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Stephen Nolan's fears for mother Big Audrey during pandemic


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Stephen Nolan and mother Audrey

Stephen Nolan and mother Audrey

Stephen Nolan and mother Audrey

Ever since I arrived in this world, I have been smothered with love by my mother - Big Audrey.

She is an amazing, larger than life, bombastic bundle of energy.

She is a wee Belfast woman and has taught me to be proud of, and never forget, my working-class roots.

There are pressures in my job, but no matter how tough it gets, Big Audrey always makes me feel safe.

There is nothing quite like going into her tiny house, where the decorations on the walls - bought out of Wyse Byse - are constantly changed when her friend Iris and her hit the Cregagh Road.

It is no word of a lie to reveal that mum has changed the paint colour in her living room six times in six months - from white, to lemon, to grey, back to white, to off-white and then lemon white.

Her odd-job man is taking a restraining order out on her, and her living room must be narrower because of the thickness of the paint.

There is nothing like having lunch in Mum's house, where I frequently get shouted at for dropping crumbs on the floor.

When I do, the vacuum cleaner is dragged out of the cloakroom instantly, and the carpet cleaned with military precision.

"If I died tonight," she would often yell, "what the **** would the minister say if he saw those crumbs on my carpet?"

Big Audrey's house is like a sitcom and her friends have names straight from a comedy script. The phone is constantly ringing.

One minute it's "Big Tall Moya", the next it's "Margaret Mustard" or "Wee Winnie".

I envy my mum's Saturday routine (before the virus), when she would go into the town for a day out to M&S. It all centres around the cafe in Marks and Sparks.

Big Audrey has her diary full on a Saturday - when she would meet different pensioners, at different times, in the same cafe, in the same seats ... without her moving once.

They would in all but name hijack the cafe in M&S on Saturdays.

It sounds to me like a wonderful world of friendship and gossip.

But of course, that's all stopped now because of the virus.

Mum hasn't been out. I am desperately worried about her.

If she isn't happy, it physically hurts me as much as a toothache. My job in life is to keep her safe.

As you can see in the photograph I took on Friday, I'm still visiting Mum, but I can't go into her house and I must keep a distance.

Her home is nowhere the size of mine - and yet it is so much more beautiful.

So much more special.

I can't hug Mum. I can't give her a kiss.

She can't give me a slap across the face which she tells me I'm not too old to receive. I'm 47.

I now stand in her driveway and she sits eight feet away.

It means I can still tell her how much I love her. This virus can never stop that.

Big Audrey is 77 years old and she is therefore in the vulnerable category if she caught the disease. She is washing her hands and social distancing.

But I'm worried. I'm terrified. I think we all are. That is why I am furious at those in society who are refusing to abide by the Government advice.

Our Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride has been working tirelessly day and night, but no matter how exhausted he is, he finds the stamina to remind us all just how important a role we can play in helping the NHS. All we have to do is follow the guidance.

If we do, we will save lives. Michael is pleading with us to listen because if we don't, he knows what it will mean if there is only one ventilator for every eight patients who will need them. It shouldn't be just down to Michael, or Arlene, or Michelle to scream that message from the rooftops.

Every member of society should be selling these life-saving messages.

I personally have no time for the wasters who are either so stupid or so selfish that they are risking our lives.

I see groups of strangers and friends standing in the street close together.

You are turning yourselves into potential super-spreaders. Why can't you just stand two metres apart? Are you really that thick?

I know about the young people who think it is cool to ignore the restrictions we are all being asked to embrace.

I don't care if you are young and feel invincible. If you are ignoring the scientific guidance, you are reckless. Your parents should be ashamed.

You might even end up killing your parents or grandparents by infecting them.

I've seen queues in shops where people can't be bothered standing six feet apart. Your actions are without logic.

I've watched people still shake hands. It could be the invisible infection on YOUR hand that kills a precious mother like mine. Or a child.

While mortality in a child from coronavirus is highly unlikely, I've seen the planning documents for NI where the authorities have increased the number of intensive care beds for kids.

Think about those pathetic people in society who are not playing their part to help us protect each other. They can't be bothered.

And then think about the nurses, doctors, hospital porters and cleaners in our NHS who will be walking towards the virus in the coming days to fight to save the lives of those infected with it.

To all the NHS staff, I am in awe of your bravery.

You are the personification of humanity.

Some of our lives, young and old, will be in your hands.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being such special people.

For once in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of the public are not thinking orange or green. It is an irrelevance for now.

We have an opportunity to unite like never before to keep as many people alive as possible. So, please, let's do it - together.

If you are still in denial and doubt the real danger that potentially faces us, please listen to Dr Al who is a doctor working in a hospital in London. I interviewed him on Friday night.

You can find his interview with me at the top of my Twitter homepage @stephennolan or search for it under the Best of Nolan Show podcasts on BBC Sounds. Every citizen in NI should listen to this interview.

Dr Al is not speculating about the future. He is talking about right now in London.

On Friday night, he called to tell me a 40-year-old is in intensive care with the virus. And a three-month-old child. And he is pleading for you to listen to him. Please download the interview.

Finally, on this Mothering Sunday, make sure you tell your mum how you feel about her. Say it out loud. You always should express your love, virus or no virus.

To my mum, Big Audrey: I am proud of you. Thank you for protecting me for my whole life. I am here for you and I love you.

But don't come anywhere near me and go wash your hands!

n Stephen Nolan, weekdays 9am, BBC Radio Ulster

@stephennolan

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