would increase by at least the same amount. Tale of the Expected.