My first year of freedom

Must do better. That will be my theme for the next 12 months. A year ago today I left the Irish Examiner after 42 years, a decision I don’t regret in the least. I was sorry to leave some wonderful colleagues, and the buzz of working in a newspaper environment, but technology was wreaking havoc on a job I had loved.

In truth, I hadn’t been happy there for some years for various reasons. Something died when the Examiner moved from its Academy Street headquarters to a modern building on Lapps Quay. Gone was the familiar rumbling of the printing press as we outsourced that part of the business. The editorial/reporting floor was huge and soulless. Somehow it felt less like a newspaper and more like an office.

When we moved to Blackpool it became more difficult personally. Where before I could hop on a bus and be deposited yards from the office, now I had to get two buses. That meant a longer commute in the morning and evening, or an even more annoying journey if I worked nights. Talk of a new editorial system proved a step too far for me: it meant fewer editorial jobs, while longer working hours would have made it impossible to commute unless I bought a second car – something I was not prepared to do. So I left. So did some long-serving colleagues.

I had a vague idea of how I would survive post-redundancy: the blog would keep me busy; I’d write that book I’d always swore to finish if I ever had the free time; and I’d write some freelance articles. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Sure, I have blogged a bit, but not nearly enough. I had intended to broaden the range of subjects I blog about, but that hasn’t been entirely successful. As for the book, well, I made a start, but am a distance from even a first draft. And the freelance work never really materialised. I should have pushed myself more and I didn’t. It’s no one’s fault but my own.

On the plus side, the blog attracted lots of media attention and I appeared on quite a few radio shows, and even made a live TV debut which went well. With over 100,000 hits there is plenty of room for growth. I also curated the @ireland account on Twitter in November, a really fantastic experience.

Having so much free time meant I could read dozens of books, which I did. After a quick splurge of Netflix feasting I grew somewhat tired of TV, and even today I follow few TV shows, unless it’s Nordic TV or something like Deutschland 83.

I was surprised by some former colleagues who reached out to me over the past 12 months – and unsurprised by the many who didn’t. That’s life and you carry on with your new existence. I’ve had wonderful support, particularly from my wife Trish and children, Daire and Sarah Jane. I owe Trish in particular a tremendous amount.

Trips to the Canaries, New York, London, Portugal, Toulouse and Germany were more than I expected during the year. I met the lovely Katie Piper for the first time, talked to Joe Duffy on Liveline, did a face-to-face interview with Matt Cooper and even shook hands with Ireland rugby captain Jamie Heaslip at the Web Summit. I also met an amazing young woman, Denise Lehane, who made me realise I had few reasons to complain about anything. If anyone has embraced positivity it’s Denise. Property writer Carol Tallon and I connected via Twitter last year, but only met for the first time this summer, one of many I befriended on Twitter who I met ‘live’ in 2015.

I’d like to single out two other good friends. Brendan O’Neill left the Irish Examiner Editorial Department on the same day as myself, and to mark our departure we went for lunch on December 31 last with Anne and Trish, our partners. Today we went full circle with another lunch on our first anniversary. Brendan has been a wonderful friend and colleague from the day I first met him in 1970 when I arrived for summer work. We’ve been buddies since then, sharing the good times and bad. We’ve gone on holidays together, been to each other’s weddings, shared many a meal out. Since we left the Examiner we have made a point of meeting for lunch every month, and all four of us go for dinner every so often. A wonderful friendship.

And then there’s Mareike Graepel. She also worked in the Examiner, settling eventually in the Special Supplements Department as a page designer. She’s a huge fan of U2 and Friends, but most of all she loves her friends and knows the value of friendship. I was so delighted when she met Hugo and they married in Germany, the perfect excuse for Brendan, myself and our wives to make the trip over for a fabulous few days. Even though she moved to Germany some years ago we have stayed in touch, and whenever she is back in Ireland we always meet for lunch – in fact we did just that a few days ago when Trish and I had a lovely couple of hours with herself, Hugo, and their two girls. Last March I headed over to Germany for a wonderful few days with Mareike and her family, greeted as if I had been Bono himself – well, almost!

I also rediscovered my love of books, and have gone through around 40 this year. Will I hit 50 in 2016? We’ll see. I certainly hope so.

The next year will bring new challenges and opportunities and I intend to rise to them. More on those tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

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