The last word (On Mr Deasy)

THE news that Sam McCauley were leaving Waterford came at a particularly worrying time for the city. Right now, we don’t know whether we’re coming or going. We keep hearing talks of positive developments but none of them are showing any signs of happening. We’re waiting for cranes to appear in the sky and all of a sudden, BOOM, one of the big shops in the town are leaving because, essentially, they have lost confidence in Waterford City.

Apparently there are others on the way – time will tell if that proves to be the case. I was asked to go on WLR last Tuesday morning to talk about the story and also what it potentially meant for the future of Waterford. This is where I become conflicted. Yes, I’m a journalist and I would definitely describe myself as being an unpartisan one but I’m also a Waterford City man born and bred and I get frustrated when I don’t see our elected representatives doing what they are paid to do.

Someone said to me after the radio show – ‘you’re probably not doing your future prospects any good there!’ to which I replied ‘why?’ And he said “well you’ve criticised the City Manager and his right hand man, and you’ve criticised a Minister and a TD…surely that can’t be good for your prospects. Surely a journalist is supposed to remain on the fence.”

Let me tell you something, I’m allergic to fences. I don’t think journalists belong on them. We should always be fair and we should always be impartial but we should never be afraid to tell it like it is. There’s an argument to suggest that Waterford City is the way it is because we have been sitting back and letting the likes of John Deasy get away with murder. If Mr Deasy was any good, and if he cared about the job he was elected to do, he would get in touch with me and demand an interview that he’d know would be a tough one. The reality is that he hasn’t spoken to our paper in years and he barely speaks to any other media as well. Nobody knows where he is on any given week, and that’s devastating for Waterford because I always suspected that he’s a brilliant tactician and a brilliant politician. For some reason, I find it typical of Waterford to produce such a potentially great politician and for him to want nothing to do with us. I remember watching him in Public Accounts Committee meetings and I swear, it was like watching your ex-girlfriend win the Rose of Tralee. John, whatever reason you have for not fulfilling your duty to the people of Waterford – maybe it was because you didn’t top the poll at the last election – you were a great loss to the city and county.

I hope I’m going some way to explaining my frustrations about the two Johns. Minister Halligan goes AWOL at the most vital moments and I sometimes wonder if it has all got too much for him. Last week on WLR I said that John loves Waterford…and I stand by that. I just don’t think he was ready to hit the dizzying heights of shared governance after so many years on the back benches…and the benches behind those.

I don’t have anything against any of our TDs personally, and I would hate for them to think that I do. I just can’t help myself when it comes to speaking out about Waterford. My point about the City Manager, or the CEO as he is called now, was a valid one and I will repeat it now. I have never seen Michael Walsh in the centre of Waterford City. I spoke to a business owner in John Roberts Square and he said that he has never seen him there either. Now, maybe it’s not Mr Walsh’s job to go on walkabouts through the city centre but surely it would be a good idea? Talk to the man on the street and find out a little more about the people that are paying your rates. And, if you don’t have the time to do that, which you may not because I know you are busy with many other worthwhile things, why not hire a dedicated City Centre Manager to make sure that the Quays, John Roberts Square, The Cultural Quarter, Michael Street and The Apple Market are being monitored and assessed on a daily basis. I mean, the Viking Triangle has a dedicated manager, or sorry, an Executive Project Director, maybe it’s time the city had one as well.

On the subject of Waterford’s local economy, I have a somewhat unusual theory that I’d like to throw out there. It’s far from being the cause of our economic woes but it’s definitely a contributory factor. I’ve noticed, in the last 10 years or so, people have become so much more anti-social. They don’t want to ring a pizza or a taxi, so they order it online or via an app. They don’t want to ring up a hair salon to book an appointment so they do it online, or through Facebook. People are actually getting so lazy that they have stopped writing CVs and cover letters and walking in to ask for a job. They’re now messaging businesses on Facebook asking ‘have ye any jobs going?’ and thinking that they’re being proactive.

My fear is that this – whether it is laziness or anti-social behaviour or maybe a mixture of both – could also be stopping people from going into town and putting a bit of money into local coffers. Before, going into town was as much about the social end of it as it was about the shopping. People would go into town of a Friday night or Saturday afternoon out of habit, have a cuppa, do a bit of shopping, maybe a bite to eat and then head home. I fear that so much of the shopping is now being done online and as well as the local economy losing out on the money, the people are losing out on the valuable social interaction. We need to come up with an initiative to bring back the trips into town. We need to stand up and fight for our city.

 

 

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Too angry to make sense

I’m angry, very f**king angry…but I feel utterly useless. In another typical slice of Darren Skelton honesty, I’m genuinely starting to wonder what the point of this column is. In the beginning, it was about nostalgia – weekly slices of warm, fuzzy memories that brought us back to a simpler, seemingly happier time. It’s what got me this job and I very much enjoyed the weekly throwbacks. But then, I started to see and hear a lot more than I did while I was a lay person.

It’s fair to say that journalism is not the most liked career out there. One week you’re a hero, the next you’re public enemy number one. If I was given a euro for every time I’ve read – usually on Facebook – that the News & Star is the “lowest common denominator”, or “a rag”, then I wouldn’t have to write this column anymore, as I’d be living the Spain.

I’m not going to say that I got into this profession to make a difference, because to say so would be a lie. I got into it because I was going slightly mad doing two of the many thankless jobs you can do in this country (working for myself and being a stay at home parent). I wasn’t strong enough to do those two things, certainly not as strong as the hundreds of thousands of people in this country that do them both on a daily basis.

As the months passed, I started to realise that local papers had a responsibility to report far more than just local deaths and local criminals. For example, there are 209 women in Ireland who have (or had) Cervical Cancer, and some of them are from Waterford. I believe that they deserve to have their story told and it’s the local paper’s responsibility to tell that story.

Corruption is rife in this country – I think we all know this. However, there are many forms of corruption, and I would include the hiding of mistakes and stupidity as being amongst those forms. Human beings by their flawed design, are not perfect, thus we all make mistakes. History will show that when people admit their mistakes in a timely fashion, the public and often the judiciary, will look upon them with compassion. However, in the case of the CervicalCheck scandal and God knows how many other scandals, mistakes are made and then and attempt made to brush them under the carpet. This is a scandal bigger than the Maurice McCabe controversy, and yet it won’t threaten the stability of the government like that did.

What has happened in the fallout of CervicalCheck? Absolutely nothing. Nobody has lost their job and in fact, even worse than that, the Director General of the HSE is actually being rewarded. Tony O’Brien, the man who oversaw some of the most shocking scandals and controversies in the history of the Irish health system, was on a salary of €192K a year and when he stepped down after the CervicalCheck disgrace, he was promised an additional €140K upon the end of his contract (this is in addition to his contract being paid in full up to July). He also has a 96K a year pension to look forward to.

I hear people mouthing off about the media every day but it’s the journalists that are keeping all of these people to task. It’s the journalists that are standing in front of the gravy trains.

I’m angry, but I’m not too sure what to do with that anger. I’m getting so used to civil servants and politicians lying to me that I’m starting to struggle with this feeling of uselessness. We have marched the streets to try and get equal healthcare and we have debunked their rotten reviews, but still we are being ignored.

I’m going to tell you a local story now that will give you some kind of idea about what we have to deal with – although I’d ask you to remember that this is just a small local affair…when we go higher, to the Government and the HSE, the smell is an awful lot worse.

You will probably be aware of the Vans story which has popped up in the news from time to time. Waterford City & County’s Audit Committee were tasked with looking into this issue and I believe they did quite a good job (although the investigation is not quite over yet). Last year, the Audit Committee conducted nine investigations into various departments of Waterford Council. I asked to see the reports from these audits and I was issued with some heavily redacted documents. That is to say that where a report was 24 pages, I was only given 3 pages etc. I made an appeal, asking for the entire reports. That appeal (which had to be paid for) was made to the Head of Finance at Waterford Council, John Murphy, who explained why the information was redacted and released a few extra pages. This wasn’t good enough in my opinion, so I appealed again (another payment required). This time, the decision maker was Michael Walsh, CEO of Waterford Council. Are you seeing anything wrong with this? I then appealed again, this time to the Freedom of Information Commissioner (another charge here €€€). He launched an investigation and concluded that the Council were wrong to withhold the information and made them release every single word to me.

Now, this is just a local council, sticking up a bloody big wall in front of how they’re handling public money. For the record, the information received is forming part of another story I’m working on but it wasn’t earth shattering. I believe, for the most part, our council does a good job, but this was absolutely ludicrous behaviour on their part and showed a complete lack of respect to a local journalist. Is it any wonder that they are the council with the third worst integrity rating of all the local authorities in Ireland? However, take that story and multiply it by 100 and you’ll get some kind of idea about what is going on in this country on a national level.

As I said, I’m angry. I feel like writing words on a page is completely futile at this point. I feel like marching the streets is a waste of time. Standing in John Roberts Square with signs is a waste of time. It seems that the only thing that the government listen to is the case of the individual who has been through the mill for years and finally comes out the other side on Prime Time. They don’t give a shit about the little person and if the realisation that half our TDs are now millionaires (who get a couple of month’s holidays a year), doesn’t make you angry too, I don’t know what will.

I know what has to happen – the government need to be dissolved and a complete new set of rules and regulations drawn up…but is that going to happen? Of course not.

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Food Freaks

I OPENED a can of worms on Facebook last week, and then someone took those worms and put them on a scone with some brown sauce, cheddar cheese and malteasers. How it came about was quite simple, and quite grotesque at the same time. You see, I happened to walk in on a co-worker of mine – a stalwart of the sales team called Linda – who was tucking, quite matter of factly, into a scone that was smothered in tuna. Tempted as I was to call the guards, I instead took to Facebook to find out what other food freaks were out there. By God was I in for a shock. If you’re having your lunch/breakfast/dinner, I recommend putting the magazine down and coming back later…this is not going to be pleasant.

I actually don’t know where to start. At the time of writing, there were 250 comments on the thread. I knew there were sickos out there but I really didn’t know to what extent, until I knocked on the door of depravity. Everyone knows well enough by now that if they comment on my page, they are liable to get their names in the paper the following week. They have admitted to these culinary crimes so they are going to be named and shamed.

Mark Tubritt eats chicken curry with mayonnaise, and I’m started in a fairly mundane fashion. Jonathan Brazil, who I know to be a very intelligent and sensible young man, eats a combination of milk, sugar and spaghetti. Breda Brennan, a councillor, an elected official, eats digestive biscuit sandwiches. That’s two slices of white bread with digestive biscuits in the middle…and she got 700 first preference votes in the last election.

Karen Hearne, who is rearing actual human children, eats a bag of King crisps with brown sauce on them! “Chuck a bag of salted peanuts in for good measure,” she says.

What happened next was quite indicative of how people think about their food. A debate about beans on toast started. Daniel Hughes said that he used to think people “who don’t put their beans on top of their toast, but pool them on a plate and place toast around it” should be sectioned. To which Eibhlín Ní Ghríofa (Eilieen Griffin to you and me) replied “But…Beans-Beside-Toast is a vastly superior meal! No one likes soggy toast, do they?” At this point I would like to state for the record that I’m with Eileen on this one – soggy toast is one of the nastiest abominations known to hot food. Daniel was having none of it and came back with this rather futile retort – “You wait for the toast to cool, spread the butter and create a barrier between butter and beans… or… You grill cheese on it and put the beans on top.” By the way, the rest of this beans on toast tête-à-tête went on for a further 27 comments.

Paula McEvoy unashamedly eats Wheetabix with butter and a sprinkle of sugar. Pat Murphy eats cabbage or dilisk sandwiches. Debby Allen and Aidan O Sullivan for some reason think that it’s okay to combine hot chips with cold ice cream (as if temperature was the main source of the disgust here).

Paula Flynn eats mushy peas on bread and her hubby Colin likes bananas with his roast potatoes. They have three children, but don’t worry, I’ve already put in a call to the social services.

Brian Moore said, quite nonchalantly, as if it wasn’t akin to a war crime, that he eats a “Cream cracker sandwich with beetroot and a dollop of marmalade jam in the middle”. While Laura Finnegan O’Halloran, who has a fairly big and responsible job with the FAI and WIT, gave us this rather sordid recipe – “Half an apple, hollow it out, fill with mashed cheese and onion crisps.” Just let that one fester for a minute.

Kelley Chester says there’s nothing better than having a roll with corned beef, chips, red sauce and mayo while Ger Condon, also from Ferrybank, eats scrambled eggs with cabbage and sweet chill sauce. These people walk amongst us like seemingly normal people!

There’s more. Claudio Cavaliere, an actual chef, who owns an actual restaurant and whose brother writes our food column, eats buttered toast with a slice of ham, mashed black banana and topped with English mustard. Paul Horan, another who owns an establishment that sells food to the public, puts cheese on his Mikado biscuits.

Michael Garland, he of the Waterford Business Group and 1848 Tricolour Committee takes a digestive biscuit and puts raspberry jam on it, which is grand until he introduces a slice of cheddar cheese to the equation.

Jim ‘Flash’ Gordon, another chef who ones not one, but two establishments that sells food to the unsuspecting public, eats steak or duck with chocolate – “nice sauce of red wine, gravy, dark chocolate…it’s amazing” Flash says with not a bother on him.

Also, I was astounded at the amount of people, many of whom I shared a house with growing up, eat banana and crisps sandwiches (not to mention sugar sandwiches). However, I do remember working with a girl – I believe she was Dutch – who ate sandwiches full of those ‘hundreds and thousands’ sprinkles.

PJ O Shea eats cockles in hot milk with chopped onions and garlic topped off with Carrigeen moss and seemingly doesn’t care who knows it. Ian Noctor, a trusted broadcaster, eats rashers with raspberry jam (to be fair I like mini pancakes with butter and jam and rashers, so I won’t judge Ian too harshly).

The amount of people who do disgusting things to innocent blaas have to be seen to be believed. Maria Brett Mahon puts smarties in her blaas while Davy Sutton puts Wheelies (bacon crisps) and Mackarel (the fish) into his blaas.

Brian Cunningham…Brian…I don’t even know what to say about this. He puts sardines, porridge, peanut butter, beetroot, ice-cream into a blender and drinks the lot. And he works with the public.

There is so much more now but thank Christ I’m restricted by space. I will give the final word to Felicity Fitzpatrick and Samantha Tierney who do perverted things with Oxtail soup. Samantha dips sliced apple into hers while Felicity was raised on Wheetabix mixed with Oxtail Soup. There’s really nothing stranger than folk.

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The Busker

1989.

TWAS the night before Christmas, and not a creature in Larchville was stirring.

Actually, there are two lies there. It was two days before Christmas, and it was particularly noisy in Larchville because the Park Inn had just closed and fathers from all over the parish were falling out of the place singing about “scumbags, maggots and cheap lousy faggots”. 11 year old Robbie Flavin was listening to them as he did most weekends because his house faced right on to the bar. As usual, he was concentrating really hard, focusing all the energy of his senses towards his hearing so he might be able to hear his own dad. Experience told him that if his dad was singing, he’d be in a good mood and would more than likely sing himself to sleep that night. If he was quiet, he’d make a lot of noise once in the house, which would wake mammy up and that would be followed by so much worse noise.

Robbie had a Walkman that he got for Christmas the previous year. It was falling apart and ate most of the tapes that he put in it but there was one mixed tape, which belonged to his older sister Katrina that for some reason, played perfectly. The ear phones had a skinny metal bar which sat atop his head and each side had a fluffy orange sponge for each ear. They weren’t comfortable to wear in bed but on the nights that daddy wasn’t falling across the road singing, he’d turn it up full blast. The tape was mostly songs of Katrina’s taste – Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, The Bangles and her favourite of all, Madonna. Robbie had grown to love all the songs but thankfully, it was a 90 minute tape and there was a bit of U2 on there too.

Ears straining as much as they could, Robbie couldn’t hear his dad amongst the fairy tales of New York, so he stuck on “Where the streets have no name” as loud as he could and closed his eyes.

Waterford Shopping Centre

Tomorrow was a big day. Robbie had made a deal with his Mam that while she did her Saturday shop – in the Shopping Centre in the morning, and in town in the afternoon – he could play the recorder for people to try and earn some money for Christmas presents.

“They’ll more than likely stick that feckin’ recorder up your hole,” Robbie’s Mam said. “But if it keeps you from dragging out of me for the day, go for it.”

Katrina taught Robbie how to play it. It was a well-known fact that she was the best recorder player that the Presentation had ever seen. Her younger sisters Liz and Amy were, in the words of Sister Anne “a disappointment to the great family tradition”. Apparently Mam was fairly skilled too but hadn’t been heard playing since Hurricane Charley, when the whole of Larchville and Lisduggan fell into darkness and people could do very little else but play the recorder and burn toast beside Supersers.

“I want to play outside Neville’s first” Robbie had told his Mam.

Neville owned a men’s clothes shop and quite liked Robbie and his family.

“You can’t play indoors, and besides, you’ll frighten all his customers away,” Mam replied.

Robbie knew that Neville would more than likely send him on his way, but not before giving him a crisp pound note for his troubles.

With his recorder in hand, he made a quick stop at KG Discs first.

“Is it still put away?” he asked the man behind the counter.

“It is…but there’s only one left in the shop and I’ll have to put it back out tomorrow if you don’t get it today.”

“Grand job,” Robbie thought as he skipped out of the shop.

Zipping up his jacket and tying up his scarf, he took a look into Crazy Prices. He could never understand why everything was so yellow in there.

Robbie knew 10 songs, which wasn’t bad for an 11 year old. He threw his hat on the ground and started into ‘Danny Boy’. Looking disappointingly into an empty hat, he then played some ‘Frere Jacques’. These were the classics that Katrina had taught him but they were getting him nowhere.

“Can you not play any Christmas songs? For the time that’s in it…” an old woman said as she passed by without dropping so much as a 20p into the hat.

“Shit,” Robbie thought. “How did I forget about Christmas music?”

This was a test, but one that he was up to. He ran around the back of the Shopping Centre and began practising Jingle Bells. Ten minutes later he had something that resembled it. Next he tried Silent Night but it ended up sounding more like “We will Rock You” by Queen.

Thirty minutes, and what looked like about five pounds later, a foxy girl from Kavanagh’s Sweet Shop shouted at him to learn another song or she’d “give him a kick in the Jingle Bells”. As it happened, it was time to depart the shopping centre anyway. Mam had the bags from Crazy Prizes, The Freezer Shop and Homemakers and it was time to bring them back home before hopping on the bus into town.

Town.

Robbie had a very specific plan for town. He would play a few songs outside Burger Land, then move down to the Savoy, maybe the middle of Red Square before hitting the Giving Tree in George’s Court. If everything went according to plan, he’d have the other fiver that was needed to buy the record in KG Discs and then he could spend any extra money he got in Fitzmaurices. He was a fan of those little Styrofoam Airplanes that he never seemed to be able to get anywhere else.

“Do you know any other songs?” a woman from the KK Discount Store shouted after Robbie’s fourth rendition of “We Will Rock You on a Silent Night”. That was his cue to move on.

Despite getting distracted in the Pound Shop, Robbie had made enough outside the Savoy to complete his plan, get the plane from Fitzmaurices, and join his mother and Aunty May in the Wimpy for a Junior Burger Meal. He was, for all intents and purposes, elected, and like all children who had gotten what he wanted, he now wanted to leave town (and hot foot it back to KG Discs).

“You may wait now ‘til we’re ready to leave,” Mam said, horsing a burger into her mouth.

Robbie needed to get up before 5:30pm and he knew the mother still had to make her usual stop at Cassidy’s, Kelly’s and Wyley’s for a scratch card before the bus home. It was going to be a close one.

St Pauls.

Before Robbie’s class had broken up for Christmas – on the last day – they were all allowed to bring in a game from home. This was a challenge for Robbie because every board game in the house was missing at least five essential pieces. He would have loved to bring his Walkman and just sit in the corner singing away to himself but he knew that it would never be allowed. His mother told him to bring Screwball Scramble except it was a bit pointless without the screwballs. He settled on a game called ‘Downfall’, which involved turning a succession of wheels and trying to drop discs into a tray at the bottom. Robbie knew that even though most of the discs were missing, it didn’t matter because every house in Waterford had the game and everyone also hated it. Nevertheless, he opened the box and saw something that made him smile. Written on the inside of the box were the names Katrina, Elizabeth, Amy, Mam and Dad. Beside each name was a series of ticks. Dad had the most ticks, followed by Katrina, Elizabeth, Mam and finally Amy, who only had one tick. Robbie was sad that there was a time, when he was too young to remember, when Dad played with the rest of the family. It was only a few names on a bit of cardboard, but it represented a happiness that Robbie was too young to share with them. It gave him a new found respect for ‘Downfall’ and he forced his friend Richard to play it with him.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is only a state of mind. Even though it looks like any other day of the year, it doesn’t feel like that. From the moment you open your eyes and sneak down the stairs, it’s Christmas. You have half a selection box for your breakfast and you bring your toys to Mass. It may be a Monday, but it’s like no Monday you’ve ever seen. Your mind has confiscated the common calendar and for the rest of the week, there are no more Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays…just the 12 days of Christmas.

Monday, December 25 1989, Robbie got out of bed, jumped into the warmest clothes he could find, pulled the record – in the paper KG Discs bag – from under the bed, and ran downstairs. Instead of opening up the sitting room door, to see what presents were glistening from him in the dark, he quietly opened the front door instead. It was dark, as the clock hadn’t yet found 6am, but Robbie knew he’d be back home and all before 6:30am, half an hour before his sisters would even contemplate emerging.

About a half a mile away, Robbie stood in front of his sister’s grave and took out his recorder.

“You don’t know this one, but I think you’ll love it,” he said before playing the first few bars of “Like a Prayer”, recorder style. When he was finished he put the record beside the gravestone, next to the Madonna T-shirt that he put there last year. He wished her a Happy Christmas, told her that he loved her and kissed the gravestone.

He then walked back to a house that hadn’t been a home since the worst day of their lives, two years earlier. Christmas stops for no man.

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A State of Emergency

What passes for healthcare in this country at the moment.

This column appeared in the Waterford News & Star on Tuesday, November 28. Read the View from the Blue, and many other columns, including The Phoenix, every week.

NOBODY is afraid of the monster, until it appears under their bed. I’ve been saying this for longer than I care to remember. I’ll never forget the day I marched down the Quay, in what was the third mass protest to raise awareness about the chronic services in our region’s hospital. Cars drove past giving dirty looks, rolling up their windows and refusing to beep their horns in support. To them, we were that category of protester that Waterford has, unfortunately, become known for. Those people who object to just about everything, just because they have nothing else to do.

No, we were protesting because our hospital is being deprived of services that we desperately need. We are campaigning for a second cath lab but we know that they don’t want to give it to us. What should delivered a long time ago longer hours for the one we already have. The Cath Lab is not run on batteries that need to charge themselves over night. There is no logical reason in the world why it should be switched off, and the doors closed when there are staff available to work in them. Cardiologists do clock into work at UHW after hours but for some reason they cease to be called cardiologists once they do. They become ‘medical doctors’. If they are in the hospital at 8pm on a Friday night and a heart attack patient comes in, the cath lab should be opened immediately.

The nurses treated Tom Power knew that he only had about 12-15 mins to live, yet he was still sent off to Cork. Two weeks ago, as reported in the News & Star last week, an elderly man was about to be sent to Dublin for treatment when the paramedics were stood down. It was felt that he wouldn’t make the trip to Dublin so the cardiology team was called in and the cath lab was about to be opened. Sadly, the man didn’t even make it to the cath lab, but it was the right decision to give him the best possible chance of survival.

This isn’t what this column is about though. I want to talk about the emergency that has – ironically – struck University Hospital Waterford’s Emergency Department. I’m writing this on Wednesday, November 22. On November 21, there were 44 people on trolleys in the Emergency Department – the highest number in the country. This is what the hospital does when this happens:

They cancel all elective surgeries on every other ward in the hospital and then send those patients home – patients that probably waited a while to secure those appointments. Consultants walk around the ED, and the Wards and discharge patients that they believe are not sick enough to be taking up beds. These are often elderly patients that don’t have family members to fight on their behalf. The beds are freed up, the patients on trolleys in the ED are given those beds and temporarily at least, the Emergency Department can come up for air. The problem is, all those people that were sent home are still actually sick and end up finding their way back into the Emergency Room in the following days, exacerbating an already critical situation.

In 2016, the HSE announced a big Winter Surge Plan for UHW and other large hospitals throughout the country. Our hospital was to be given 15 new beds, which would have undoubtedly relieved the pressure on the ED and other wards throughout the hospital. However, in October of last year, I received a phone call from a trusted contact within the hospital. He told me that they had closed 10 beds…the hospital was actually losing 10 beds. I contacted the HSE immediately and a few hours later they issued a region wide press release saying that “            University Hospital Waterford will be closing ten inpatient beds on a temporary basis with effect from Monday, October 31 owing to difficulties experienced in filling current nurse staffing vacancies.” These beds didn’t reopen again until March 2017. So, as winter took its grip on the region, we essentially lost 25 beds.

So, skip forward to this year and the situation has become much worse. We were the busiest hospital in the country this week so surely the HSE have got their winter surge plans in gear right? Wrong.

I have made a point of repeatedly asking the HSE what they are going to do this year. On September 27 they sent me this:

“On the week commencing 18th September, there were 1,107 presentations to the ED department at University Hospital Waterford. University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always UHW and its staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients.”

There is absolutely no substance in this whatsoever.

Throughout October they actually point blank refused to answer the question, and then on November 6, a “spokesperson” for UHW said that “University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always the hospital and staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients. These plans include proposals on reconfiguration of ward space to provide additional capacity and staffing for ward(s) and the Emergency Department.”

Reconfiguration of ward space. They are going to move a computer over to another side of the room so they can throw a few chairs down for a patient to lay on. No extra beds, no proper investment and we are on the verge of a catastrophe.

The obvious impact of this is the patients. Sick people will be sent home. Sicker people will wait for days on trolleys and most people in the south east won’t care about it until they or one of their family members end up in the ED.

The less obvious, but just as critical impact is on the staff. They will have to deal with more patients than they can handle, work extra hours and ultimately deal with more pressure than any human being should be expected to deal with. And they’re not making toy parts on a conveyor belt to prepare for the Christmas rush…they are saving lives.

Something needs to be done and it needs to be done immediately

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A medium belief

DO you believe in an afterlife? I’m not asking a question for the sake of it here…I genuinely want to hear your answers. I have written about religion many times before and I think people know which side of the fence I’m standing on there. However, spirituality and matters of angels and the afterlife, I really can’t be so sure on.

A close relative of mine has visited mediums on more than one occasion and each time has had to listen to my usual levels of cynicism. “They’re looking you up on Facebook,” I tell them. “They’re doing a ton of research and filling the gaps with educated guesswork.” This has always been my staunch belief because I like to think of myself as being relatively intelligent and intelligent people surely don’t believe in the afterlife and people with super powers.

Thankfully, people take what I say with a pinch of salt and go to mediums and the like anyway. On a recent visit to a medium – who wasn’t from Waterford – a deceased relative came forward and wanted to ask about the person who was ‘doing all the writing in the paper.’ This was the start of, what can only be described as a startling amount of accuracies. I’m not saying that I suddenly believe in mediums, but I’m more than happy to state, publicly, that there is way too much things about this world – and beyond – that I…and nobody can know.

This medium spoke of someone being there to meet a loved one that had passed away. Can you imagine how comforting this would be to someone who had lost someone they cherished? The fragile people of this world need something to hold on to…something to give them hope and ultimately make them less fearful of what is waiting, or not waiting for them on the other side.

This relative of mine was told that someone had been trying to contact them. She was told that this person had been banging doors trying reach out to them. “That’s funny…” my relative said. “Because last week I heard a bang downstairs and I ran down to see what it was and there was nothing there.” I’m curious as to whether other people have stories like this.

I can say that I don’t believe in God and the reason I can say that so easily is because if there is a God, I can’t fathom why He would allow so much horrific things to happen to his “children”. That’s my staunch belief and it has more to do with how religion has portrayed ‘God’ than anything else. We won’t get into that though…that’s not the purpose of this column.

When I was younger, I remember reading a book about angels. It was broken down into about 20 stories about different people’s experiences with, what they described as guardian angels. I’ll never forget how I felt after reading it. I was 100% convinced that angels were real. All of these people were so convincing and so sure that they had been touched by an angel. I was overcome with a feeling of…I dunno…can I say ‘pleasantness’? Stories of tragedies and bright lights and miraculous saviours. It was truly inspirational. Of course, within a few months of reading the book my cynicism took over and I was probably scoffing at angelic notions once again. The fact is, I still struggle to with how fax machines and telephones work so really, the amount of things that I don’t know outweigh the things that do.

There are a lot of mediums about…are they all con artists? Maybe some of them believe that they truly can contact the dead, even when they can’t. And maybe…just maybe, there are those who do have a direct line to the deceased. I became fascinated with the image of dead people, or the souls of dead people, lining up to talk to their loved ones. When we think of our lost relatives we are inclined to think of them as how they were when they died. The reality, if there is such a thing, is that we can’t even begin to speculate as to what form they take – if any – when they die. Think about it…all we have to go on is what Hollywood tells us about heaven and angels and what not. Just like the cavemen couldn’t have contemplated the microwave oven, there are so much that we have yet to learn about our existence.

This is a weird column isn’t it? I do really want to know your opinions though…and not only that…I want to hear of any experiences you may have had…not only with a medium, but maybe with an angel or something that made you stop in your tracks. Other people talk about dreams that they have had, which have comforted them after loved ones have passed. Can the deceased contact us through our subconscious? That’s the thing…I haven’t the foggiest!

My mother went to a medium many years ago and they told her that her youngest son was going to go places. That’s all well and good…but they then said that they see ‘WLR’ in my future, as well as a girl called Sarah. I’m still not sure what to make of that.

My mother and I have since agreed on a code word, which I won’t reveal here…but let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that it’s ‘Pancakes’. We’ve agreed that whoever goes first, the other will go to a medium and see what they have to say. Can you imagine it? “Someone is stepping forward,” the medium says. “It’s your son…and I don’t know why…but he’s talking about pancakes?”

Wouldn’t that be absolutely amazing? My mother would have an amazing spring in her step for the rest of their life because they would know that I went to a better place and I was waiting for her.

This is what we all want, and I want to hear your stories, whether you are a believer or not.

 

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Doing that thing you do

WE’RE all unique aren’t we? This is what I keep reading on Facebook anyway. “You’re unique…just like everyone else.” Of course, I’ve been saying for years that not only are we not unique, we’re so alike that it’s actually scary.

Have you ever met with someone for an ‘auld natter’ and at some point in the chat one of you will say “ah here…me and you are like two peas in a pod.” You’ll talk about something you do and then the other person will say that they’re always doing that too.

The thing is, we’re all a lot busier than we used to be. More of us are working now, with kids and partners to look after and we don’t have the time to sit and have those long chats that we might have done in our youth. It’s only when you get the chance to have these tête-à-tête’s that you will remember just how unique you actually aren’t.

I picked up a cool retro T-shirt in Penneys the other week except it wasn’t cool at all because every Tom, Dick and Harry will be wearing it around John Roberts Square within the next fortnight.

Let me tell you about some of the things that I do and have done – just notions from the top of my head – and you can shout “SNAP” in your head (or out loud if you want – that would be pretty unique in fairness).

When I was a child, I somehow managed to think that rape and stab meant the same thing. Seriously. I was going around telling people that I’d rape them if they didn’t give back my sticker album. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about the mystery of child birth but I know for a fact that through most of primary school I went from thinking that babies came out of a belly button or a bum. Primary School boys don’t really haven’t a clue about vaginas or how many holes women actually have down there. To be honest, this probably remained a mystery right through secondary school as well.

Also, as a child, I believed that if you swallowed anything that wasn’t food, you’d more than likely die. I remember swallowing a bit of plastic and instantly coming out in a sweat convinced I had inadvertently killed myself. I sat in my room, in nervous silence, waiting for death to collect me, but he never arrived (although I still keep one eye open for him as I walk the streets as a 35-year old. Most of you probably shared my belief that swallowing chewing gum or swimming after a hape of ham sandwiches would also more than likely result in your death.

As a result of TV advertisements, the most dangerous place on Earth, as far as 12 year old me was concerned, was one of those Electricity gardens (I don’t know what they’re actually called). Remember the ad where the little idiot runs in to get his ball…I used to be taunted as a kid cause he shared the same name as me…do you remember it? Darren…DARREN! Darren’s dead.

The belief in the tooth fairy was real and I remember trying to con her one year after I found half a chewed peanut that looked remarkably like a tooth. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. When the Ice Cream man came down our street we’d all run out in our socks to get one of those screwballs (Ice cream with a bubble gum at the bottom)…running around in your socks was extremely common in the 80s and 90s.

Jump forward to today and we’ll see how ‘unique’ we actually are. I have become infinitely more irritable than I ever thought possible since I’ve been a member of Facebook. Consequently, I have probably unfollowed about 85% of my friends list on the book. Now, before I go on, let me say that if you’re a Facebook friend of mine, I definitely don’t do this with you (promise). Also, I’m very much aware of how much of a narky fecker I’m about to look here but I bet you that you’re going to be just as guilty!

When I see someone checking in to the airport I usually unfollow them – for the duration of their holiday anyway – simply because I’m not sure I can cope with the pictures of the beach knees, cocktails and beautiful sunsets. If I see ya sharing something like “Facebook will be charging from next week…it says so on Channel 13 news”, then there’s a good chance that I will never see any of your future Facebook updates again. I recently saw a list of all the people that I have recently unfollowed and I felt quite bad, so I started to follow them again, only to quickly be reminded of why I unfollowed them in the first place.

When I get a phone call in a public place, that I have no intention of answering, I’ll sometimes look around me to make sure that the person is not watching me from across John Robert Square and then gets to witness me seeing their name and choosing not to answer. As narky and as unsociable as I am making myself look, I’ll actually go out of my way to help someone and not have them think that I’m rude or stuck up.

Do you ever see someone you know on the street but they don’t see you, and you decide not to stop and say hello because you’re really just not in the mood for a chat? No, me neither, I’d never be that rude. Do you throw a napkin over the dinner that you’re embarrassed about not finishing? Do you laugh at the naivety of “private numbers” thinking that you’re ever going to answer the phone to them? Do you ever feel tempted to leave that thing at the bottom of the trolley that you know the check-out person didn’t see?

Are you currently thinking that I’m, frankly, a horrible person? It’s okay, because you are too.

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