The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret: Ex Political Correspondent

So much has happened I don’t know where to start. The country has ground to a halt but I seem to be in top gear (move over Jeremy Clarkson). As some wise pundit said somewhere – every recession has gold bullion sewn into the silver lining or words to that effect. Please note that I am now an EX political correspondent. Politics is dead. Well not totally dead but the political system as we know it is going through death throes and I’ve decided rather than juggling deck chairs it’s better to jump ship and get launched into a new career. But I’m galloping ahead of myself. Before I go into the gory details of my career change I need to state categorically that I’m never going to get married. Well at least not outdoors in Ireland in late March in flimsy clothing. Bridie (my best friend) and Phil (her now husband, though relationship wobbly) went ahead with their ‘alternative’ wedding at Glendalough and managed to pick the wettest day of the year for it. Ronan (current boyfriend, though relationship under serious review) and I were the witnesses to this very soggy event. Bridie gave in to Phil (Ronan’s best friend and hugely influenced by R’s environmental views though remains totally opposed to his socialism) – Phil is really a yuppie pretending to be a social activist and insisted on a ‘natural’ wedding. This involved the Moales and O’Connors and other (extremely tolerant) close family and friends standing miserably clad in ‘natural’ fibres (in other words freezing to death) on the shore of Glendalough upper lake, which was shrouded in a deep mist and fine drizzle. Ronan and I were supposed to be Druids but unfortunately all the fronds and leaves, which took hours to entwine in our hair ended up bedraggled and sticking out like demented magpies’ nests. The only satisfaction for me in the whole event was witnessing Bridie’s insufferable younger sister, Aoife’s fake tan run off in streaks on to her lime green dress. Bridie was delivered to the ceremony from the car park to the beach in one of Ronan’s wheelbarrows dripping with sagging spring flowers and ivy. This bumpy ride nearly put Bridie’s back out and was not a dignified entrance for any bride. The outdoor picnic was abandoned and instead we all headed for the pub shivering and sneezing where the party soon picked up after the publican lit a large fire and gave us copious amounts of hot whiskeys on the house. I think Bridie and Phil had a rather rocky week’s honeymoon in Kerry (in the rain) analyzing the wedding and things are still a bit frosty. To make matters worse there were no decent photos, just a few blurred images. Mags Moale (Bridie’s mother) remains distraught. Phil has admitted it was all rather idealistic and Bridie had a huge meltdown in the Department of Finance when she got home. Stuff to do with pensions and levies and general dissatisfaction with her boss not setting a good example in the cutback department.

I had my own meltdown, which started well before the wedding with a heated row with Ronan who fell asleep on my sofa when I needed his support in coping with my crazy family. My father (the badger) is in depression recovery having been made redundant, my menopausal mother (Betty) has thrown in her pensionable job as a nurse and joined a coven and my right-wing fundamentalist Catholic Auntie (Kitty) has taken refuge in an Opus Dei safe house after a publicly humiliating incident on LIVE tele involving John Sargent. So embarrassing and so unfair to be part of this mad family. And Ronan thinks they are cool. What do you do when your boyfriend doesn’t support you around the ‘rents’? He just mutters something about ‘wait till you meet my family’, which makes me very nervous. I can’t imagine having a meet the Fockers weekend with my ‘rents’ and his, which is another reason to never get married. Ronan doesn’t do rows. Just sits silently with his arms folded gazing into space. This gets me even more enraged. Bridie and Phil weren’t much help (at the time totally absorbed in planning their soggy wedding) and I know they thought I was being over the top. Phil (who can be really patronizing sometimes) said it was time I ‘engaged with my process’ with Vera (my counselor). Sometimes Phil does all this professional-sounding head speak but all that does is cause me more confusion. Luckily Vera who has moved from frumpy to cool has been very understanding, so with a combination of Vera and after watching several episodes of In Treatment, I now have a better understanding of what is going on in my life. To cut to the chase, I am the fixer in my family and being an only child I have become the parent to both my mum and dad. This makes complete sense but doesn’t solve the problem. I have an unemployed father sitting at home doing nothing except wanting to get on the airwaves and rant like an angry teenager and an irresponsible mother who strips off at the drop of a hat and dances in fields at full moon. And to make things doubly complicated I also seriously fancy Gabriel Byrne. Phil has pronounced this to be ‘erotic transference Fiona which is completely natural and can only enhance your process’. Is Phil barking or has his role as Agony Uncle for Concerned Citizen gone to his head. Doesn’t he realize how shaky my relationship is with Ronan? I can only just put up with the rancid smell of unwashed dreadlocks and that ridiculous squirrel tattoo but I can’t bear the fact that this man is emotionally stunted and unable to have a meaningful conversation with me and yet be completely conversant with a string of vegetables in his allotment. ‘He can handle a wheelbarrow but not a woman,’ I announced to Vera. I sensed from a subtle twitch of one of her red stilettos that her response would rile me. ‘You sound like you’re whining Fiona.’ It was that pronouncement which set the ball in motion and propelled me not just out of Vera’s room but also out of Concerned Citizen and into the world of high flyers.

I stormed out of Vera’s room slamming the door and phoned Bridie who immediately started talking about the wedding. ‘Fiona, I want you and Ronan to wear green chiffon with a garland of oak leaves pinned in your hair and draping down…’ ‘Bridie do you think I’m a whiner…and I want the truth…even if it hurts?’ ‘Yes,’ said Bridie rather too quickly, and yes it hurt. ‘You’re never satisfied and always complaining. I don’t know why you continue to work for Willy (my boss, the editor of Concerned Citizen where I was the Political Correspondent) – he is never ever going to promote you. And by the way, I’ve put in my resignation. The Gruffalo has decided to go on a rampage against what he calls a new form of Irish terrorism – guerilla art-fare. Can you believe it? The country is bankrupt, the bankers are laughing, the electorate furious, unemployment queues grow ever longer, unions are threatening to strike, the planet according to James Lovelock is finished and already two people in the department have had nervous breakdowns. The Gruffalo has had his portrait painted twice in the nip, Andy Warhol style, and you’d think he’d be delighted with the publicity. There’s been another murder in Limerick and they want to arrest an artist whose only offence is to wield a paintbrush! Have we…’ ‘Wow,’ I interrupted, temporarily forgetting my wounded feelings. Weird images of a naked Gruffalo swam in front of my eyes occasionally interspersed with erotic sightings of Gabriel Byrne but my reverie jolted back to reality when thinking of Bridie, efficient, superb civil servant Bridie, resigning from her pensionable job just before her wedding. Things were clearly worse than awful. ‘Don’t worry Fiona,’ said Bridie. ‘I’ve got a cunning plot and it involves you. You are going in to see Willy today. I’m not doing this alone. We are both quitting our jobs right now and we’re are going to start our own business.’

And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve left the world of high finance and politics and opened an agency that promotes celebrities. Bridie and I have had to do a crash course in celebrity immersion. I now listen to tapes and eat, drink, and sleep celebrity. The tapes have some pretty weird mantras, like this one, which I’m supposed to listen to three times a day:

Our Media, the road to heaven – hallowed be this age of celebrity where the money lies. You control everything from news, to public opinion as to who is in and who is out. You are the new reality who has taken over the airwaves and screens and reveal to us how people live, diet, emote, get dissected and die. Lead us into acting out in the public arena and deliver us from all privacy and places to hide. People are now our commodities and they need to be branded, packaged, marketed and sold. For ever and ever…

I know this is the sort of training brainwashing that goes on and I’m not going to take it too seriously but I’m also determined not to go back to the poverty trap. I may sound callous but I’m sick and tired of being told by politicians that I’m going to have to bear the pain of their mistakes. I’m not. I am going to go out there and make a success of my life and become rich. I’m tired of scrimping, saving, renting to corrupt landlords and living off macaroni cheese. I’m sick of reading Rich Lists and how someone who earned 1 billion is going to have to survive on 50 million and surrender their helipad for a garage. I want to own a house, go on exotic holidays and yes, even have some cash left over for a boob job down the line. Vera in her strange way is quite sympathetic. She says I’m finding my authentic self. She hasn’t said that I’m greedy, selfish and ambitious which is what I’m sure she privately thinks, but she is not allowed to be judgmental which is great.

Our first task was to come up with a name for our business. Stiletto was on the short list – but then I realized that I was thinking of Vera’s shoes even though it was a punchy, sexy name. Then we came up with the No. 1 Ladies PR Agency but this is not Botswana, yet…. Quite liked Ferret and Moale Inc. but Phil said it reminded him of the Wind in the Willows and that ideally we needed a Toad (who was celebrity personified) in with the Ferret and Moale. We finally settled on the Boomtown Bridies in celebration of Bob Geldof who has made loads of money, although Ronan muttered something nasty about rats deserting a sinking ship.

Of course there has been a massive fallout. Willy was shell-shocked and even went down on his knees to beseech me to stay on. He actually told me I was the best writer he had ever employed. Why do people always give you the good news when you leave? It’s like praising someone to the skies after they’re dead when it’s all quite useless to them. The badger went beserk. Said I’d sold my soul to the capitalist devil. My mother said she was disappointed she had bred a Celtic cub and a spoilt one at that! Ronan didn’t speak to me for days. Nothing unusual about that but he spent hours in the potato patch and muttered to rhubarb which is ominous and then emerged saying he was happy to be a guerilla gardener supported by a capitalist slug and that he respected our differences! Bridie had a really hard time. The Gruffalo was distraught, said he thought the department might collapse and even offered her a job as Tanaiste. She had an even harder time with Phil, who as well as doing the Agony Uncle column for Willy, has also started a rehab group for recidivist bankers. He had the nerve to accuse Bridie of being addicted to fame and money!

In spite of all this opposition Bridie and I managed to get a small loan to rent an office and then did another week of crash courses in marketing and celeb-branding. Within two weeks we already have people signed on. Some BIG NAMES! SO exciting. The ‘rents’ are starting to eat humble pie! Our first client is going to be a mega star – a middle-aged lady with a fantastic singing voice who has wowed the nation and who we are branding as ‘natural talent’. (Confidentiality is the name of our game so you will have to read between the lines.) This week we signed on a WELL KNOWN American star who is going on a hunger strike for Darfur – not sure how this benefits the people of Darfur but our policy is that we NEVER turn anyone down, however mad, especially when you are starting out in business. We give people the maximum publicity to do anything. The bigger the rumour mill, the bigger the story. Phil has finally swallowed his pride and is helping us with publicity. Even Ronan became interested when we were approached by a very WELL KNOWN golf club that wanted to expand its gardens and we needed someone to go along and talk to the Chairman of the Weeds Committee. Ronan made quite an impression and the club has now decided to take a risk and start the Composting Worms Working Group. (Didn’t I tell you, we do anything.) Two days ago got the leader of a hopeful political party who is saying No to Europe – he didn’t like our Obama pro-active Yes We Can suggestion and so we have reluctantly printed thousands of No We Won’t ads but as Bridie says – who cares how negative it is as long as they pay us. At last I have got something MEANINGFUL. Was approached last week under cover by a lawyer representing women in Afghanistan who are being oppressed by the government. Women there are not allowed to read any interesting books and are abused by their husbands for writing poetry. This is going to need pressure publicity. Bridie did not want to get involved with this one. Said it was too serious but I realize a part of me is still quite ‘political’ and I need a cause. Bridie’s parting words to me before going off to sign on a rugby star to promote Speedo swimsuits was ‘On your head be it.’ Doubt sometimes looms. On my media rounds was shocked to find that our own media seems to be sacking its own women and creating more jobs for the boys. Is the Taliban phenomenon creeping into our corridors of power and influence? I have to keep reminding myself that I’m no longer an investigative journalist but a promoter of celebrity and that might even include the Taliban.

I feel as if I’m hurtling along a motorway in a high-powered car without a steering wheel, which is a particularly bad feeling as I still haven’t passed my driving test and wonder if I’ll ever have the time to do it. Bridie is full of confidence and says we are doing brilliantly. Am increasingly plagued by that Chinese dragon, the one that always comes into the beautiful garden just when everything is going well and destroys it all. Had a terrifying dream the other night. It started with a protest march that turned into a Tale of Two Cities nightmare with tumbrels rolling through the streets of Dublin carrying bankers and builders to the guillotine. Instead of a mob of peasants with pitchforks streaming down O’Connell Street towards the Spike where the executions were taking place, there was a tsunami of middle-class nerds waving laptops and Gaia grannies pushing empty prams. I suddenly realized to my horror that I was watching all of this from one of the tumbrels and heading for the guillotine along with Bridie, a group of well-known politicians, and for some strange reason Gabriel Byrne. Next to the Spike stood Madame Defarge knitting furiously and screaming with delight as the guillotine descended on some poor builder’s head, but Madame Defarge soon turned into Auntie Kitty, the tumbrel into a wheelbarrow and Gabriel Byrne into Ronan. At that point I woke up, sweating. Rushed straight into Vera that morning and recounted the dream. ‘Umm,’ she mused. ‘Quite a graphic dream Fiona and Gabriel Byrne, Ronan, wheelbarrows quite an interesting mix…. have you any idea why you might be going to the guillotine? ‘I can’t imagine,’ I retorted, angrily. ‘I’m not a banker or a developer or a politician. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m just trying to survive but maybe this whole celebrity business is doing my head in.’