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The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret – Political Correspondent

This August was not just the silly season but has been a wickedly mad month everywhere.

My madness started back end of April in London when I went over to cover the royal wedding after my truncated week in Italy, where I had to be hospitalized with a serious case of sunburn, despite covering skin with fake tan and lashings of sun cream. Red blisters and flaky scabs put my ‘nude’ (latest fashion term, courtesy of Middletons, which sounds much sexier than ‘beige’) wardrobe in serious jeopardy for high fashion week. In desperation had to borrow backup from mum, Betty:  a floppy multi-coloured Indian style shirt still reeking of sandalwood from her hippie days and which thankfully didn’t have to wear as scabs healed in nick of time. Just when I was feeling my most insecure and not looking the Mae West, I met a deadly man when we were both penned in to the Press box together outside Westminster Abbey. It was just like the chick lit romance I read in Italy, Love Unmasked, – only it wasn’t doctor and nurse, gowned under hot lights bent over the operating table with intense looks exchanged as she hands him the scalpel; but two hacks squeezed together, jostling for space with cameramen, frantically texting on their Smart phones and eyeing each other up whilst having heated conversations with their editors. I so lost the plot, missed my flight home and ended up staying four days in London, met tons of deadly people, all working for the tabloids and I’m insanely in love with Orlando. I know the name’s a bit Shakespeare pretentious but he is gorgeous. I think he may be the one.

Reality seems to be losing its grip on my mother who actually left the Corrib protests to watch the wedding in a pub and phoned me in the middle of the marriage vows. Said she wished she was with me and did I think she looked like Carol Middleton. Mum, get a grip. Maybe if you went on the Dukun diet and lost a stone, but then you’d be too skinny and that wouldn’t suit you at all. She got tearful and said she hoped I’d meet someone special in London and muttered something about Prince Harry being cute and that she hoped I wouldn’t mess up my life as she had hers. Oh no, not that one again. What is it about weddings that makes men soft in the head, women blubber and tissue manufacturers into millionaires. This is clearly not a good time to tell her about Orlando. The same goes for Dad who will go into a rant about Ferret values when he finds out Orlando writes for the Mirror. I will tell Vera, my counsellor, because I need her help as don’t want to mess this relationship up. And of course will tell Bridie because she’s my best friend, even though she didn’t tell me she was planning to get pregnant. Now she talks of nothing else.

Had to drag myself back to Dublin and into Willie, my editor’s office, where we had a blazing row about my being irresponsible (missing the flight) and the copy. ‘Fiona, I want all this clothes crap cut out, people here are just not interested in weddings, especially royal weddings.’ What planet is he on! Has he heard of Hello Magazine or seen the film Bridesmaids? I managed to turn him around by showing him texts from Bridie who is seriously responsible, works for the Department of Finance, hates weddings and small talk and yet ended up taking a day off work to go to a girl’s only champagne and cupcake party in Fingal (although she drank cranberry juice because ‘I’m pregnant’). No one showed up for work in the D of F as were all watching the wedding. I also assured Willie of some scoops:  the middle class Middletons (who very possibly have an Irish granny some where in the skeletal cupboards) are now setting the fashion trend and its high street (Grafton Street) up market smart with cool nude overtones. Some of the Royals are looking like the poor relations as they totter on wedgies squeezed into brightly coloured replicas of sofa covers and chintz curtains. Bea’s octopus hat (according to Orlando and he should know) was in fact a poorly disguised satellite disk so you can be listening to your I-pod as you strut your stuff. Mostly convinced Willie that in a recession we need as many distractions from reality as we can get. People are desperate for fairy tale romances, fantasy and comedy. Willie was finally convinced and gave me free reign on my copy but just as I was planning to head over to London to meet Orlando he called me into his office. Please not the dreaded default or anything to do with the ECB, IMF, or PIGS. And please don’t scupper my weekend.

‘Since you are so up on the royals, Fiona, you can cover HM’s visit and while you’re at it you can also do Obama.’ Willie I love you. I even planted a kiss on top of his blade one. ‘What’s got into you, Fiona? Is there a man?’ Woops better be careful not to show him that am completely besotted. Did confide in Vera who received the news in silence but her Mona Lisa smile says it all. She understands! She approves!

Also told Bridie about Orlando but she didn’t seem that interested. Kept going on about her cravings for pickles, pre-natal classes and how Phil was doing brilliantly with his labour breath work and should she breastfeed. Not sure I want kids or rather not sure I want the personality change that goes with having them. This will have to be discussed with Orlando if we really do become a serious item.

As luck would have it Orlando was here for the Mirror during our ten days of love bombing by the UK and US. We were on such a high. Ireland was all over Sky news and this time it wasn’t as the black sheep of Europe with begging bowl in hand. Kennedy’s Camelot was back for a few days; black limos, tiaras, glam and glitter. Never mind that the streets were empty. Was completely exhausted by punishing schedule set apparently by HM herself. (She reminds me of my Gran (Badger’s mum) who is 94, lives alone and still drives. Badger made a big mistake in June when he phoned Gran to discuss her future. He got an earful for his troubles with Gran saying that the choices in Ireland for the elderly were a total disgrace; they were either abused in retirement homes or sent to live with their abusive families and ‘were now on Sky News in cages whilst lying on trolleys in hospitals’. Badger tried to point out that although people lying on trolleys in hospital wards was a familiar sight and a total disgrace, what she had seen was Mubarak on trial in Egypt where they did things a bit differently. Gran went on about mob rule, disrespectful youth and finished with ‘don’t think you can put me in a cage or tell me what to do. I will stay put and fall down the stairs in my own home, thank you.’ With that she slammed down the phone and Badger is too scared to call her.) HM is not about to retire. I think she wants to outdo Victoria.  Orlando and I did not have a minute to ourselves as we rushed around following hot on the heels of this diminutive, high-energy Gran who had us all walked off our feet. This is the result of exercising corgis every day, come rain or shine. The whole visit was very emotional and I was so proud of our President who is a deadly dresser. Amazing how two wise women with a bit of planning and choreography can change the course of history. No sooner had HM departed our shores than the Obama cavalcade hit town. Orlando was asked to stay on and together we were part of the small entourage picked to stand in the rain as the US government jet landed. We were not allowed to report the panic that ensued later in the underground parking at the US Embassy when the Beast got stuck on the exit ramp. ‘American Security has just lost its Triple A rating,’ smirked a veteran hack from the Herald as he discretely videoed the incident. Obama and Michelle not only charmed the entire town of Moneygall, but were also treated like rock stars in Dublin city centre later that evening. Dame Edna fired by the atmosphere joined in the rhetoric and did us proud and for a moment there I thought I was on the Michael Collins film set. Orlando thought Dublin was really cool and then over a pint one night he mentioned the dreaded word ‘parents’. Were they alive? When could he meet them? OMG. I’m afraid he believes I have a dad like Gabriel Byrne and a mother like Olivia O’Leary. What is he going to think when he meets the relics from the 70s: Badger who when he’s not depressed behaves like Vincent Browne having a go at some wretched politician and mum, who has been romantically linked to lost causes, including my dad, and who right now is probably locked up in a gardai station somewhere for spraying yoghourt at Shell supporters. And then there’s Auntie Kitty, Badger’s elder sister, who is right of the Tea Party – so embarrassing. Willie saved the day with a text saying I was to go over to London pronto to cover the Obama visit. Orlando swung it so we could travel together and whilst in toilets at the airport managed to text Vera in panic re parents to which she texted back ‘yr not responsible for ‘rents’. Thank you Vera.

During Obama’s whirlwind trip to London became more assertive and asked Orlando about his parents. ‘ Of course you’ll be meeting them,’ he said ‘they’re visiting my brother in Japan right now. They’re going to love you, but I’m warning you they’re quite bohemian. Mum used to sing in a rock band and Dad’s an actor. Both of them are really sweet but mad as hatters.’ Wow, genuine 60’s parents, mad, whacky and irresponsible. Feel somewhat relieved but now worried my parents are too 70’s, too intense, serious and boring. It’s hard to get the right kind of parents.

All plans scuppered as was summoned back to Dublin and sent to Brussels for two weeks. Can’t believe Willie would do this to me. Does he suspect I’m in love and does he want to ruin my relationship? Orlando had to stay put as he was covering News of the World and phone hacking scandals. Missed him desperately even though we phoned and texted constantly. I never want to get sent to Brussels again. Nobody knows what’s going on and conspiracy theories abound. There’s talk of a two-tier monetary system with France, Germany, Britain and some others in the top league and all the PIGS in the second league. This would include Ireland, Spain, Portugal and other riff raff.  There’s a lack of trust between nations, civil servants and departments with plenty of blame and backstabbing. Rumours are rife: the markets are going to collapse, the euro is going to collapse, and the world is going to go bankrupt. Didn’t sleep a wink trying to sort out the market babble speak and Willie was bugging me for a story – an angle… it’s always about an angle…remember it’s stories that sell newspapers that pay your salary, Fiona.  Finally decided on a rhetorical approach (so wouldn’t have to give an opinion) – Who Runs the Show: Is it China? Is it the Media? Is it Hedge funds?  Certainly it is no longer democratically elected governments. Willie finally went with headline Hedgehogs Run the Show, which was not quite what I had implied but anyway the article caused a stir. So much so that Willie took pity on me and rewarded me with the job of following the presidential campaign.

The two Marys are hard acts to follow and what started off as a dull campaign, soon turned nasty and then farcical with every one in the audience throwing their hat into the ring. The nomination process leaves a lot to be desired as the people have very little say in who their President will be. Dame Edna on the other hand was doing the business, multi-tasking as a cycling courier, athlete and boxer. Just as Rupert Murdoch’s wife was right hooking an idiot who splattered her humbled hubby with pie, Dame Edna was landing a body blow to the Vatican on the heels of the Cloyne Report. Will this be the final split between church and state? Had to fill Orlando in on our Miss Piggygate shenanigans and my disappointment and embarrassment at having waxed lyrical about the three Muppets (Mabelle Wallace, Kylie Ming and Ross) as positive male role models who have turned out to be sexists in drag. Orlando filled me in on the collapse of the Murdoch Empire and potential clean up of the tabloids.

‘It looks like everything that is familiar is collapsing. Our institutions are corrupt, authority figures have lost respect and there is poor leadership and governance.’ I was into a good flow for a ‘serious’ piece and realizing that what had started as the silly season had really taken a nasty turn and could find very little to be optimistic about. That was when Badger called and we spiraled into a familiar negative Ferret session of doom and gloom. ‘This is a mad summer, madder than the year I met your mother. We are in deep trouble girl. Things are only going to get worse, I’m telling you. Horrible mass murder in Norway, slaughter in Syria, famine in Somalia, and mob violence in the UK. Double-dip recessions. Disconnected youth. Default.’ Dad had been on the Joe Duffy show (again) this time about consumerism and the loss of values and community. He’s right of course but I had to point out to him that ever since I was a child our whole value system has been about serving an economy not a society and our education system encourages us to be competitive, and consume. ‘Why do you think I have nightmares about my job and money, Dad, because without either I’d be labelled a loser? Why didn’t courts sit through the night when the bankers and big spenders went on the biggest pillage and plunder on this planet? Just look at some of our leaders, our role models – gangsters, pimps and crooks -it would be a joke if it weren’t so serious.’

I finally ran out of steam and waited for the riposte but all he said was ‘Well girl, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, does it?’ OMG he is so right. But which branch of the tree? Dad’s or Mum’s? Keen to change the subject I then said out of the blue ‘I’ve got a boyfriend Dad, he’s called Orlando, he works for the Mirror and he’s English.’ Silence. ‘Dad, are you there?’ ‘I’m here Fiona, it’s a bad line, did you say something about Orlando. What’s happening in Florida?’ I lost my nerve and told him I’d see him on the weekend.

Managed to get emergency appointment with Vera, as events seem to be moving along too rapidly for me to cope with. All action and reaction with no time for reflection. Being with Vera for an hour gives me some space to think but also rattles my cage. I started off talking about my fear of being like my Dad (or possibly my Mum), then moved on to Orlando (hope he is not like my Dad) and ended up discussing Bridie (she is sounding more and more like my mum). What unraveled finally was my fear of commitment, the future and bringing a child into an unstable world. Vera had that annoying satisfied look which implied she knew something I didn’t and she suggested I go and think things over. Got really annoyed and said I didn’t have time to sort myself out, that I was paying her to help me, but she wasn’t having any of it, so stormed out in a huff. First instinct was to phone Orlando but didn’t want him to know I was in counselling so phoned Bridie instead who had just come from her appointment with the midwife and was going on about a birthing pool. Eventually she got into listening mode but this pregnancy really has already made her into a mother. ‘Fee if you love him, then go for it, you’re not getting any younger. But do be careful. You need to be sure he’s the right man, especially if he’s going to be a father to your kids.’

Was left feeling that everyone is ganging up on me so decided to spend the evening alone with the tele. One channel was discussing teenage violence. Kids. Another was showing obese teenagers. More kids. Flicked over to a soap where a granny was being mugged at gunpoint (by a kid) so switched to CSI where everyone was shooting each other and finally ended up half asleep watching chimps in the jungle. Through intermittent dozing, the monkeys who were leaping about fighting over bananas and jockeying for the alpha male position began to look strangely familiar. Turned out I was watching a chat show featuring Berlusconi, Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss Khan. Who was it said if you pay peanuts you get monkeys? Now monkeys get paid millions and we get banana republics.

Was woken from this weird scenario by a call from Orlando saying he was arriving tomorrow. Feelings of panic. He was exhausted from covering the riots in London and said it had been pretty scary and that he had missed me loads. This is crunch time. I’m going to have to come clean on the counselling and have a serious talk about kids.

‘Fessed up to counselling which didn’t phase Orlando at all. Said he went years ago when he had acne. Had in-depth discussion re kids. How would I handle a rioting teenager? Orlando is so positive. Thinks social networking is going to change our economy into a society from the ground up. The blackberry may be a weapon of destruction but the broom and dustpan are the new clean up symbols of peace. I’ve got to learn to think outside the box. Then… he asked me to marry him.

I said yes without texting or phoning anyone. OMG. Now have to face a Meeting of the Fockers and a wedding. Or do we? First texted usual suspects: Bridie, Phil, Willie, Vera and even Ronan. Ronan was first to text back begging me to reconsider, said he loved me and that he now has a barge ready and waiting, and a bumper crop of lettuce, to which I replied: ‘Txs bt no txs. Lettuce bolting and so am I.’

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