Anxiety, Sport, Maeve, Sadness, and Ukraine

maeve cropped

Hope you’re all doing well. It’s a tough time. Again.

On the Zoom the other day Adrian said: ‘First we had to deal with Trump. Then we had to deal with Covid. And now this.’ He was, of course, referring to Russia’s brutal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

We talked about watching or not watching the news. Doomscrolling. The pitfalls of getting sucked under by the horror. Or ignoring it and not being informed.

I said I’d watched the BBC news on Monday night and it featured an item from a children’s cancer hospital in Kyiv. Unspeakable horror.

Last Friday I got news that my friend Maeve was dying. Poor Maeve. It’s too sad to think of her, so I try not to. But of course I do. And her poor family. And everyone in our book club, which Maeve has been a member of for over 30 years.

Earlier this week a book I’ve been writing for the last four years went to the typesetter. That’s good isn’t it? Yes, but letting go is hard, when it could and should be so much better. And I’ll never get to talk to Maeve about it. God, how she loved books and stories, she was the best reader I knew.

Last night I stayed away from the news. I tried to stay off Twitter, too. I was waiting for the call.

Instead I watched Middlesbrough and Spurs in the FA Cup even though I wasn’t that interested. I didn’t care who won the tie, but I made myself care when I saw the Boro fans and their joy when teenager John Coburn scored the winner in extra time. What’s not to love about poor underdog northerners beating rich favourite southerners? ‘It’s what the cup’s all about, innit?’

In reality I wasn’t watching the game, I was avoiding the news and avoiding thinking about Maeve, but that’s okay, too. That’s one of the functions of sport, really. The fact that it isn’t real life. Music too, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Joni and Fleet Foxes. And books. For the comfort of books and story I return in times of sadness and anxiety to Terry Pratchett on audio book. Especially his witch series with Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Tiffany Aching. What’s not to love about wise, strong and humane women putting the world to rights? Especially such a wonderful world as Discworld. So that’s what I did all morning around the house and out for a walk.

Just before lunch Val phoned to tell me that Maeve had died. We didn’t say much on the phone, there isn’t much to say. She was so well loved, she’s gone.

Tonight I’ll watch some series on TV – if there’s Inspector Montalbano, maybe some of that, it’ll remind me of Maeve. Or maybe my old recordings of Foyle’s War. I know all the stories but it doesn’t matter. Right wins out in the end, resolutions are found, and order is restored. If anybody dies, it isn’t my friend. It isn’t real. It isn’t Ukraine.

On Friday I’ll go to the new Almodovar film in Triskel.

On Saturday I’ll go down to the Páirc to watch the hurling. Cork and Galway. The great Henry in the house. Doesn’t matter who wins, does it? Just the league. Not really, which is why sport and story are such effective antidotes to reality.

I do hope it’s a good game, though. That helps. A match is a story without words from a place beyond words. As Joyce Carol Oates said it doesn’t matter that the match/story has no text or no language; that doesn’t mean it is ‘brute’, ‘primitive’ or ‘inarticulate’ – as some would have us believe about sport.

Rather, the text is improvised in action; and the language between the players is a dialogue ‘of the most refined sort’ in a joint response to ‘the mysterious will of the audience’. Which is always that the match be a worthy one.

Here’s to good matches and good stories. Here’s to brave Ukraine. Goodbye Maeve, rest in peace.

Take care, everyone.


Photo by John MacMonagle. That’s Maeve in the bright green. She was lovely.