Friday 14 April 2017

The Iceflow cometh not

There we go, another year another dollar, I said, brushing my hands together decisively to mark the effective end of another academic year at The Institute.  One more week of classes (effectively revision and to allay anxiety) after Easter brings us to the end of April. May is exams, of which I have set few which need my marking, and the first half of June is examiners meetings and wrap up. I tell ya, boys and girls, the year whisked past in an eye-blink.  The year I turned 13 lasted forever - all spots and fur sprouting in disconcerting places - when I couldn't wait for it to be over. 50 years later, when I'm inclined with Faustus to cry lente lente currite noctis equi [line 36 and footnote], time is going a bit faster than I'd like . . . no matter how Present Moment I ommmmmmm.

It being Good Friday [R triptych by Rogier van der Weyden] it might be a good time for a little end-of-life reflection. Last weekend I went down to the Wexford coast to plant a few trees for some friends. My grandfather is buried close by and I can't be giving all my attention to the Waterford Coast next door. Surprise, surprise these friends are about my age and, over a sandwich before The Work, we talked a bit about the imminent prospect of retirement. As you know if you've been with The Blob since its birth a million words ago in 2013, my work-and-life at The Institute has been redemptive. I have found a place in the world where I have, with Charlie Haughey and Othello, done the state some service. As it happens the time-frame matches that of my friends who, more or less at the same time, landed new and fulfilling jobs late in life. That state of bliss-at-work could probably only have been achieved by having worked, at several times in my life, at the very cutting edge of the frontiers of science. I was hot back then, but the people around me were scorching. I realised that, although I wasn't the best, I was able to help the paragons forward in their quest for The Grail. Actually, I was never too exclusive in my conditions of service, I'd help pretty much anyone fulfill their potential and a little bit more. So The Bob has found his level, like Goldilocks and the porridge, not too hot nor brain-dead but just right. I am very grateful that I didn't land a job in the IT sector when we returned to Ireland in 1990 - I'd be burnt-out, useless, listless and unfulfilled now.

The title is another cunning literary reference to Eugene O'Neill's existential play The Iceman Cometh about life, death and dreams. Marlow, O'Neill, a TsunaMI of education so it is.  On dit que when the going got tough the eskimos used to leave their old people behind on an ice-flow to feed the polar bears: a parsimonious race wasn't going to waste all that protein. I am firmly with them on this. I need to retire so that some younger, fitter and different teacher can inherit my desk and phone-number. I used to mildly hacked off when I worked in TCD: a city-centre campus with severely limited parking. One place outside the Physics Building was reserved for an infirm emeritus professor in case he decided to wander in from retirement to shuffle papers and scab a free cup of coffee. That's fine and dandy and inclusive but deprives a younger mum of a place to park after she has dropped her kids off in the college creche.

In our conversation John Crown - Consultant Oncologist. Senator and Talking Head - cropped up. We've met him before advocating for his patients a very expensive cancer treatment that provides poor value for money in a cash-strapped health service. I deprecate that: of course an oncologist would be all for having me-the-tax-payer fund a novel cancer treatment. A couple of years ago, when he was still a senator, he was pushing through the Oireachtas An Bille um Maireachtáil Fholláin Níos Faide aka the Longer Healthy Living Bill 2015. This aimed to by-pass mandatory retirement ages in the health service. It suggests that elderly employees of the HSE may, if they wish, postpone their retirement where they would otherwise have been forced to retire at a particular age that is stipulated in their employment contract, subject to their continuing capacity to fulfil the duties of their employment in a safe fashion. Not just doctors apparently - that would be invidiously elitist - but also the nice lady who has a sinecure in radiology escorting patients from the general waiting room to another row of chairs inside nearer to the X-ray room.  Wait a mo! That's not a good idea: it is entirely possible that when Our Lady of the Chairs retires it will be revealed that the department can manage quite well without any replacement. Failing that there is another young person, with children at foot and a mortgage, who could do the job and get her start up the ladder. A case could be made, given the haemorrhage of Irish trained health-people to hospitals in Canada, Australia and the UK, to keep on medicos who can do the job and are unlikely to up-stakes and go elsewhere in a hurry. But that is a policy decision to be made by management, not a personal decision made by the individual because it suits them. When the Seanad elections came round in 2016, Crown decided not to stand on the point of principal that the protocols for election to the Upper House enshrined in our 1937 Constitution had not been reformed during his 2011-2016 tenure. That is a piss-poor excuse for standing aside from the overall process of bringing Ireland into the 21stC. Another man might have parked the obviously anachronistic status of the Seanad and worked within the flawed system.

My very expensive education and decades of being on the planet, doing science and dealing with people has given me Experience. That is valuable, and if my replacement wants to tap me for that, I'll stop pruning the roses and be all ears and advice. But there is no justification for me continuing to suck at the government teat beyond retirement age. On the other hand, I'm not ready for the ice-flow yet.

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