Painting Michael D, irresistible instructions, and six other things that lifted our spirits

Soothe your soul with art, discover ‘books’, and see why Cork is ‘better’ than Dublin

Painting the President

I think we all agree that good art soothes the soul, and in the midst of this worldwide pandemic we could do with some soul-soothing. The artist Shauna Harrison has started drawing a series of pictures inspired by happy news stories, with any profit she raises going to the Feed the Heroes fund. She started sharing them on Instagram for her own amusement and therapy. A picture she drew of a doctor from San Diego with a smiling head shot of himself pinned to his PPE was broadcast by the beleaguered journalists at CNN.

And the artist and designer Annie Atkins has produced a series of public-service posters with suggestions from people on Instagram. Her entreaties include "Enjoy your relationship but please! Walk in single file!" "Now is not the time to text your ex" and "Smile on your neighbour." They are very authoritative, and I feel bound to obey them.

And the crowd behind Drink & Draw have launched a paint-Michael-D-Higgins competition. For those of us who absentmindedly find ourselves shaping the presidential pixie's happy smiling face in our mashed potatoes, or typing "Michael D Higgins, King of our Hearts" over and over again instead of writing our weekly column, this will be a welcome diversion. (Just remember to drink and draw responsibly.)

Oh, and we also have a children's art competition here in The Irish Times, to be judged by the wonderful Don Conroy. (Entries are still welcome until Monday.)


Discover ‘books’

Many of Ireland's bookshops are back providing a mail service for book-hungry shut-ins across the nation, albeit with a somewhat reduced stock. Here's a reminder, for those of you addicted to your terrifying social-media feed: a book is a sort of "paper internet" or, if you prefer, a prompt to stimulate "mind movies".

Yes, I know many of you are spending your lockdown time joyfully appreciating your family or productively creating great art or doing virtual degrees in amateur epidemiology, but if there are any lulls in your wholesome schedule you could also try ordering a "book" from Easons, Kennys, the Gutter Bookshop, No Alibis, Books Upstairs, O'Mahony's, Woodbine Books, the Company of Books, Raven Books, Swan River Press or Sheelagh na Gig.

The library service has also seen a huge increase in members, with 30,000 people joining in March of this year, compared with 17,000 joining in March 2019. Yes, its online services still function, and it is reporting a 313 per cent increase in use of ebooks and e-audiobook services, a 467 per cent increase in elearning courses, a 227 per cent increase in language courses and a 246 per cent increase in use of online newspapers and magazines. You can join here for all that great free stuff.

Or sing instead

Maybe you don’t like “reading”. Perhaps you prefer singing. I was pleased to discover that my neighbours in Marino in Dublin are planning a socially distanced singalong on our street this evening. A similar event could be heard from a neighbouring street last Friday. A song list was distributed here during the week, with the relevant keys for any singers and musicians who want to play along. I’ll certainly be bellowing along from my front garden. It’s a good list. It includes The Irish Rover, Annie’s Song by John Denver, and Me and Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson. I’m all in, and if other people around the country are planning such things, I’d be very interested to hear from them.

See the Himalayas

Now for some mountain news. Look, I realise you hate the Himalayas, and, yes, as mountain ranges go they’re a little too obvious when compared to the “big hills” of Ireland. (They’re no Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.) But some people love them, and so it counts as good news that in the northern Indian state of Punjab the air pollution has subsided so much that residents can reportedly see the Himalayas clearly for the first time in years. Indeed, worldwide there has been a reduction in air pollution thanks to “humans” being grounded and no longer able to ruin everything. Yes, I know you miss ruining everything – using up diesel and gleefully destroying animal habitats – but this is a genuine silver lining for our poor planet.

Cute chick

And, finally, cute animals! A white-tailed-eagle chick has hatched in Glengarriff Nature Reserve. This proves, once again, that Cork is better than Dublin. If the eagle makes it to maturity this will be the first time this has happened in more than 100 years for these beaky Corkonians. (Another chick was born in Ireland back in 2016, but, sadly, it did not survive.) You can watch a live feed of the chicks on the park's website. The parents of this feathery family do not appear to be obeying the lockdown recommendations, but this is because they are birds and do not obey the laws of man, not because they're from Cork.