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Eilis O'Hanlon

My children got sick of me talking about Brexit... oh how they long for those days right now

Eilis O'Hanlon


Eilis O'Hanlon thinks that it's healthy to want to know as much as humanly possible about the threat of coronavirus

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Facts and figures: a masked woman carries home her supplies of toilet paper

Facts and figures: a masked woman carries home her supplies of toilet paper

AFP via Getty Images

Facts and figures: a masked woman carries home her supplies of toilet paper

There's an old Zen Buddhist meditation exercise which involves going into a room, sitting quietly for a length of time and not thinking about a tiger. Of course, once you're told not to think about something, it's impossible to think about anything else.

Right now, the coronavirus is that tiger and I freely admit that it's beyond my powers of mental control to not be thinking about it all the time.

Every conversation I have at the moment revolves around Covid-19. Every person in my life is now judged on their willingness to spend hours talking about it, or even hours just listening to me talk about it.

If, for some strange reason, they want to talk about anything else, I try to bring the subject to a close as quickly as possible so that we can get back to talking about the virus again.

At a push, I could say that it's related to my day job as a journalist, since there's no bigger political story in the world right now than how well (or otherwise) different governments are responding to the spread of the virus; but I'd be fooling myself.

I'm obsessed because I'm obsessed, it's as simple as that; and I freely admit it's driving other members of my family mad.

I spend hours each day keeping track of the latest figures from the World Health Organisation and other medical bodies, comparing and contrasting, and looking for patterns in various affected places around the world.

I have multiple tabs on my phone constantly open so that I can check figures regularly throughout the day. I never miss a bulletin or briefing on the news. I used to go to bed and watch Netflix. Now I lie in bed till the early hours scrolling for the latest snippets.

My eldest daughter understands and shares my preoccupation. She's obeying official instructions and currently self-isolating after returning from London and is happy to spend hours on the phone discussing the latest coronavirus news from around the world.

The rest of the family, while doing what they're told to stop the spread of Covid-19, are better able to switch off from thinking about it.

Of course, it's not possible to escape entirely, because it's everywhere, but they don't consider it their full-time jobs to be on top of every detail and roll their eyes when I start going on about the latest increases in infection rates, or railing about the still-too-slow response of authorities to the spread of the virus.

I find their more detached attitude baffling, but immediately promise to shut up, only to break the pledge 30 seconds later after spotting another terrifying update online.

I've been careful so far to avoid turning into one of those annoying people who seem to think they know more about virology and epidemiology than actual qualified experts; but I do have scientific questions that I want answered, and it's partly the failure to get answers which fuels my preoccupation.

When politicians quote figures, I immediately do the sums myself to see if they're right and spent days recently trying to get the Taoiseach's office to provide clarification after he predicted that "one, two or three per cent of half the population" of Ireland might die, a figure which seemed to me excessively alarmist, and still does, but sadly failed to get any reply at all.

The media itself is partly to blame for this obsession. Tracking down anything in the headlines which isn't related to the coronavirus at the moment is harder than finding a man of a certain age in east Belfast who doesn't claim to have played football in the street with George Best when he was a boy.

A few weeks ago, we were all agog about Meghxit. Now, if you Google the young ex-royals' names, all you get is stories such as: "How Harry and Meghan are coping in Canada amid coronavirus - REVEALED".

There's no sport. TV shows and films are closing down production.

Theatres, including Belfast's Lyric, have shut their doors. Eurovision is cancelled. There are none of the usual distractions. Everyone deals with that vacuum in their own way.

For political junkies in Northern Ireland, even the publication of the RHI report was overshadowed by rows at Stormont over how best to slow down spread of the virus, and our daily fix of party politics on The Nolan Show has been swept away by a tide of discussions about Covid-19.

It's almost like there might be more important things going on in the world than our local squabbles. Who knew?

It was a similar story when Brexit (remember that?) dominated the headlines.

My children got sick of me talking about that too, though in my defence I don't think I did go on about it quite as much.

It's just that there happened to be a lot of Brexit-related issues knocking around, so it was bound to come up in conversation at the dinner table.

Now, they all long for those days back again, just for a break from the endless talk of Covid-19.

They're out of luck, because I don't intend to seek help for my addiction. I think it's a healthy response to uncertain times to want to know as much as humanly possible about the threat.

In fact, if I'm honest, the one thing I want from my children this Mother's Day is to be allowed talk about the coronavirus all day long without being interrupted and/or judged. That's not too much to ask, is it?

In a way, it's a coping mechanism. Some people are hoarding six months' supply of toilet paper as a way of feeling in control of the immediate future.

Those of us who are driving our families mad by fixating on the virus 24/7 just want as much information as we can lay our hands on to build a fortress of facts against the invisible enemy.

In the end, it won't make much difference either way. There's little we can do except follow the advice we're being given, while keeping faith in the authorities that they're handling this crisis as well as they can and will bring us safely through to the other side.

We just have to hope that those in charge at Stormont are as obsessed with the virus too, because right now nothing else matters, least of all a sectarian bun-fight about who best represents people in Northern Ireland or, for that matter, Jeffrey Donaldson's choosing this moment to bring up the issue of abortion.

Those perennial divisions will always be with us. Fingers crossed that Covid-19 won't.

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