Heavy breathing

The phone rings.

An unknown number. Probably not a good sign.

Also I’m still in my sick bed. Not on top form, not at my best. I’m not ready to face society yet.

But then again it might be important. Perhaps someone wanting to ask if I was ever mis-sold PPI.

I answer, testing the limits of my pestilent throat, chest and lungs.

‘Hello?’ I bark, sounding a bit Barry White, but without the soul.

A female voice, pleasant but professional, non-threatening but direct. She works for the BBC. She wants to know if I’ll go on the radio tonight.

Regular readers know this happens quite a lot. In my niche as a daddy blogger I’m regularly asked to contribute to parenting debates. It feeds my fanciful idea of myself as a raconteur.

Usually I agree to go on. I like the experience, the profile and the feeling that someone might be interested in my views.

But there are two problems today

1 The subject for the debate is children using social media. Does it have a negative impact on their development? My boy is only four so this is one parenting worry which is still years away and which I haven’t troubled myself to worry about yet. Plus I’m barely literate on social media myself.

2 I fear I may be dead before Evening Extra broadcasts tonight. Or massively reduced. The flu is continuing its Blitzkreig attack on my body, scattering my defensive systems and crushing my feeble resistance. It is the flu without end. Health seems nothing more than an old friend who has now moved on to better things and now ignores my text messages. Every time I feel that I may have begun the process of recovery the flu discovers a new part of my anatomy to devastate.  Lately when people ask me if I’m feeling better I’ve tended to respond: ‘Maybe a little but now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

So I’m reluctant. But I’m also too nice. I tell the BBC woman that I’m probably not the best person. I suggest she finds someone better suited (and healthier). But I say if she’s stuck then to phone me back and I’ll go on.

Half an hour later she phones me back.

They’re stuck.

I agree to go on.

But it will have to be done over the phone. I’m not well enough to travel to the studio this time.

I make a mental note that I’ll have to do some research on the subject so my ignorance is not exposed to the whole country.

But first I need to rest. I lay my aching head on the pillow. Please just make the pain go away…..

The phone rings.

Waking me from a deep and troubled sleep. An unknown number.

‘Hello?’ I feebly answer.

‘Hi Jonny, thanks for agreeing to do this, you’ll be on live with Seamus in just a few seconds, just after this interview finishes.’


I hear the calm and authoritative voice of Seamus McKee, one of my favourite broadcasters. He’s talking to some doctor about winter pressures on the health service. I have to stop myself from jumping in with ‘you don’t know the bloody half of it!’

But now he moves on. A new report has highlighted the dangers of young children using too much social media. What can parents do? What can schools do? He knows just the person to ask.

There’s a school principal in the studio. He talks about the issue with competence, he’s calm, reasoned and proportionate.

Then Seamus turns to me.

He asks me a gentle question. And off I go.

When I’m a bit nervous or panicked sometimes I talk too much. Words pouring out quicker than my brain can process their meaning. This is such an occasion. Within seconds I think I have reduced the subject of children using social media to the biggest danger facing humans since The Black Death.

The teacher comes back in and says something sensible. Then I come back and say something daft. It’s all a bit awkward and mericifully, Seamus soon brings the debate to an end.

I go back to bed. I try not to think too much about what has just happened.

At some point later in the night I inch my way downstairs, a shivering mess of snot and germs.

My wife is home now. She tells me she missed me on the radio and wants to listen back to it.

I have a rule.

Never listen back to myself.

That way I can maintain the fabrication in my mind that I’m a great narrator of anecdotes, a modern day Peter Ustinov sprinkling my wit and wisdom like a child feeding crumbs to the ducks.

But if I hear myself the illusion is destroyed. I’m reminded of the uncomfortable truth.

That I’m really just a great big culchie.

I’m like the guy who turned up at the BBC for an interview and then mistakenly ended up in the studio live on the news.

I end up on The Nolan Show or Good Morning Ulster or Evening Extra when really I’m supposed to be on Farmgate talking about the price of limousine bulls and what a bad year it’s been for potatoes.

But I’m in a weakened state and my wife insists that we listen back on the BBC iPlayer.

As she goes online I warn her that it probably wasn’t my best performance.

But, it turns out, there’s something else going on which I hadn’t counted on. Something which I was completely oblivious to as it occurred.

As Seamus is interviewing the teacher there’s a noise in the background. Faint at first, but then more prominent until it becomes quite diverting.

It’s hard to place it at the beginning. It’s like the noise of an inexpert cello player roughly scraping the bow across the strings. It’s ugly.

The noise goes away when I talk. Then it comes back when I finish.

And now I realise.

It’s the sound of my breathing. My congested, mucus-filled lungs amplified for the whole of the world to hear. And then reproduced on iPlayer for anyone who missed it first time around.

I sound like Darth Vader. When Seamus asked me about the role of parents in monitoring children on social media I could really have responded: ‘No Seamus, I am your father.’

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. After all I didn’t really want to go on in the first place.

And people forget things really quickly.

As long as nobody does anything to draw attention to it. Something stupid like writing a blog…..

3 thoughts on “Heavy breathing

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