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Lockdown Distractions with Joe Mahon

Joe Mahon: Surviving Lockdown

We asked Joe Mahon how he is surviving lockdown, read his anwser below. 

"Let me state at the outset that I am no paragon of virtue when it comes to charting a way through the deprivations of this pandemic. My wife insists that I admit publicly that I eat too much ice-cream and watch too much TV. Both are true. I have almost developed an American accent because of my addiction to CNN News which, because of the time difference, keeps me up into the wee small hours too often.

I’m also addicted to “Scandi-Noir” crime dramas. They’re usually quite depressing but they demand total concentration because if you take your eyes off the subtitles, you’ve lost the plot. On balance, the CNN News is usually more riveting, although it’s equally easy to lose the plot.

Anyway, the point is, I’m certainly not recommending that anybody follow my example."

"I used to do a bit of painting in a previous century – really bad landscapes and pretty poor portraits – just as a pastime. When the lockdown started I thought I would take it up again to see if I had improved any. I hadn’t. But I discovered I’m brilliant (well I think so!) at a different sort of painting – furniture painting. I painted old stuff that my wife was fed up looking at and was on the verge of throwing out - tables, cabinets, TV stands, bookcases, whole staircases, radiators and even tiles.

I used satin finish, water-based stuff that is practically odourless, and where everything was once the colour of wood, it’s now all cheerful limes and subtle greys and cool blues. My local paint shop made me customer of the month! (Though I suspect I’m not the only one.) If my wife didn’t like the colour I would change it right away, no bother, no argument. (This is important.) It was great therapy and a lot cheaper than buying new furniture. I’ve now run out of things to paint so I might try the landscapes again. Or not.

I realised I was spending too much time at my desk and not getting enough natural light and that I needed to exercise in the outdoors. One thing I always enjoyed was walking. When you’re out filming you tend to do a lot of it and I was missing it rather badly. Luckily, I’m close to Brooke Park where I spent a lot of time in my youth.

There’s a big hill that runs from the bottom gate at St Eugene’s Cathedral right up to Rosemount. It’s not for the faint-hearted because it gets steeper the higher up you go, but I regarded it as a challenge to march up to the top, arms swinging,  determined expression, heart and lungs working overtime, hardly taking the time to nod a civil hello to passers-by whether I knew them or not. Walking for exercise during a pandemic is not a social activity."

Move with Mary

Age NI teamed up with Lady Mary Peters to launch a range of exercise videos aimed specifically at keeping older people moving during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Nature is a bit like the watched kettle. Nothing seems to be happening, so you look away. And then it catches you unawares. I’m fortunate in that I have a garden. It usually looks sadly neglected at this time of year and you wonder how anything could survive in that wasteland. But there are things that grow there that don’t care what the garden looks like, things that could teach us a thing or two about survival. Tiny fragile-looking, but incredibly resilient, snowdrops that poke their heads up through all the frozen leaves and wintry muck without fail each year.

Then the daffodils suddenly come from nowhere and the odd tulip. These are bulbs that I planted years ago and then forgot about. When they appear I’m always elated, and full of admiration, but slightly ashamed. They’re like the visitor that I should have known would be arriving, - and tidied the house a bit.

Ever since childhood I cannot pass any body of water without peering into to it to see if I can spot any fish life. The park that I walk in has a large pond full of goldfish and koi and, occasionally, frogs. In the summer the surface is covered with lily pads and beautiful, exotic-looking, waxy flowers, and I imagine the fish are happily swimming around in their natural element."

"But in the winter months the pond is a cold watery desert, the goldfish themselves the only glimpse of colour in an otherwise bleak sea of grey. I imagine the fish are wondering where all the shady pads have gone. But then, of course, you realise, they’re goldfish. They won’t remember last summer. They seem happy enough.

We’ve always provided food for the birds, hanging feeders from the branches out in the back garden. We do this for selfish reasons mostly because they’re a great distraction while you’re washing the dishes and gazing out the window. Better still, give me a pair of binoculars and I will be absorbed for hours.

Chaffinches, goldfinches, tits (great, coal and blue) wood pigeons and a pair of collar doves are the usual visitors. How goldfinches ever survived before we discovered nyjer seeds, is an unfathomable mystery. Occasionally a sparrow-hawk will swoop across the garden and scatter the other birds in panicky flight. This is when they fly into windows and fall to the ground sadly, and momentarily you feel sorry that you fed them in the first place.

The sparrow-hawk, if unsuccessful, might pose magnificently on a branch for a few seconds before resuming the hunt. Recently my wife pointed out that the robin, who is a carnivorous ground feeder and really not into seeds and nuts, was valiantly trying to cling on to the feeder containing the suet balls, but was failing repeatedly because he doesn’t have the feet for it. If he did manage to get a foothold a starling would come and just shrug him off it.

This is our resident robin, the one that lands at my feet when I do any work in the garden and waits until I turn up a juicy titbit. Robins are territorial and, this being his patch, he has every right to expect better catering. So, I happed myself up, went and got a couple of garden tools, removed a few obstructions and re-hung the feeder so that the robin could stand on a branch and reach it with no bother. Was he grateful? It doesn’t matter because I was. Feeling useful is good."


Last updated: Jun 28 2022

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