There's an opportunity in every crisis, they say, and our house was thrown into total shock when my wife got the virus. But as we come out the other side, it has prompted a new approach to just about everything.
On the morning of the April 12, the ambulance came for Suzanne. When I say that she got the virus, I actually mean that I gave it to her and the kids. And to add to the injustice while she ended up in hospital, apart from a loss of smell, the girls and I had a pretty much symptom-free experience of the disease. Whereas she is still struggling to get back to full health three-and-a-half months later.
RTÉ decided from the outset that I would be one of the presenter/reporters sent home to live in splendid isolation from the virus. So I was already happily ensconced at desk in the living room when the schools were closed. And for a week or two we settled in to a much more sedate and less eventful version of our lives.
But then when Suzanne’s breathing turned to short, hard snatches of grabbed air everything changed. The doctors in Vincent's Hospital decided that she was out of immediate danger, so they released her to my care (So much for swearing an oath to "first do no harm"). And I decided that this was going to be the occasion I would disprove anyone who has ever said that men can’t multi-task.
Some are born to greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them. But the lockdown brought me face to face with the reality that I would be an atrocious teacher, and an even worse nurse. I also wasn’t a whole lot better at parenting, housekeeping and being a journalist either.
I started the home-schooling experience with grandiose dreams of designing a complete overhaul of the entire primary syllabus. I ended it broke down and beaten in to submission. "Dad, what’s an improper fraction?", "Dad, do hexagons tessellate?" It was relentless, and I was hopeless. By day three they had both learned that it was less embarrassing for all of us if they just Googled the answer. By the end of term I was the one graffitiing the walls with "Down with skool".
Some part of my brain decided that my aching and feverish wife would be more comforted by regular updates, on the number of cases in Bergamo than by a cup of tea. Presumably the same part of my brain that started going over seven times tables while in the middle of a live piece on PPE shortages with Mary Wilson.
I make light of it now, but it was a scary and disconcerting time. The news from outside was grim. And what was going on behind our front door confirmed that the world had turned bad.
But slowly a new rhythm to our days established itself. Suzanne, by no means better, regained some of her good form. The girls became impressively self sufficient. They completed their online schooling each morning largely by themselves. No longer distracted by a noisy open plan office, I achieved a huge amount in concentrated bursts of work, before turning to cooking dinner or correcting homework. With longer evenings and no commuting, we were able to fit in nearly another whole day of falling out of trees and into rivers before bedtime.
The glorious weather of April and May made it impossible to remain down for too long, or remain inside at all. We live deep in the garden of Wicklow, and even a two kilometre radius of the house contained endless possibilities, all of which we exhausted.
Previously I liked to think that I was quite connected to the place we live. But I know it much more intimately now. A lot of that stuff about taking the time to stop and smell the roses that I used to pay lip service to, I now actually do. I have counted 13 different species of bee working the hedge in front of my desk so far this summer.
And, yes, I have had some wild bursts of productive energy which have been charitably viewed as "Dad’s latest mid-life crisis". Five rooms of the house got painted in about ten days. There was another two-week period in which the chainsaw was never not in use. Followed by a weekend of bingeing all four seasons of Sherlock.
But for the most part a new beat marks time for all of us.There’s little of any day lost to commuting. Work involves a lot more thinking before doing. Nothing is so important it can’t be interrupted for a cuddle or a chat, so long as it's not about fifth class maths. Clutter around the house is gradually being re-homed or recycled. Dinner time is conversation time. Our near-brush with tragedy makes us all check our privilege every day. And all that furious chainsawing has cleared the most spectacular sunset views.
I have genuinely no idea whether we will have jobs this time next year, never mind if all of us will be alive. A combination of gut instinct and experience suggests things are going to get critically harder yet. But being forced to appreciate everything closer to home has been the one good thing that has come out of this terrifying pandemic.