Trim-based writer, Paddy Smith.

A cocoon with a view

BOOK REVIEW: Paddy Smith's 'Cocooner - A Lockdown Diary'

A few years back - well it’s actually nearly a decade ago now, but time has been flying – Paddy Smith issued this writer a compliment. He was remarking on an article I had written on a reunion of the class of 1992 from St Michael’s Diocesan School, Trim, formerly ‘the Brothers’.

I can’t recall Paddy’s exact wording, but it was along the lines of how much he enjoyed the piece as it was a mix of the bigger picture - the societal changes at the time – and the personal memories of the school and class that also included his son, Barry.

I’m now returning that compliment to Paddy, after the publication of his ‘Cocooner – A Lockdown Diary’.

Paddy has been keeping a diary through lockdown – beginning on Thursday 12th March when the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced from Washington that the country was shutting down, due to the spread of the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus which was attacking the world and its health systems - up to mid-September, when Paddy yearned for the old days of March and April when the decision was made for him to ‘Stay Safe -Stay at Home’.

Paddy has also mixed the personal with the national and international news in his diary, or ‘journal’ as the younger generation would call it. It’s a very easy read, which both myself and my mother, herself a noted diarist (unpublished!), both finished in a couple of sittings, and thoroughly enjoyed. Well most of it. I’m not sure I wanted to read about him having to cut his wife, Mary’s toenails.

‘You wouldn’t think much could happen to a 77 year-old man, who is never short of an opinion, cocooning in Trim in 2020 …’ says the blurb on the back.

The day to day happenings are probably no different to many families, but Paddy manages to pen his diaries in a manner that makes you keep on reading, wondering what happens next. Many will recall his dulcet tones on early morning radio back in the 1990s, when for more that 10 years he had a weekly slot, first with Mike Murphy, then with John Creedon, a sort of ‘thought for the week’ on ‘Risin’ Time’.

Paddy has worked with the Drogheda Independent, the Irish Press, the RTE Newsroom, where he became the newsroom’s first-ever agriculture correspondent, and in the Farming Independent.

Back again to CBS Trim days, and the ‘mock interviews’, where the school brought in professionals in different fields to stage job interviews in a student’s possible career path. St Michael’s brought in Paddy for the few of us that may have wanted to go down the journalism route. And his advice was along the lines of ‘you can have all the degrees and diplomas hanging on your wall, but they are no good if you can’t write and don’t have an interest in what’s going on around you’. This is true of journalism, even in this day of email, internet, and smartphones.

In ‘Cocooner’, Paddy talks of the death of their beloved dog, Rocco, a sad event in normal times, but an added trouble on top of everything else; there’s the separation from the grandchildren, the shopping being left at the door, getting to the hospital in Dublin for Mary’s cancer treatment, the help from the neighbours, ‘hey Google’, the rotating taoisigh, from Leo to Micheal, the ‘Golfgate’ event in Clifden, attended by a certain local former TD from ‘across the river’ (Holy Kilmessan!), and having to get his car through the NCT.

Then there’s the gradual reopening and re-emerging into reality, just as well as he was gauging the speed of a fly crossing the floor at one stage. But at least, he learned how to make porridge during lockdown. Imagine, he didn’t know how to!

Paddy penned the diary after Ciaran Mangan, the County Librarian, suggested it, while Tom French of the library ensured him that the mundane, ordinary things he was writing about were interesting.

“Sister-in-law Anne was on the phone to Mary tonight and asked about me. ‘He’s out there doing his diarrhoea’ is what Anne thought Mary said!” (Saturday 4th July).

The blurb on the back ends: “If you don’t enjoy learning about small town-life and other people’s mundane lives, don’t read this book.” We say read it, whether you do or don’t. It might be just the tonic needed at present!

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