02 October 2017

Making the best use of a
Monday visit to the doctor

Bright autumn skies at the weir on the River Dodder at Firhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a few months since I last had a B12 injection and a check-up on my sarcoidosis. With a brief stopover in Dublin before returning to Co Limerick tomorrow, I decided to visit my GP for a check-up this morning.

GPs’ waiting rooms can be busy on Monday morning and, as I expected, I had a long wait today.

A colleague who was once an active trade unionist recalls how he was once called out in the middle of negotiations by a senior director in a company where the talks were getting rancorous, the management were digging in their heels, and the frustrated workforce was ready to down tools and walk out.

My friend was expecting a confrontational one-to-one session behind closed doors.

The director claimed he was exhausted by workers who were taking advantage of a benign company attitude to sickness and sick-pay.

He was challenged to produce figures to justify his hard-hearted attitude.

He dug his heels in and pointed out that 40% of sick days were taken on Fridays and Mondays, and claimed the workers were using these sick days to extend their weekends.

So, the calm response came, 60% of sick days are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays?

Indeed, they are, the director affirmed.

He was challenged to make a quick calculation. Still not aware of how he was exposing the way he was challenged mathematically, it was pointed out that in a five-day working week, Fridays and Mondays were 40% of the working days. There was no evidence of anyone taking advantage of the proximity of weekends, he was told. He might have been better off looking at work conditions and company policies were contributing to health problems in the workforce, he was told, and the union now demanded to call in health and safety experts.

Needless to say, the union’s demands were met, the prejudiced manager soon moved on, and the company now has a happier and healthier workforce.

The waiting room was crowded this morning, not because there were too many laggards looking for sick notes, but because I have an exceptionally good GP, who takes time with each and every patient, and deals with the whole person and not just the presenting symptoms.

My B12 levels are low, I have noticed an occasional stagger, I needed a prescription for my inhaler, and I need some more tests over the next few weeks.

When I left, 2½ hours after joining the morning queue at my GP’s practice, there was a bright blue autumn sky, and despite the wind there was bright warm sunshine.

I walked back through the Dodder Valley Park, along the banks of the River Dodder from Templeogue Bridge as far as their weir at Firhouse. It was time for solitude and for prayerful thankfulness for all that is good in God’s creation.

Bright autumn colours at the weir on the River Dodder at Firhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

From Bray to Bologna, I asked
if Barcelona marks the beginning
of the ‘Balkanisation’ of Spain

A walk on the beach in Bray as the October evenings close in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I have had a head cold since Saturday night. Some men are tempted to call this ‘man ’flu,’ but I am not going to be so dramatic – yet.

But, despite feeling sorry for myself, and despite the grey autumn clouds that have been hanging over the south-west all weekend, I enjoyed travelling along the south shore of the Shannon Estuary, to and fro between Askeaton and Tarbert, on Sunday morning and afternoon.

Although I had no opportunity for a walk on the beach all last week or during the weekend, there opportunities for a walk along the banks of the River Shannon in Limerick on Thursday evening, despite the rain, and walks along the banks of the River Deel on Saturday with two visiting friends.

By the time I got to suburban south Dublin last night, I had given up hope of a weekend walk on the beach. But then, on a whim, two of us decided to go for dinner in Carpe Diem in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Dreaming of Bologna in Carpe Diem in Bray last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

It been three months almost since I had last eaten in this delightful little corner of authentic Italian cuisine, and the food, the wine, the coffee, the books lying around the place, and the sound of Italian voices in the background all whetted my appetite for a planned visit to Italy next month, when I hope to spend a few days in Bologna and Ravenna.

That double espresso was truly kicking in when we decided to go for a short walk on the beach in Bray. The lights had come, and there was a feeling that winter is around the corner, waiting patiently for the clocks to go back later this month.

A walk on the beach in Barcelona during Easter weekend in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

But as I walked along the beach in Bray in the fading lights of an October evening, a chill came through me as I recalled this weekend of all weekends some pleasant walks on the beach in Barcelona during Easter weekend last year.

I tend to be dismissive of nationalism of any shade, whether it is the claims of competing nationalisms in Northern Ireland, or the competing assertions of Spanish nationalism and Catalan self-determination.

But the images on news channels last night evoke memories of Franco’s fascism, which is not dead yet, and the long and sad, sorry story of the suppression of Catalan identity, depicted in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Indeed, Orwellian is an appropriate description of the response of the Madrid government.

It may be too early to ask whether we are seeing the beginning of the break-up of modern Spain. But this is not impossible, if we recall how Yugoslavia began to break-up in 1990. Could events in Barcelona mark the beginning of the Balkanisation of Spain?

If we saw these scenes in Venezuela, Myanmar or the West Bank, we would know this Spanish government is not behaving in way that is either civilised or acceptable according to international standards of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. It is certainly not a European way of responding to dissent.

If European governments fail to respond critically, we have to ask why we have learned so little from the lessons of history in Europe since the 1930s.

Spanish and Catalan flags flying side-by-side in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)