‘Gerry would shake ‘The Irish Times’ as if trying to dislodge a dead rat’
Padraig O’Morain is developing more irritations – ‘take the sticker off the damn banana’
‘I caught myself complaining out loud to an otherwise empty kitchen about those little stickers “they” put on bananas and which you have to peel off when recycling them.’ Photograph: iStockphoto
Gerry was a retired civil servant who had been a dedicated Irish Times reader for decades. For a time we worked in an office which Gerry had moved onto after retirement. Each day he brought a briefcase to work containing his copy of The Irish Times.
Generally speaking this was a source of stimulation, interest, amusement and contentment to him.
On one day of the week, though, contentment went out the window.
This was the day on which jobs were advertised in the newspaper. The internet had not been invented and if a job was for any kind of managerial or upper managerial position, The Irish Times was where it had to be advertised.
On the day these ads appeared, the paper bulged mightily with a huge jobs section. The paper didn’t appear in separate sections at the time so you had to carry around this giant Irish Times whether or not you were looking for a job.
Once a week, on such a day, Gerry would come down for his coffee carrying his paper. While the rest of us waited, he would open the paper and, his face reddening with anger, he would shake it as if he was trying to dislodge a dead rat found inside. Then he would ask if anybody had a scissors.
The scissors, which would be ready and waiting from the time he appeared, would be handed to him and he would then cut the jobs section out of the paper, all the time complaining loudly about the inconvenience to which “they” were putting their readers.
With the jobs stuffed into the bin, he would sit down and start to read. Gradually, his colour would decline from bright red to something more normal until a report of some carry-on, usually involving Fianna Fáil, would cause it to flare up again. This was repeated every week as if it had never happened before.
Suddenly, in a rare moment of clarity I could see myself as somebody in a Channel 4 documentary complaining about stickers. Though if I was really in a Channel 4 documentary I might well put the stickers into albums and have an entire room dedicated to my collection.
I notice I’m developing other irritations. For instance, historians who use the present tense to speak about the past annoy me greatly. You know the sort of thing, “The King is in his counting house counting all his money, the Queen is in her parlour eating bread and honey.” Not “is,” I mentally shout at the radio, “was!” And you a professor!
And because I am, at heart, an old hack and it annoys me when people say “less people” instead of fewer people. The same goes for reporters who say “refute” instead of “reject”. I tell them this but it does no good because they are not there at the time.
We are in a distinguished if tormented lineage. Charles Babbage, who invented the computer in the early 19th century, though he never got it into production, allowed organ grinders and their street music to irritate him in the same way that the jobs in The Irish Times irritated Gerry and stickers on bananas irritate me.
He campaigned against them and tried to have them banned. It is said that when he lay dying, an organ grinder was playing raucous music on the street below his window.
Asked to stop to allow Mr Babbage a peaceful death, he refused.
So if you are visiting me during my last days on a hospital trolley, and if you misguidedly decide to bring me a cheering bowl of fruit, my last request is this: take the bloody sticker off the banana.
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email. email@example.com @padraigomorain