Rehearsing in front of the mirror for a radio show


Opinion:I spent half an hour rehearsing at the mirror in the bathroom one morning last week before going to RTÉ for a radio interview. I like to be on my toes when I go to Montrose. The radio centre is a small cathedral of modernity and I envy the journalists who work there, sitting in wide-open spaces watching their screens and rubbing shoulders with Joe Duffy.

To be in RTÉ is to have done well in life, to feel validated; to be in a comfort zone of achievement. It’s the kind of place my mother was thinking of when she used to urge me to get a permanent, pensionable job.

She would gaze at the mute screen with poisonous envy when Pat Kenny had long hair and flared trousers, and she’d say, “Just look at him, with his good job.”

I waited on a couch tucked into an alcove in the radio centre.

The researcher asked me did I want tea. She spoke as tenderly as a nurse in a dental clinic before the patient is taken into the drilling room.

Personally, I could linger in RTÉ forever. I’d be happy to walk the hushed corridors and drink coffee in the canteen and gaze out the big glass windows at the world, that delusional zoo beyond the perimeter, as I ate buns with the doctors of reality within the glass palace.

The researcher returned. “He’s ready for you now,” she whispered, as if Neil Delamere was a dentist.

Afterwards, I was in Bewleys with chicken wings when a man sat beside me. He was in his 70s and his hand trembled when he lifted his teacup.

“I’ve been coming here for 60 years, ever since my grandfather first brought me,” he said, and I knew from his watery eyes that those plush red seats were still his precious comfort zone.

I shook his hand when I was leaving, and then a stranger shook my hand and said, “I admire you on the radio.” Which got me so inflated that when I saw Mary Lou McDonald at the bottom of Grafton Street I shook her hand and said, “You don’t know me but I really admire you in the Dáil.” Which I do.

If I worked in RTÉ I’d be happy all the time: there would be no more anger or rancour or jealousy in me. I would smile and shake hands all day long with all those young people who cycle through traffic and lock their bikes to the railings and skip up the steps of the radio centre with backpacks and bottles of water heading for the comfort of their lovely desks. That’s a zone worth getting out of bed for.

Getting out of bed in Leitrim is never easy. And I wasn’t long up the following day when a 1993 Nissan Micra wheeled in the gate and Taidhg knocked the door. He’s in his 50s, has long hair and talks a lot about straw houses.

He dreams of going back to college to study philosophy but he’s always too stressed, so each autumn he postpones it for another season. Instead he reads books about cosmic consciousness, eats stews full of chillies, and lives in a forest.

Perhaps he lost the plot of his life one night at the end of the last century, when he was found wandering around Washington Street in Cork half-naked and as high as a kite. After a few confused sessions with a therapist he gave up college, or what he called “the rat race”, and came to Leitrim. He’s been here now almost three decades.

I offered him porridge and asked him how he was managing. He has no money for coal and his cottage is damp and the wind billows up against the gable and slaps the roof like an angry mother and makes a noise under the front door like a squealing pig.

Taidhg never quite came to terms with the savage indifference of rushy hills in Leitrim. I think he still yearns for the far-off suburban lawn around his mother’s house in Cork, with its ornamental shrubs and manicured grass verges where he was reared like a prince, until he found the mind-expanding power of cocaine in second arts.

“I heard you on the radio,” he said.

The cat was in her basket beneath the range, sleeping with her head on the cool tiles. I sometimes wonder if she suffers from hot flushes like I do.

“Taidhg,” I said, for no particular reason, “wouldn’t it be lovely if you and me had jobs in RTÉ?”

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