No matter how uneven the day, Paxman is a great consolation

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR: I know there are people who get stuck in the same chair looking out the same window, day in day out, …

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR:I know there are people who get stuck in the same chair looking out the same window, day in day out, because they are old and there is nowhere to go, and there is no one to visit them, and all their childhood friends are in the graveyard.

And there are others; young people who keep the curtains closed in unbearably stuffy little bedrooms in the middle of July, writing diary notes about how hard it is for them to walk down a corridor and talk to someone in the kitchen; watery-faced teenagers who feel that no one understands why they are afraid to look in the mirror.

I'm not depressed, but I do like to spend time in the house; my confinement is voluntary and indulgent. I like reading in bed. I like wandering the house in dressing gowns and slippers, drinking mugs of tea on the back doorstep, in the middle of the day, and catching up on soap operas I may have missed the night before. I like the restrictions of a life indoors.

Each morning, I have espresso from a machine, bought in Tesco for €30, and at 11am I enjoy a fig roll. Though there are mornings when the staleness of the fig roll triggers an intense melancholy, and on such occasions I worry that everything will end in chaos, and the espresso machine will break down. But I am not depressed.


Last week, I removed a rug from in front of the fireplace, battered it with a broom handle for an hour and left it draped over a white plastic summer chair in the back garden. I was stretched on the bed upstairs in the late afternoon, when I heard the rain, and knew the rug was ruined.

On Monday, I left sheets out to dry, under a blue Bank Holiday sky, but by lunchtime they were dappled with bird droppings. And I lay awake one night listening to the drip of a toilet, because the ball cock had slipped out of place.

Such unexpected dramas keep me on my toes, but they don't destroy me.

I suspect that a great amount of men who sustain massive coronary attacks do so after realising something trivial, like the absence of golf balls, or the nearness of a fly. Great tragedy begins with something trivial.

But mostly my life indoors runs smoothly. Calm afternoons full of Joe Duffy, jam buns, and glasses of buttermilk, while I monitor starlings from the kitchen window, or buzz around with jugs of water for the plants in the hallway, or occasionally zip around upstairs with a duster and a canister of furniture polish.

And if, on some evenings, I am broken by domestic tribulations, I can find refuge by the fireside, in the familiar labyrinth of a soap opera, or some glowing newsdesk that is staffed by calm women and men, who can face down tragedies with shimmering equanimity.

Newsnight is the cream of all creams.

I've been watching Newsnight for years. Jeremy Paxman is a great consolation. No matter how uneven my day has been, no matter how many disappointments come in the post, or at the ATM machine, or at the check out in Tesco, I am consoled by the knowledge that Jeremy will be there at the end of the day, gazing out at me from the 32-inch screen, and reminding me that a good sense of humour can sustain one through anything. Jeremy is the boy who can talk to China, or gently chide an errant American general, and it doesn't take a feather out of him.

I am comforted by the knowledge that there is someone who knows everything, and has met everyone; not just all the presidents and ambassadors, high commissioners and United Nations bigwigs; but someone who has explored life and death with victims of world atrocities, with representatives of the outlawed, the unregistered, and the stateless non-persons of the earth.

Jeremy understands all things. He has been there forever. Like an admiral on the bridge of HMS Newsnight, he watches the world

with his periscope, and his vigilance and humour are as full of comfort and consolation as a mug of drinking-chocolate before bedtime.

My house is a place to be quiet. A refuge I step into; a world in which I am still.

There is no past in my house. There is no future. There is only now; a quiet calm presence in which I sometimes wake, and sometimes sleep.

Michael Harding

Michael Harding

Michael Harding is a playwright, novelist and contributor to The Irish Times