The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret: Political Correspondent

Autumnal Reflections

Seasons of mists (for sure) and mellow fruitfulness… (creative juices not bearing fruit and far from mellow). In fact have reached complete meltdown or burnout (certainly not sunburn) or whatever you want to call it and deeply, deeply depressed by our non-summer. Bridie Moale (my best friend who works in the Department of Finance) and Phil her now fiancé (who is a counselor) felt I needed to chill out and lighten up (Bridie always seems to know what’s best for me) so they dragged me off for a weekend at the Electric Picnic. I told Bridie I would really prefer to visit one of those spas in the country where you can wallow in seaweed, have grapefruit facials and do yoga to relax in the evening but she was adamant. (What on earth would you want to be doing in a boring place like that Fiona, full of menopausal overweight women, drinking carrot juice and floating around in a white dressing gown?) I think it was the word menopausal (more on that later) that did it and before I could think of any more excuses we were packing up to go on the weekend ‘chill out’ to stave off my impending nervous breakdown.

So here I am in a soggy tent in a muddy field, freezing to death and its August. I managed to squeeze the battered diary into my rucksack as Vera (my counselor) thinks I’m doing really well and says I need to keep writing, especially with my left hand (which is not easy in a tent by torchlight on a deflating lilo). I’m grabbing some time on my own away from the milling throngs while Bridie and Phil (an ardent vegetarian) are off in search of lentil stew to stave off hunger and general feelings of damp. (Oh for a Big Mac and chips but that would be considered heresy.)

Have decided to do a navel-gazing review of year. I really don’t know where to start. The country is going down the tubes (and even if it isn’t the pundits are going to make sure it does), my parents have lost the plot, my boss has betrayed me and turned into a bully and worst of all the sun won’t shine when its supposed to. I suppose it all started with Lisbon. You could see the No vote heading towards Leinster House like a juggernaut destined to shatter through the walls of complacency and shake up the democratic process. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for poor old Biffo. It’s a Gordon Brown re-run only the honeymoon was shorter. Biffo got off to a shaky start as leader (of the country now mind) when he muttered an expletive about the opposition, which got lost in translation – either the farmers were muckers or the consumers suckers. Anyway that did it for my Aunty Kitty (who goes to mass twice a day and deplores any use of the F word) and who decided that the FF party now stood for all that was immoral in this country. She decreed the church should hold the Eucharist conference immediately – instead of waiting for four years – to ward off an impending Armageddon. So there was Lisbon (always read a treaty – or at least pretend that you have – even if you don’t understand a single sentence in it), stamp duty (should have gone for it), building slump (retreat of Poles back to Poland), food prices (skyrocketing along with fuel costs) and the interminable weather, which even Biffo can’t control. Willy (my editor) had us writing doom and gloom articles up until I took my week off in July when I spent my hard-earned savings on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime to ward off impending breakdown: a week in Ibiza.

The day I left was the day the radar system collapsed at the airport so spent the night curled up on a stray trolley wondering where my suitcase (with clean underwear, toothbrush, the war paint and all the things a girl needs for facing life) had ended up, drinking endless paper cups of coffee and wishing I’d gone to Cork to my parents instead. A last resort wish, as my parents really need to get help. Twenty-six hours later arrived on the island completely knackered to find suitcase had gone to Mallorca so had to wait another twenty-four hours inside darkened room until I got my make up back. The temperatures were fierce and I spent rest of the five days under an umbrella in the shade reading murder mysteries. As luck would have it the hotel I picked were not hosts to the Irish rugby team as rumoured but instead to one hundred and fifty boys who were celebrating finishing the leaving cert. Young, loud and to be avoided at all costs says the Diary. Luckily they were comatose most of the day having spent all night playing ‘who can drink the most sangria without throwing up’ and then jumping into the swimming pool and getting fished out by longsuffering hotel staff. I fancied the bar man (Jaime) who was dark and gorgeous and on the last night of the holiday he asked for my address. Although desperate for romance and reduced to jelly by his chocolate brown eyes, I had several moments of temptation followed by panic and decided life would get too complicated and I really needed to focus energy on finding a long-term relationship in Ireland. Phil (who is sensible and mature) had warned me that holiday romances were ‘unrealistic’ and immature. Phil can be a bit preachy sometimes. I’m now thinking realistic maybe mature and sensible but doesn’t get you anywhere and am now kicking myself that I didn’t give Jaime my address. As I look outside the tent and watch the lashing rain splatter all over my red flowery wellies caked in brown mud hanging upside down on the tent pegs to drain, I wish I’d at least I’d had a tequila or two under the stars with the man from Ibiza.

This might have helped me get over Willy’s betrayal. Recessions seem to bring out the bullies. I really thought my boss respected and valued me so when he stole my brilliant idea for an article on how to improve Biffo’s wardrobe in a meeting in front of all my colleagues I was mortified. He’s clearly got nothing better to do and he now spends his time at his desk supposedly researching men’s fashions and looking at magazines like Testomale, Razor Sharp and Body. I can’t believe he is taking Biffo’s wardrobe so seriously. Maybe he thinks he can save the Lisbon Treaty with a Charvet shirt. Willy was then thoroughly disappointed when Sarkozy dropped into town without Carla and sent me off instead to cover the visit. I was in the middle of writing an extremely boring but important article on pay freezes and cuts and had phoned Bridie for information. ‘Make sure Fiona,’ she said, sotto voce on the phone, ‘that Willy honours his commitment to give you a raise. Get it in writing now. There’s going to be belt tightening and pay cuts left right and centre.’ I tried to imagine Biffo tightening his belt and then asked Bridie about her pension. ‘Oh don’t worry about me Fiona; you don’t think pay cuts are going to affect us here in the Department of Finance. You must be joking. Government spending will be affected but not salaries or pensions.’ Eejit that I am. Maybe I should have sold my soul and taken a pensionable job in the D of F. Perked up a bit covering the Sarkozy visit. Sarko charmed the pants off everyone (except some trenchant no-voters) and was kissing and hugging all and sundry much to the embarrassment of our politicians who wanted to be stern and taken seriously.  At least my article got front-page coverage in Concerned Citizen (next to a picture of Biffo embracing Sarko in what can only be described as a Biffo clinch and does show up the ‘slept in suit’ look) which somewhat boosted my sagging morale.

Still waiting for written confirmation of pay hike, which is BADLY needed as shoebox apt. also going up in rent. Am seriously considering not taking any more driving tests and buying a bicycle instead. Talking of bicycles brings me to my parents. My mum has defied all logic and bought herself a scooter and a trampoline to stay in shape and beat the dreaded menopause although Vera is convinced my mother is already ‘acting menopausal’. Whilst I get all mortified Vera just sits there in her black wooly socks and smiles serenely and knowingly. (Have concluded that black socks and sandals are also symptoms of the menopause; there is a menopausal conspiracy and Vera is part of it.) Parents are just SO embarrassing and they seem to get worse as they get older. I’m afraid my mother might do a Shirley Valentine. I was down with my parents last weekend and walked into a menopausal madhouse. My mother and Aunty Kitty (Dad’s eldest unmarried sister) were shouting at each other in the kitchen. Aunty Kitty was purple with fury (another symptom) and spitting out words like ‘trollop’ and ‘hussy’ at my mother who slammed the door and left the house on her scooter. Aunty Kitty drove off in high dudgeon clipping the gate as she went. My father was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands.  Spread out in front of him was the Irish Times. As I got closer I realized Dad was actually looking at a photograph in the paper through a magnifying glass. ‘Well Fiona’, he muttered peering on to the page ‘there’s your mother now in all her glory, fifth buttock from the left, twenty fourth row. Now what do you make of that?’ I squinted at the picture and not having my contact lenses in all I could see were blobs of white on a beach. ‘Oh no beached whales, has Mum joined Greenpeace?’ Dad looked at me as if I was mental. Once I had the glasses on I realized that the beached whales were actually hundreds of cellulite-challenged, pink-skinned men and women of all shapes and sizes who had gone the full Monty for that whacky American photographer, who travels the world encouraging groups of uninhibited flabbies to bare all and get in touch with nature. ‘Mind you she looks pretty good compared to some of them,’ said Dad still with his nose pressed to the flesh. ‘Of course Kitty doesn’t see it that way. She won’t be speaking to us for a while, thanks be to Jesus. I don’t know what to do with your mother Fiona,’ said Dad, sadly folding up the newspaper and opening a can of beer, ‘It was Bertie in May, Leonard Cohen in June, now Sarkozy and she’s even emailing Barack Obama. She’s gone off on her dream machine to see Mamma Mia with her coven of new friends.’ ‘But she was a Hillary diehard,’ I couldn’t believe Mum’s betrayal of the feminist movement and her swing into grey power. Dad and I ordered fish and chips and spent a long drizzly evening discussing the grey power movement, toy boys and hormones: his hormones and prostate problems, Mum’s hormones, which seem to change every week and affect every part of her body, and my distinct lack of hormones. If nothing else it was a good bonding time for me and Dad and he was cool enough not to mention the words ‘husband’ or ‘grandchild.’

Am now seriously considering Prozac and brought it up with Vera. Told her counseling wasn’t really solving my pressing problems to which Vera said that perhaps I needed a therapist in order to go deeper. I thought therapy and counseling were pretty much the same thing but Vera assures me there are very definite differences which she tried to clarify but I remain confused. Not sure about going deeper. Deep is bad enough.

Torch battery is running low and lilo has completely deflated. Feel as if I’m lying on a damp bed of nails. Small puddle has gathered in entrance of tent. Bass guitars pound and whiffs of cannabis waft into the night. It’s still raining and even the moon looks sad.  Phil and Bridie finally arrive drenched and muddy with tepid lentil stew in a soggy carton and a huge bag of chips, dripping in vinegar and ketchup. Bridie, God love her, produced two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and some paper cups. Phil found some chocolate and I dug out some very mature (mouldy) cheddar. A Nobel Prize should go to whoever invented screw top wine bottles because sure as heck we didn’t have a bottle opener. We drank several toasts to the recession, global warming, youth, dwindling fuel and food, the outing of King Billy of Orange and an unsustainable future. Things can only get better….