Nuala McCann: Goodbye my BBC friends... Now it's our time

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Nuala gets to know her retirement companion...
Nuala gets to know her retirement companion...

I got my first blow-up doll last week… and me, 62 years old.

There’s a little artistic licence there, it was a life-size balloon doll of me with my red hair (out of a bottle these days) clutching a balloon glass of red in one hand and a book in the other.

A big thank you to balloon artist Stephen, who sounds like such a lovely man and Amy, who is indeed a gorgeous woman – you made my last day so so special.

Monday July 10 was my final day in the office working for the Baby Seal. That’s the BBC to you and me. My nother job, as we call it.

I’m not leaving this column… I hope not.

When our boy was very small, he thought that I answered to a fluffy white baby seal.

We both loved Pingu and it made perfect sense, nook nook.

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Twenty years and a whizz of technology later and last week, I handed back my laptop.

It was time.

I didn’t expect that my friends – and I’m so proud to call them that – would make it so very special.

There was that giant balloon doll – are there are now three in this marriage – and there were balloons and toasts and a cake with my face on. I insisted on eating my own nose.

I’d ordered cake too – it read: “Goodbye my friends.”

Then I remembered that Terry Jacks song, Seasons in the Sun.

“Goodbye my friends,” he sang, “It’s hard to die…”

I’m banking on 20 years before exiting stage left pursued by a bear or shuffling off this mortal coil.

That cake was gorgeous too and people said beautiful things about me and I saved them up in my heart for rainy days.

All that warmth and kindness – it was like basking on a beach in the Bahamas.

Even the people I might have had a little barney with down the years seemed to have forgiven and forgotten.

Of course I spoke... age loosens your tongue.

As the old nun’s prayer says, “Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject”.

“If you want to speak don’t do a daddy,” said my sister in the run-up to my last day.

When my dad retired, aged 60, from his job as a telephone engineer, he took the opportunity to tell them how hard the job was for the younger people coming in.

“There are men down the trenches up to their waists in water,” he said.

It was hardly a “so long, I love you all” speech. But he smiled broadly every time he talked about it.

His nickname was Honest John, Too Honest John – and maybe the rest of us have a smidgeon of that about us.

I was thinking of him the other day. He stopped work at 60 even though they made him enticing offers to stay on.

In the end, he got seven years out of retirement. Thursdays, he and mum went off to walk Ards forest with a picnic.

“This is our time now,” he’d tell her.

Those were happy years – he had the time to write us letters when we were off on our travels; when we were grown-ups and too old for toys, he lined up a brown envelope for each of us on the mantelpiece at Christmas with £100 inside.

Long after he died, Danny, our wonderful mechanic, told me that when our cars needed fixed, he’d go up and pay and tell him just to say it was £20… we never suspected.

My leaving do was bitter sweet.

The last few pandemic years were tough and I remember my friends from work sending me funny emails, arriving with sweets or a hamper and standing at a social distance to chat at our gate.

In lockdown, when I turned 60, the bouquets hit double figures – we were tiptoeing through the tulips.

I’ll miss the people who buoyed me, made me laugh and stood beside me when times were tough.

But we’re looking forward.

“Now this is our time,” I tell my good man.

And somewhere in the back roads of my memory, Milton’s elegy for his friend who died too young comes back.

Yes, there is sorrow; but now we turn away; and we move forward in hope like Milton’s swain at the end of his song.

“At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue

“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”