The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret: Political Correspondent

Weekend

Spent miserable weekend in my shoebox apartment in Dublin in depths of despondency. Feel completely inadequate as don’t seem to be climbing career ladder fast enough, still can’t afford a house, failed driving test again (fourth time) and can’t seem to meet nice boyfriend. Despairing mood not helped by Sunday newspapers parading endless pictures of voluptuous celebs draped around Colin Farrell discussing their time in rehab as if it were a vacation and then pages of printout about the super rich and how many billions they have made. I sometimes wonder if there aren’t two Irelands, no make that three. Top tier is super rich playground of helipads, stud farms, studs, cocaine, Marbella, tax breaks and mega salaries, where people have private health care and are invited to attend Tribunals instead of the courts. Bottom rung is Mafia land of criminals, drug dealers, gang shootings, billhooks in boots of cars and bodies in the canal, where healthcare takes place in A and E and miscreants go straight to Mountjoy. Stuck in the middle is my boring little planet where I trudge to work every day, pay my rent, my tax and other people’s welfare, scrimp for my annual holiday, have a couple of nights out here and there with girlfriends (as not a man to be found) without so much as a whiff of cannabis, and visit my parents in Cork every other weekend. I go on a waiting list for healthcare and get my line of credit cut at any hint of wrongdoing.

Felt even more depressed after watching No Country for Old Men so ended up in desperation phoning my best friend Bridie Moale (who works in the Department of Finance and is my secret source of information). Had usual moan about lack of boyfriend, hormones and would I be better off heading for the Australian outback for some adventure? Bridie (always the optimist) started off by telling me to lighten up and by contrasting my life with a woman in Zimbabwe who is trying to vote (why don’t you get involved in politics, Fiona?) and an Iraqi mother selling her children for food. She then proceeded to Nigeria where female circumcision is akin to our first communion, Eastern Europe where women are being trafficked for sex (probably in an apt. next to you Fiona) and life under the Taliban in Afghanistan. And by the way Australian men are total sexists. As a grand finale, Bridie said if I was tempted to go to the UK watch out, for if the Archbishop of Canterbury has his way, I’ll end up in a burka locked in with a mother-in-law. All of this made me feel very guilty and ungrateful but did nothing to lift my spirits. Exasperated Bridie handed me over to speak to Phil, her boyfriend, who is a counselor and he was a dote and I ended up in tears making a fool of myself. ‘You’re depressed, Fiona’ he said. ‘You need to talk to someone.’ I said I was talking to him but he meant someone ‘professional’. This got me very worried. Am I losing the plot? Will I be tranquillized? Or locked up somewhere? I took down name of counselor feeling rather anxious and hungry. After scoffing a nuked Tesco Chicken Kiev and two ears of a white chocolate Easter bunny, I suddenly found I was feeling less depressed and for some strange reason angry. Watched The Apprentice and wanted to strangle Alan Sugar.

Monday

Decided to approach the week with a positive attitude and marched into Willy’s office exuding efficiency. Willy Watchdog is the editor of Concerned Citizen and my Boss and immediately I could tell he was in a foul mood as he was shouting down the phone to someone and simultaneously doodling furiously on his notepad. Oops. I could feel confidence beginning to erode and decided to head for the coffee machines and then the loo to put on an extra coat of lipstick and blusher. The war paint seems to help settle the wobbly confidence. Mobile went off in loo and it was Bridie. ‘Don’t forget to phone Vera Watson before you go into meltdown,’ said Bridie in hushed tones. ‘If you leave these things too late, we might never get you back. Phil’s worried about you. Got to go. Bigwig’s back from junket in Far East with a pile of papers and jet lag.’ Bigwig, Bridie’s boss is the eminence grise who basically runs the Department of Finance so she has her finger on the economic pulse and since according to Willy money makes the world go round she is a very valuable source. I haven’t told Willy who my mole is and my dad thinks I should stay mum on the matter and at least get a raise and promotion first. Suddenly realized I’d better get to work and make an apt. with Vera Watson (counsellor) before I forget. I vaguely wondered what Bridie meant by my not coming back and whether my meltdown was becoming obvious to the man in the street but by the time I got to my desk and did the usual trawl of the Mahon Tribunal I was back in work mode. The Taoiseach’s secretary was facing a grilling from a battery of lawyers and there were more complicated money trails and more to come.

Rapidly tried to do conversions from sterling into euros and felt a panic attack coming on. Have no head for figures and have dreadful feeling that Willy is going to send me down to the Castle again today for more coverage. Why doesn’t he send someone else who understands money matters? I’ve begged him to send me anywhere – a rugby match, a hospital with MRSA or even a stabbing in Limerick would be preferable. Swallowed down the coffee, which was by now tepid and then heard Willy calling for me. He had calmed down by this time and seemed quite good-humoured. ‘Fiona, I’ve got something a bit different for you today,’ he said, leaning back in his chair and giving it a frivolous little twirl. This was sounding ominous. The last time Willy twirled his chair he sent me into the Natural History Museum to get the director’s reaction to the proposed Seanad’s move in with the dinosaurs. Our cartoonist had a field day (Spot the Dinosaur) and I was slagged about it for the rest of the week. ‘Fiona, I want you down at the Port Tunnel. It’s closed again and I need you to find out what this is all costing.’ Oh God, another money trail. Deeply, deeply depressed, dragged myself back to my desk to grab calculator and then remembered the counsellor. Must call her tonight before I drown in figures.

Tuesday

Woke up having a nightmare that I was down at the Mahon Tribunal getting a roasting about Willy having offshore accounts and then stayed awake in a panic at the thought of my apt. with the counsellor first thing in the morning. Willy has given me the time off although I did lie and said I had to have my eyes tested. Felt sick with nerves and nearly did a runner but pulled myself together and slunk in the door of the Go Gently Centre. Vera Watson, a large motherly type draped in layers of shocking beige natural wools with large beads and Birkenstock sandals, greeted me at the door and ushered me into a small room with two uncomfortable chairs. I found myself avoiding eye contact and fixating my sights on her black wooly socks. Within minutes I was in floods of tears and going through a whole box of tissues and every time I tried to speak I was blubbering again. After what seemed like forever I stopped and Vera asked me if I had suffered a loss. You mean had anyone died. Couldn’t think of anyone. After a horrible silence she then asked me if I was angry with anyone. Again felt blank and then a face popped into my mind and I blurted out ‘Alan Sugar.’

Felt ravenous after session and polished off a large hamburger and fries and then bought myself a diary (Vera says I need to write an anger list and she didn’t think me completely loopy for having it in for Alan Sugar when I’ve never even met the man). Then set about repairing mascara-streaked face before heading back to the office.

Started to type up my copy of yesterday’s fiasco in the Port Tunnel. An engineer’s hardhat had fallen into the fan belts, which cool the place down, and the computer system had gone bananas. Health and Safety were jumping up and down because of the hardhat. Lorry drivers were lining the road shouting abuse at each other, traffic was backed up for miles on both sides of the road and some poor fellow was stuck in the fan belts trying to locate the hat. I managed to find a maintenance lorry with a worker sitting inside having a cup of tea and listening to Joe Duffy and who was very happy to talk. He says he’s called down here at least once a week with a problem and that it is costing the tax payer thousands, but he wasn’t specific. There was quite a drama going on on Liveline – a plane nearly crash landed over some houses near Shannon and people were wondering if it was carrying weapons destined for Iraq. Need to follow that one up. Was just about to put a call through to reliable source when Bridie phoned through wanting to know how I got on with Vera. ‘Can’t talk now,’ I told her ‘ but she thinks I’m angry.’ ‘I knew it,’ said Bridie ‘You’ve been brewing for at least a year. And your always worse when you’ve failed a driving test.’  I suddenly realized I was angry with Bridie who always seems to know what I’m feeling before I do, but I put on my office voice and asked her what the repairs in the tunnel were costing. ‘Millions,’ she said ‘and that’s official.’ Finished off copy and headed home exhausted.

Wednesday

Stayed up half the night feeling quite exhilarated. First was relieved that Vera hadn’t indicated I was losing the plot but noticed that the anger list was getting longer. I started with Alan Sugar and then put down all driving testers and instructors and found myself really steamed up with the politician (can’t even remember his name) who had suggested we switch to driving on the right hand side of the road because it would attract tourism. For Heaven’s sake I’m having a hard enough time trying to pass a test driving on the left and I live here. To have to switch over to the right to pander to Europeans on holiday would probably mean I would be another ten years taking tests. Besides which, the plan just would never work. And the tunnel would have to be changed over. No it doesn’t bear thinking about. Then added Delia Smith to the list for conning me into eating vegetables and salads and now saying tinned potatoes were okay. Then all those massive egos (Jamie, Gordon, Marco, Nigella,) who really fancy themselves (and make me feel totally useless) – who either seduce or stab people in the kitchen and do the most bizarre creations which they claim are easy and healthy (but in reality would take supremely challenged people such as myself four hours to prepare if I could ever find the ingredients in the first place) and which end up on a square white plate (always a white plate) looking like the leaning tower of Pisa with a skewer through it or a miniscule bonsai tree drizzled in  chocolate swimming in foamed spuds.

Angry and hungry raided the fridge and found cold sausages. The cupboard contained stale biscuits and a packet of Potassium Iodate for use in a nuclear attack long past its sell by date. Realized I was running late so decided to have a latte and croissant in café opposite office. Phone call from Bridie mid-mouthful to alert me to switch on radio in ten minutes for Very Important News. Dashed back to desk with crumbs wafting all over my suit and switched on radio. Bertie was on the steps resigning and Mugabe had lost the election in Zimbabwe. Did wonder if this was an April fool but it was in fact April 2nd. Willy was in a tailspin dictating all kinds of copy. Managed to pull off a quick piece indicating it was better Bertie did the honourable thing by falling on his sword rather than waiting to be knifed in the back. Decided to call it Othello over Caesar until someone pointed out that Othello had strangled his wife before falling on his sword and that Caesar had been stabbed all over his body by the entire Senate so opted for Bertie Bites Bullet Before Backstabbing until Willy threw it back at me saying that bullets and daggers were mixed metaphors so just ended up saying Bertie Says Goodbye which sounds pretty pathetic.

The rest of the day was spent following the news and discussing the implications. Who was going to lead us into the next recession and who was in or out of the cabinet? Would Mugabe go quietly or send the guns out on the streets? Big Obama and Clinton debate as the office is seriously divided on this one. I keep changing my mind. My mother loves Hillary and won’t hear a word against her. My dad thinks Obama is a breath of fresh air and has always been a Kennedy fan. My Aunty Kitty (who goes to mass twice a day) thinks McCain is the man because he has suffered and she loves martyrs. Not sure I want to go home this weekend because I won’t get a minute’s peace. The discussion will be mighty and everyone will get hot under the collar. My mother loves Bertie and will be in mourning and my dad who supports Labour will be saying good riddance. Have completely forgotten to file the Shannon plane story, has this resignation been a diversion? Bridie phoned just before I went home to say ‘It’s going to be you know who.’ Well she should know. Before leaving office opened up new document in computer entitled Biffo.

Thursday

Finding it hard to concentrate as still reeling from dreadful phone call with parents last night. It’s always a three-way conversation, which drives me mad. My tearful mother went on and on about Bertie as if he were a saint and my father instead of getting angry with her (because he’s a coward) started attacking me instead! How the media was right. We were a selfish generation. (All this because I said I wasn’t coming down on the weekend.) According to him all us young people were responsible for the ills in society and the down turn in the economy and the demise of the planet. I lost the plot and said it was their generation who had caused all this financial mess by being greedy, refusing to retire, clogging up the health system and living far longer than was necessary and they were the ones who drank like fish and got into cars completely tanked up and had totally failed as parents (which was why I didn’t have a boyfriend). This tirade ended with a very nasty silence and I thought it wise to put the phone down and take stock. Added my parents and the non-existent boyfriend to the anger list and felt lighter, almost euphoric.

By the time I got to the office the guilt had kicked in and wondered if I was now going to be the black sheep with no boyfriend forever cast out of the family fold. But was totally gob smacked when a phone call came through from my father saying that he and my mother had taken on board some of the things I had said (not all of them now, Fiona. I’m as fit as a flea and have never clogged up any hospital bed or trolley for that matter). He muttered something about an evening when he and Betty (my mother) had overdone the wine and he had fallen down the steps outside the house (but never got behind the wheel of a car, now mind). He said he was glad we had cleared the air but that Betty was still upset (it’s more to do with Bertie, now than with you Fiona, to be perfectly honest. The woman’s obsessed, why you’d think the man had died when all he’s doing is retiring, on a fantastic pension if you don’t mind. I think she fancies the fellow. Now what do you make of that. Get yourself down here now girl on the weekend and we’ll talk some more).

Feeling light and confident I rattled off some more copy hoping Mugabe would rot in some jail somewhere but Willy asked me to tone it down. (Something’s got into you Fiona. You’re not usually so aggressive). Went home and checked out the hit list and apart from Mugabe couldn’t think of anyone to add to it. Decided tomorrow I was going to continue being assertive and ask for a raise.

Friday

Took bull by horns immediately and went in to Willy’s office. Launched straight in with request for a raise saying I was worth every penny to him and that I was sick of tribunals, tunnels and tittle-tattle. I wanted to cover something meaty (not a beef tribunal). Before he could get a word in I continued by saying I didn’t want to hear that I was spoilt, selfish and responsible for binge drinking, crime, inflation and the recession. And was it any wonder the teenagers of today were flouting the law and behaving like thugs when they see the example set by those in positions of authority and leadership. I also said I wanted a holiday sooner rather than later. I have to say that Willy actually listened and then I thought Oh my God, he looks exactly like Alan Sugar, on a bad day and he is going to say You’re Fired. But he didn’t. He said ‘Why Fiona, you have the bones of an article there, in defense of young people. Off you go and write it and when you’re done you can leave early. Have a good weekend and get some rest. You’ve been overdoing it.’

In a daze went over to desk like zombie in a trance and wrote a brilliant article, which I emailed through, to Willy. Then phoned Bridie and updated her on events.  ‘Finally Fiona.’ She kept saying and then added ‘but you could still get fired.’ You could say that Bridie always sees the downside, must come from working in the Department of Finance. But she concluded with ‘You could always come here and work for Bigwig.’

Was packing up desk to go home when email came through from Willy saying Great article, well done. Raise to be discussed Monday, not sure about holiday just yet. Am putting you on Biffo trail as of next week. Go home NOW before you are sacked.

On the way home popped into Tesco and bought a bottle of wine and a pre-packed Thai dinner which looked brown and gooey with unidentifiable objects floating around in it but which tasted delicious whilst watching repeat segment of You’re a Star, wondering why people put themselves into humiliating situations when life is already difficult enough. Phoned Bridie and parents with good news and then opened bottle of wine to celebrate. No more tunnels, tribunals and sterling conversions. The dawn of a new Biffo era. Who is this man I am going to be covering? What are his interest and hobbies? What sort of food does he eat? Where does he buy his suits? These are some of the nation gripping questions that are going to come up especially in a recession. For a nano second feel a twinge of sadness at the passing of Bertie and hope that he will now go off into the sunset wearing what he likes. I always had a sneaking admiration for his dress sense especially his yellow trousers with the custard jacket. Will always remain for me a canary amongst the grey suits…I think the wine is kicking in and I feel a lump in my throat… Oh no, I’m beginning to sound like my mother…