Social Distancing

Day 12

Quite by accident one time, or was it Fate? [bollocks! – Ed.] I came across a line in a text in Irish that completely changed my attitude to sleeping patterns. If I could find the original source, sure we’d all be laughing, but, unless Darzán can dig it up for me, you’ll just have to take my word on it. The throwaway line concerned some visitor turning up at a house in Winter at an importunate hour, namely after sunset but before the first sleep. (And no, Cambridge Dictionary, it is not that meaning of importune I have in mind – the cheek of you!) This apparently innocuous phrase was a revelation to me: it confirmed that my own sleeping pattern had not, in fact, just fallen off a tree but was, undeniably, backed by secure tradition and therefore an inevitable, albeit minor, expression of my intrinsic Ibero-Irishness. Maybe it was even one of my ‘inalienable and ancient rights’? For an insight into how going to the pub is one of these for British people who happen not be slaves, see previous post about Bluster Boris.

Do you get it yet? My thinking went along these lines: if there is a first sleep, there must then be, ipso facto, a second sleep, and maybe even a third and fourth one if you find out you have not had enough Zs when someone smacks you about the face and tells you it is time to go to work. How would they know whether I feel like working at that hour of the morning anyway? And what are they even doing in my master bedroom with walk-in wardrobe but no en-suite for hygiene reasons? Did I leave the front door open all night again? But I digress [seriously? – Ed.]. And sorry about the Latin up there, but, like that other classic language Old Irish, sometimes the tongue of the Italians is just more succinct than the mongrel English that my father delighted in calling ‘a bastard language’. He wasn’t usually allowed to curse, you see, but had heard the term used in some documentary or other he was watching. When he was alive.

So here I was, getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and me thinking this was due to my Type 2 diabetes when really, and obviously, it was a case of briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait, my underlying ancestral trends re-asserting themselves as some sort of counter-balance to the madness of the modern world and the tyranny of wristwatch and clock. I know, Rebel without a Clue, as my big brother aptly nick-named me one time. But still, my general idea once I was up to siphon the python anyway was that it would be remiss of me, while awake, to squander the opportunity to have a smoke and thus help me to reach my daily target of nicotine intake. So I would light up one of my selection of Benson & Hedges’ finest and, maybe, have a quick read of an article or two from the weekend’s newspaper still patiently waiting for my editing skills. Maybe have a sneaky chocolate biscuit or ten too, because nobody was looking at that hour of the morning, and accompany them with a cup of coffee if the newspaper article happened to be free of the phrasal blight that is ‘existential crisis’. Generally just messing around for an hour or so, letting the cat in or out depending on her whims, maybe even doing a drop of real work to facilitate the further consumption of nicotine. And thence to bed to enjoy the ineffable delight of falling asleep for the second time without having officially woken up yet.

Darzán informs me that this is exactly what the Irish used to do too: sleep for a bit just after nightfall (cos they had no electricity in those days, and no 24-hour TV either, for some reason), get up in the middle of the night, do a drop of work and then go back to sleep again until their circadian rhythm told them it was time to get out of the scratcher and head off for a day’s foraging for potatoes. Darzán, by the way, is one of the team of researchers who help to provide the facts that illumine this daily blog about the Kerfuffle [what facts? – Ed.]. Out of the kindness of my heart, I took them on after their respective universities had kicked them out and locked their ivory towers on them. We all have to do our bit. I pay them a pittance, of course, but they seem happy enough, beavering away there in the cellar in poor light, poring over the dusty volumes I have amassed over the years (mostly from libraries that are now closed, so no fines due) and, very occasionally, coming up with a nugget of information I can crowbar into the blog. They are also a handy receptacle for leftover food. Especially since the binmen did not come yesterday, the lazy bistros. Or maybe their second or third sleep just went on that bit too long? Who am I to judge?

So, if I happen to work for you, and if you were ever somewhat confused at receiving an email or a report from me at 3.17am, now you know why. Better that than trying to do it half-asleep during the prescribed 9-5 working pattern beloved of society PC.

Social Distancing

Day 11

Monday Morning Mark II, Captain’s Starlog, 11PC. So, for the second time this month, although it is the start of the working week (more of that anon), I will not be approaching the Hill Section of the M2 with something approaching the dread of Sisyphus approaching his boulder each morning, I will not be getting snarled up in traffic on the Sandyknowles Roundabout and I will not be experiencing despair at the inability of the human race to learn the simplest of lessons from experience. These, my friends, were only a few of the delights of my daily commute to work in the PC days. An extra treat on a Monday was the absence of the part-time wife from the passenger seat: she never fully embraced the role of passenger as indicated in the name of her seat (carrying, as it does, the first syllable of ‘passive’ in it), and would constantly cross the invisible line I had clearly marked not quite down the middle of the cockpit. On my side of the line were all the controls for operating the car – steering wheel, foot pedals, fully-operational indicator lights – but also, and crucially, the controls for adjusting the atmosphere of the interior – heating, air conditioning, in-car entertainment. As balance, there was a glove compartment on her side over which I had no control at all. Despite these clearly-defined and delineated duties and responsibilities, time after time, part-time wife would reach over the line to the not-quite central control panel in an attempt to adjust the heat, or change the radio station to Radio Four or, I dunno, generally to just fuck things up. But none of that unconscionable rebellion on Monday mornings, and on one other blissful morning per week. I should add that it was the physical atmosphere of the car I was in control of. Control of the emotional atmosphere was firmly on the other side of the invisible line, and part-time wife could change a frosty morning into the brightest of new dawns merely by answering one of my questions rather than sitting in a huff in the perfectly calibrated air on her side of the car.

[Yer man, the wee query boy, has sent in another request for clarification. The rest of youse should feel free to do the same by leaving a comment in the comments section. I guarantee to read them; whether or not I respond to them is anyone’s guess, and will have more to do with whatever subject is on the top of my head queuing to get off when I start typing than the nature or urgency of the query. The reason pernickety-head’s question is being addressed today will soon become apparent, maybe.]

So, apart from closing it to traffic and turning the dreaded Hill Section into a roller-park for disaffected teenagers [redundant: akin to ‘pretentious Frenchman’, there is no other kind – ed.], way down there somewhere in a previous post I had mentioned in passing that I used to regularly regale my passenger with various ingenuous solutions to the morning rush-hour. This was in the days, dear reader, when there was a morning rush-hour. For the past eleven days, the closest thing I get to a morning rush-hour is a sprint along the balcony of the mezzanine from the master bedroom in the West Wing to the rainforest shower in the bathroom in the East Wing in an attempt to get in there before one of the resident teenagers takes up temporary residence. Why do teenagers take so long in the bathroom? Don’t answer that, I already know the answer; well one answer, for teenaged boys, anyway. I can hear one of them stirring now, and better finish this off soon or I will be turning up for work having had only the full Andytown shower.

Back to traffic and query boy’s request that I elucidate. In the days before the Kerfuffle, shed-loads of cars would attempt the pointless and pathetic attempt to deliver their occupants to various offices and shops in the city centre for exactly the same, apparently engraved-in-stone time of nine o’clock. There was never any reason for this stupidity: we did not work on production lines which entailed that each of us had to be at his post contemporaneously or else the whole system would break down. The solution to the twice-daily traffic jams then? Staggered start and finish times, by alphabetical order. Thus, if your surname begins with any of the letters A-D, on week one you start at 7.00 am, the E-Hs start at 7.30 am, the I-Ls rock up at 8.00 am … you get the picture. In week two, everyone moves up one place in the schedule and the A-Ds start at 7.30 am, their early-morning slot being taken up by the W-Zs (mostly Polish workers in that group) from the other end of the system. Going home times follow a similar pattern starting from 4.00 pm when (yes, you’ve got it, by Jove you’ve got it!) the A-Ds bomb home up a relatively free-flowing Hill Section back to their country residences. Do you like it?

I once wrote to the Irish Government suggesting they should bring in bunk beds to wards to solve waiting times in hospitals. Like CERN, they have yet to reply. But I live in hope. When I am not in despair – see shopping list above.

Social Distancing

Day 11

Among my essentials yesterday was the weekend edition of The Irish Times. A quick perusal thereof (I will not actually be finished with the whole paper until about Thursday, leaving me with one day off before I buy the next edition) confirms my darkest fears: there is a dangerous, insidious disease spreading rapidly, the causes of which are, at best, less than clear and for which there seems to be no known cure. It passes from person to person with something approaching the speed of a rumour, which, incidentally, scientists have recently declared to be – and I quote – ‘a whiskereen’ faster than the speed of light. (Still no response from CERN, by the way, to my query as to how they were getting on coming up with an estimate for the speed of darkness, but I realise that these advancements in science take time, especially in what is – for CERN, not for me – a relatively new field of research; the wait for an answer feels like light years, though.)

Having just stuck up that interwobble link there for your delectation, I will now have to digress from the matter at hand [which is? – Ed.] to comment on two of the headlines on the site that should not go commentless. A sort of ‘What it says in the papers’ with a panel of one. The first is a straightforward question seeking a yes or no answer, and the answer is yes and no. Here is the headline: Is it a good idea to move in with my partner now, or am I mad? Granted this is from the Dear Abbey section of the newspaper on relationship advice, not the only other section of the newspaper today which is taken up with Kerfuffle advice, but still, no, not a good time, and yes, you are mad. The second headline is more controversial, and will have historians scrabbling about in their archives for a while: Ireland suffers highest daily death toll. Famine, anyone? Oh, on that subject, and in case you haven’t heard this one yet, I will record it here for posterity, or for whatever replaces posterity PC because, according to everyone else, things will never be the same again. But they never were. The joke? How many potatoes does it take to kill an Irishman? None.

So back to yon highly contagious disease. Not Covid-19, ya eejit, sure everyone writes about that! No, the one I mentioned up there is maybe even more annoying than boreohnovirus, and, while equally contagious, thankfully and mercifully affects only journalists. It concerns their relatively recent [that’s the second time you’ve done that Einstein joke – Ed.] penchant for a particular phrase, and their apparent compulsion to then apply it to all known areas of life, from nearly bankrupt soccer clubs to precarious governments in rogue states, the UK, for example. The phrase in question is (cover any children’s eyes at this point) ‘existential crisis’. Now to me, a child of the sixties who studied A Level French in the early eighties of the previous century, an existential crisis means only one thing and conjures up only images of earnest, French groupies of Jean-Paul Sartre, drooping around Parisien boulevards and fretting over whether or not their berries are set at a revolutionary enough angle, or if their acrylic polo neck jumpers are, in fact, a dark enough shade of black. So, any time any of the afflicted journalists crowbars the phrase into whatever article of theirs I am editing (I do not really ‘read’ as such anymore; because of one of my hobbies that people have started paying me money for, my inner stickler is always on full alert as the words are moving from right to left before my eyes) and that’s it, the game’s up for that article, the mental red pen comes out and I draw a diagonal line through the whole thing and move on to the next one. Where, no doubt, some buckwit in the increasingly small Sports Section (decreasingly small?) will try to inform me about Accrington Stanley’s financial woes and the consequent ‘existential crisis’ facing the club. I severely doubt whether the directors of said club would know an existential crisis if one came up and slapped them in the face with a wet fish. Equally, their ability to even spell mauvaise-foi never mind break out of it in a moment of choice and go on to establish their own moral and ethical rules in a meaningless universe is less than certain. They would probably go bankrupt in the attempt.

Now I am aware that the word ‘existential’ has a more general meaning pertaining to the basic fact of existence, but not for me it doesn’t. Having survived my own existential crisis brought on by the, frankly, unwise decision of the Christian Brothers to permit the study of Camus and Sartre in the upper echelons of their school [too obscure a reference to be funny, even with the addition of a capital F – Ed.], existential refers to one thing and to one thing only for me, and that is to the self-contradictory cul-de-sac that is the philosophy of existentialism beloved of teenagers everywhere and pretentious French people in France [is there any other kind? – Ed]. Essential, on the other hand, continues to amass meanings, and the contents of the part-time wife’s bag after the daily forage for food are a constant source of surprise and bewilderment to me. I have not crunched the actual numbers yet – the weekly family financial report is published on a Monday evening when the teenagers are liable to be out of their caves and gathered in a sulk round the boardroom table – but I have a strong suspicion that, now that we are buying essentials only and not whatever else it is that we used to buy PC, we are actually spending more of my money. Riddle me that, Chancellor of the Exchequer, unless Boris the Brave passed on the virus to you as well in his new laudable policy that government ministers should actually feel the people’s pain. The part-time wife, by the way, strictly keeps her money in her purse, and in various pockets of the various coats she has, so none of that is ever spent. I would suspect that she is building up some sort of an emergency fund for when she leaves me, if I had that kind of suspicious mind.

In an act of rebellion, therefore, against prevalent, bourgeois social mores, I am off to the shop on my daily non-essential journey, but unaccompanied this time, and I shall purchase, exclusively and uniquely, existential products. So, cigarettes and red wine then. Obviously I shall be wearing black, as black is the only viable response to the absurdity of man’s position in a meaningless universe, apparently. And all my other clothes are in the wash.

Day 10

Social Distancing

Fair dues to the Pope, though: out he went into a wet, Italian night, all dressed-up in his best – and whitest – gear, to perform an act of public faith as some sort of counter-argument to the criticism of his organisation’s approach to Lent that he read here yesterday morning and which, obviously, stung him into action. He picked a very handy day for it too; St Peter’s Square in the Vatican is usually bunged with people, but he had the place almost to himself last night. Probably because of the unseasonable rain.

If you happened to see the ceremony on the television, you have, apparently, received the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence along with a riveting hour’s viewing. Only the possibility, mind you; as always with the Catholic Church, there are terms and conditions attached (one of these is ridiculously easy, though: “… and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime”). For the spiritually-afflicted among you (non-Catholics, that is), a plenary indulgence is a class of IOU signed by the Church which you can cash in after death to get some time off the period you have to spend in Purgatory. Not much use to you, granted, if you are a non-Catholic who does not believe in Purgatory, but it may have some residual value on the spiritual stock market. Indulgences, of course, had a role to play in that whole falling-out-of-close-friends business with Martin Luther that has not yet been successfully resolved – both sides are still bickering over the actual facts of the matter, a bit like the less than gruntled participants in the Norn Iron contretemps – and the great unwashed (it is Saturday; remember the lessons about ‘clean’ dirt) among you may be surprised that they are still around. But, to quote St Gerry on another matter, “They haven’t gone away, you know!”

Naturally, with so much time on my hands these days, I have thought this matter thoroughly through and would like to expound here today from my isolation shed (see above) on what I judge to be a fatal flaw in the whole indulgence pyramid scheme. But don’t worry, Francis, I am not going to fall out with you about it, or nail any declarations to anything à la Martin Luther (fake news, according to the Vatican, by the way). Apart from anything else, if the part-time wife caught me on nailing anything other than the pictures that have been waiting to be hung since we moved in here about 13 years ago, so would I be. Or hanged, actually, to be grammatically correct, but to spoil the joke: these are the trade-offs one has to make in the name of entertainment.

What was I on about? Ach now, c’mon off it, lads! At least one of us has to be listening to this daily diatribe or the whole communicatio ab isolatio thing will not work. Sorry about that, I lapsed into made-up Latin there because of the emphasis on things Vatican this morning. Yes, indulgences, thank you, smart boy at the back of the class. Plenary indulgences apparently reduce the time you spend in Purgatory doing penance for sins that have already been forgiven. Not much of a forgiveness there, if you ask me, if you still have to do the time for the crime. But, and here is the big but I have with the whole business, surely be to God there is no Time in the afterlife? To be honest, that has been one of its major attractions for me, the release from the tyranny of hours and minutes and the entering into an eternity of late nights not followed by importune early mornings that would allow me to indulge my penchant for Spanish sleeping patterns to the full. Given that a) Purgatory is in the afterlife, if it is anywhere; b) there is no time in the afterlife; c) both a) and b) are Church teaching, it therefore follows, as clearly as night follows day or as day follows night, that the time you get off Purgatory by cashing in your indulgence is not worth the paper it is (no longer) written on. The emperor has no clothes.

I, on the other hand, am attired as you see in the picture. I wonder are there any nails in that shed behind me?

Day 9

Social Distancing

Essential oils? Obviously not; I mean they aren’t even necessary never mind essential, and they leave a funny taste on the chips, or on whatever else you are cooking in them. Actually this Kerfuffle is proving the point that no oils are essential, from the crude, unmannerly types we used to pour into our cars, and thence into our skies, all the way down to the refined types that had little or no sexual experience. Fair enough, smart boy at the back of the class, pouring things upwards is a bit of a stretch, I’ll grant you that, but it all depends on perspectives, and those are changing daily.

I mean even here, on the outskirts of deepest, darkest, mid-Ulster, things are changing out of all proportion. Normally, country people would not walk the length of themselves. In PC times, they would hop into the aul Massey or Deere for even the shortest of journeys, especially, or deliberately, if their trip to the shop for more hay or chicken-feed or blue, plastic hollow pipes for whipping cows with could coincide with one of the twice-daily rush-hours and thus irritate those country-dwellers who (used to) do their earning in the city. But now, because blustering Boris told them to, they can be spotted out walking up the middle of the pavementless roads – in family groups sometimes – behaving for all the world like they are actually enjoying all the fresh air and free landscape that enfolds them, and taking some leisure time away from their usual hobby of destroying the same by relentlessly coating it in slurry every day. What next? If Boris turns up on TV tonight and decrees that the use of indicator lights on cars is mandatory in the fight against Covid-19, will they all start using them and thus take a lot of the guesswork, and risk, out of making a right turn onto a road in the country? The traditional reason for not using indicators in the country is the maxim, poured into them (sideways) with their mother’s milk, that you should never let the other fella know what you are planning on doing.

(Oh, by the way, a query flooded in the other day about my use of a minus sign in front of PC to designate the number of days before the plague came, -5PC, for example. The poor wee soul who penned the query pointed out that such a practice was not usual for dates BC and was therefore not necessary either in my system. But, God bless his ignorance, he did not realise the sophistry of the system he – and it was a he, not a they – was criticising. PC in my system can mean either Pre-Covid or Post-Covid, hence the need for the minus sign. QED.)

Speaking of things changing, have you heard the one about the multi-national, faith-based organisation that gave up religion for Lent? This would appear to be the only rational explanation for what the Catholic Church is up to these days, or the Church of the Roman Rite to give it its proper misnomer now that its rite is rarely performed in the tongue of the Romans. It started with emptying the holy water fonts at the entrances (and exits) of chapels in case infected people stuck their hands in them and passed the virus on to non-infected people in the queue behind. C’mon, lads, the hint is in the name! It’s holy water, for Christ’s sake! So have a bit of faith in your own magic and declare that the next guy in the queue will be simultaneously infected and cured of the virus in one swift sign of the cross. Following on from this success (?), the hierarchy soon decreed that the sign of peace during Mass was to be cancelled. They have done this before, though, and it is actually a move us traditionalists favour. I thought this time they might go the whole hog and replace it with a sign of hate, or ask us to flick a quick 666 sign at each other. Despite this anti-climax, the Irish Bishops stormed ahead with their next step by declaring that the compulsion to attend Sunday Mass was suspended. This had little or no effect chez moi where the locals mainly attend to see who else is attending; only a slight change in mindset was required for them to continue to attend but to see who was not attending. So the Church leaders moved swiftly to counter this and advance their aim of removing the practice of religion from Church activities (I think it is called diversification in the business world, where most of the Church leaders seem to spend their time) by then banning audience participation of any kind at Mass. The Mass itself would go ahead, but to an empty chapel, so we have only their word for it that it is actually going ahead. Don’t believe everything you see on those ‘live’ feeds: those could easily be repeats of great Masses of the past, akin to the re-runs of Top of the Pops I occasionally stumble across on BBC4 when I’m not looking where I’m going with a doofer in my hand. Not content with this, the bishops (i bhfad uainn an drochrud) have now locked the chapel doors to any passing trade. Now claiming that this measure is to comply with the new rules about social distancing is a patent lie: aside from the annual gathering of the Marty Morrissey appreciation society (the game is up, Marty: we are not laughing with you, we are laughing at you), a Catholic chapel outside of Mass times was actually one of the best places to practise said social isolation.

The latest – and slightly shocking – move in this attempt to give up religion for Lent comes from my local Bish., who has just announced that he is cutting out the middle man, banning funeral Masses altogether and taking the bodies straight to the cemetery. So that he has more time for playing golf, probably. Let the dead bury the dead, indeed. This is some preparation for Easter, I can tell you. And I doubt if there will be any general or particular resurrection of a moribund Church after this malarkey, innovative and all as the tactic may be. The only real hope of reviving interest in the Catholic Church in Ireland would be to bring back the Penal Laws. Irish people do not take kindly to being told that something is illegal – or did not used to – and will go out of their way to do it if they are banned from so doing. What do you think the other traditional rustic hobby of poaching is all about? Which is why the last thing the Irish-speaking lobby should have been campaigning for was an Irish Language Act. Make the thing illegal and you will have more fluent speakers than you can shake a stick at within a year.

Nihil Obstat. Go dtaga mo racht.

Social Distancing

Day 8

Today, I did my second non-essential trip out to the shop for essentials. The trip was non-essential as part-time wife currently has no room left in the cupboards or fridge or freezer (please note, not fridge-freezer, and I will have a bone to pick with that about her – or with her about that – in a future post) for any essentials; any time she gets to a shop, she acts like she is in supermarket sweep and buys rings round herself with my money, just in case. Just in case I spend it all on cigarettes, I should add. Interestingly, even though the house is now creaking with food, this has had no effect whatsoever on the phrase most used by the resident teenagers when they cannot avoid social interaction with their parents – the part-time wife is a full-time mother by the way; I am not totally sure how these things work. The phrase in question is only used as a last resort after they have emerged from their respective caves, come downstairs and started angrily prowling around the kitchen wing of the house, opening and shutting various cupboards, sighing and displaying admirably poor foraging skills for primates. They will then stand – empty-handed – in the middle of the stone floor of the galley area of the kitchen complex, look vaguely in the direction of one or other of us, and plead, ‘Is there anything to eat?’

For a while, I was at a complete loss as to how to answer this question. Particularly when, as it often did, it made its appearance about 22.3 minutes after their three-course lunch, or within a beagle’s gowl (an imprecise measure of distance or, at a stretch, time used in Ireland) of the nightly, sumptuous, 14 plate tasting menu provided by yer woman. It was only after years of observing which substances actually satisfied their plea, booty which was then stored under their arms and carried back to their lairs for private consumption, that I was able to translate it fully from teenage-speak to human-talk. What the phrase actually means is, ‘Is there any sugar?’ Not your standard bag of Tate & Lyle or McKinney’s, though; what they are after on their raids on adult territory is sugar that has been processed and packaged and coated and dipped and encased and rolled and submerged in chocolate (best-case scenario) or (worst-case scenario) in some vaguely healthy-looking cereal or grain. As for actual food, they will (mostly) eat that when forced to, but their basic fuel is the white gold of Western Society. Hence the pimples, which sort of serves them right, I feel. They will also eat fruit, but that is just sugar in a different packaging basically. While marketed as healthy to the rest of the world, it is anything but for us diabetics, and has wrecked my blood-sugar records on many an occasion. I should point out that this foraging for white powder is standard behaviour for the teenagers previously known as my children; it is not as a result of the lockdown.

How are you getting on with the lockdown in whatever country you are in? I presume, unless the country is Antarctica [not actually a country, Phil; it’s a continent – Ed.], that you are in lockdown, and restricted, like me, to one non-essential trip per day for essentials. I no more needed to go out to the shop this morning than the man in the moon, but out I went anyway because I wanted to get more fegs and cash to pay the wee boy down the lane for the plumbing work (see previous post) so that he can’t spend it on his non-essential trip to the shop for essentials – some shops do not want cash now in case we hand over Covid-19 to them on our notes, in case that had you confused. Yer woman caught me going out the door, though, and interrogated me as to what I thought I was up to, me being an at-risk group of one and all. She is an Irish Mammy, after all, and worse than RTÉ sometimes with its dire warnings about not going out because it’s going to be a bit windy. I didn’t mention the fegs – have I mentioned yet that one can never, ever, have enough emergency packets of cigarettes stashed about the house in unusual places in preparation for that three o’clock in the morning emergency nicotine hit when the all-night garage in Antrim is just too much of a drive away? She bought the line about the cash for the wee lad, and then burdened me with a list of three further essential items that, apparently, are not already breaking the shelves in my cupboards. To wit, potatoes (check), mature cheese (pushing it) and white wine (ah, come off it!).

Tomorrow I shall expound on the flexible and ever-expanding nature of the meaning of the word ‘essential’. For now, it appears to be lunchtime: I wonder is there anything to eat?

Day 7

Social Distancing

I have always felt half-Spanish. The left half, to be precise. Of me, ya tool, not of Spain! The left half of Spain is basically Portugal, apart from that wee bit up in the corner that nobody goes to. Although I am right-handed, it is my left hand that, generally, does all the Spanish work like smoking and drinking coffee and making ambiguous gestures; the right hand usually being occupied with writing or mousing or making unambiguous gestures. Speaking of mouses (yeah, I think so; ‘mouses’ for the plural of the computer asset, ‘mice’ for the animal), in what can only be interpreted as a blatant act of rebellion against the increasing herd of wireless mouses roaming the house, the cat brought a live one in the other day for our delectation. She is too well fed to actually eat the things; she either leaves them dead outside the back door to prove what a great guard cat she is, or brings them in alive in her mouth and then releases them. She is a teenager now, so this is either an attempt to illustrate her growing independence by demonstrating that she can source her own entertainment and is not reliant on the various wee soft balls and bits of string we sometimes throw in her general direction (if only the resident teenagers would take the hint; they still rely on me and part-time wife to throw metaphorical balls of string at them – c’mon lads, learn to entertain yourselves and leave your parents alone to fully concentrate on their daily argument), or something altogether more mysterious and sinister.

Although the cat sometimes thinks she is human, and should therefore have access all areas, even – or especially – when a human is using those private rooms in the house, I suspect that she sometimes also thinks that we are cats. And the releasing of live mice is classic cat mother training behaviour: she is trying to teach us how to hunt, because she just releases the wee, timorous beastie, gives it a desultory tap with her paw to get it moving and then slinks away from the scene, leaving us to catch it. She keeps an eye on how we are doing from a distance, though, and will deign to intervene if the mouse happens to get into an interesting nook or cranny where we cannot reach it. (The hacienda is full of interesting nooks and crannies: we had them specially designed in at enormous cost.) This particular hunt was a quare handling, with monk seats by the front door having to be lifted up, revealing various mounds of dust (see previous post about ‘clean dirt’ and not taking pictures off walls in country houses) and the odd final electricity reminder. On the bright side, I did find that glove that has been missing for two years – I wonder where the other one is now? I even had to get the part-time wife involved on guard duty for the stairs while I cornered the wee bastard, lifted it up and chucked it out into the ‘street’. (For an explanation of the meaning of ‘street’ in the country, where there are no streets, just lanes and roads, contact this site’s marketing manager in the messages section.) The cat strolled over to it, ascertained that it was dead and therefore of no further use as a play thing, and then shimmied away as nonchalantly as an IRA man after a knee-capping. I think we passed the test.

But, anyway, back to Spain and siestas, and how best to incorporate one into my new working routine forced upon me by my employers due to the Kerfuffle. I think the tactics should be as follows.  Get up early before the rest of them start (I do this anyway) and create a burst of activity through emails, Skype, Yammer, whatever you’re having yourself to create the impression that I am doing shed-loads of work. Once that is done, the rest of the time up to lunch will be filled replying to the replies to the emails, Skype messages, Yammer posts and what have you. Then, after lunch, siesta, obviously. Back down to the East Wing then to the workstation around the time everyone else is feeling the three o’clock slump and filling themselves with chocolate (not available to me as I am a diabetic, but note to Boris: is chocolate an ‘essential’ for the others not lucky enough to be diabetic?) to hit them with another blast of ‘activity’ just when they are not expecting it, then sit back and relax and wait for the replies to seep, not flood, in; while waiting I can catch up on my research work on various internet sites. The trick then is not to start replying to the replies until about 4.53 approximately, and to keep on replying to them – intermittently – until around 6.24, or whatever imaginary number I am going to put on my flexi-time sheet today. (Previously, when I turned up in an office, I was supremely delighted to avail of the superbly malleable flexi-time system; but my current system, while based on it, needs a new moniker: bendy time is my best attempt so far.) This way, all concerned will be of the (correct) opinion that I have done a full day’s work, and they do not need to know the details of my Spanish siesta after my Irish lunch.

So, then, lunch. And no need to get undressed after it today. (Too much information?)

Day 6

Social Distancing

One of the advantages of the Kerfuffle is that I do not have to give up smoking. Which is really handy as, because I am working from home, I am smoking sheds more than usual during office hours: I just do not really have the personal discipline needed to force myself up from the comfy, leather armchair in the study in the East Wing and make my way to the designated smoking area just outside the mutility room in the annex (or in the mutility room if it is raining). So I sit here with a laptop on my … lap, actually … a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. As I frequently say, if that diet is good enough for French women, it is good enough for me. Vaping, you say? Or electronic cigarettes, as we early-adapters still call them. Yeah I smoke them too, but, as my man Woody pointed out, even were I not a smoker, I would have taken them up anyway just to annoy people in the office. (This was in the days when they were still permitted in offices, pubs and restaurants before the Gandalf gang started using those massive, cloud-creating devices with their weird flavours: even I would agree that that sort of behaviour is better done out in the cold where all hipsters should be kept by law.)

I better talk you through the economics of this whole not-giving-up-smoking-because-of-the-corona-virus scenario. Like I said, since starting the social distancing, working from home malarkey, my tobacco consumption has increased to admirable proportions. And I can’t really afford it. But, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, I crunched the numbers last night and the amount of money I am saving on diesel by not driving to work five days a week is almost exactly equivalent to the cost of my weekly addiction. One of my weekly addictions, but more about that anon. So, result! No need to give up the weeds, and, as an added bonus, I reduce my carbon footprint while increasing my carbon lungprint. What’s not to like about that?

I have already made my one essentials journey to the supermarket today. Cigarettes, Private Eye (the toilet paper edition), crisps for the resident teenagers, two batons (the French bread, not the personal protection equipment) and another wireless mouse. If I buy any more wireless mice (?mouses?), the cat might decide to leave home. But with three resident teenagers (two according to English-language rules) also working from home, a part-time wife working part-time in the kitchen and me hogging the study with the laptop and the Mac, nobody could be arsed using a mouse that has to plug in somewhere, so we all need one each, hence the mouse infestation chez moi. On this point, while ‘working from home’ and ‘doing housework’ are in the same semantic region, someone needs to point out to the part-time wife that they are not exact synonyms. So, no dear, I cannot put a coloureds wash on or get those shelves put up just because I happen to be in the house. Sure I have to move this memo from one folder to another folder on Sharepoint, and then there is the update to the update to update, and after that I need to put aside a good half an hour to delete emails from my employer giving me advice about how to make the most efficient use of my time while working from home. And, after all that, I’ll have to make myself look presentable for the weekly video call on Teams. And then I still have to figure out the optimum time for incorporating a Spanish siesta in my new working routine. I’ll need a coffee break after all that, obviously. So the shelves and the dirty clothes will just have to wait. Or, here’s a thought, since the idea behind the part-time wife working part-time was that she would then have time for looking after the house and the resident teenagers while I work all the hours God gives me to keep the family in cigarettes, maybe she should put on the coloureds wash? And shelves are over-rated anyway: the floor is a much safer storage space.

One other advantage of the Kerfuffle (thank you for your patience) is, of course, this: we no longer have to visit relatives, particularly not the older ones. They were always the most tricky anyway. I am slightly concerned, however, that Boris has decreed that the five-week-old child of my nephew has to be a Pagan for the foreseeable future. I am not even sure what Pagans believe, and I wouldn’t want him getting hold of the wrong end of the stick (sticks are involved, as far as I remember) at the start of his spiritual education. You didn’t think that one through, Boris. Stick up a government website there outlining the major beliefs and practices of Paganism so that my nephew can be sure he is doing it right.

Oh, clothes: a fedora hat and a duvet. That’s it, not even any pyjamas under the duvet.

Social Distancing

Day 5

On the 7.2 seconds commute to work this morning from my bedroom in the West Wing overlooking the lough to my study in the East Wing sheltered by the wood, a thought struck me. I know, I know, leave the thinking to the wee, small hours of the late afternoon, Philip; you are much better at it then. But the commute to work was much longer than usual today – there was a bit of a snarl-up on the stairs – and, in my defence, I was not actually thinking; as I said, the thought struck me. (Don’t worry, the whiplash claim is already in, and there is also a distinct contusion on the lower, left temple where the actual striking occurred, and this blemish on my otherwise perfect appearance may well cause me severe psychological anxiety which the court will be asked to take into consideration when it is deciding on the level of compensation to be awarded.)

The thought was this: now that the Trustees have released the lunatics from the asylum, they might find it rather difficult to get us back in again once Covid-19 has blown away to haunt some other planet. The whole nine-to-five, everyone must be seen to be at a desk in a central location illusion has surely been knocked completely on the head by this … this … (I am searching for a word here; amuse yourselves in the meantime, it won’t take long) this … Kerfuffle. That’ll do it, kerfuffle: I would have used Emergency but that is ©Irish Government as its term for World War II. When I used to do an actual 30 mile commute to work, I would say to the part-time wife who would, two and a half days per week, be in the passenger seat beside me (hence her part-time status; not only can I not get a full week’s work out of her, she is sometimes less than thorough in the execution of some other wifely duties), ‘Here, part-time wife,’ I would say, using her formal title as we would be in a pre-work situation, ‘here we are again, stuck in a traffic jam on the Hill Section because of this continuing madness that decrees that everyone has to start work at nine o’clock in the same central location.’ Generally, having a bit of sense, she would not reply as, from years of experience, she knows that all I need for one of my rants is a captive audience; actual audience participation is an added extra. I would then go on to expound on the stupidity of it all, and progress to outlining some of my innovative plans to solve the problem. (I will leave those for another post, as the problem no longer exists except in the past, which itself does not exist.)

So the thing is, as Boris keeps on saying because my second cousin (once-removed) tells him to keep on saying, we’re all in this together. Those of us who are now not part of the daily charade of driving to an office at the same time as all the other worker ants, and killing the planet with the emissions from our car exhausts as we do so, have an important, civic duty to demonstrate clearly that working from home not only works, it is much more efficient than the previous model. If we succeed in this – and there is no earthly reason why we shouldn’t given that we will not be distracted from our actual work by Julie from Human Resources asking us to fill in a survey on how satisfied we are with the new colour-scheme of the workstation partitions – we will then have empirical evidence to present to the Trustees when they try to stuff us back into our asylums when the kerfuffle is over. ‘Here, Trustees,’ we can say, using their formal titles as we are in a work situation and foregoing the more informal, derogatory soubriquets we use for them at coffee break with our fellow drones, ‘have a look at how much more work I did when working from home. Do you really want me to turn up at headquarters again and waste most of my time in meetings that never come to any conclusions, or decisions, and faff around talking to colleagues and letting people know on the staff intranet what work I would be doing if I was not spending time writing on the staff intranet about what work I am doing? Is that what you really want, Trustees?’

Or we could just refuse to go back to barracks when they call us in. Pretend that we never got the memo sort of thing, but continue to do the work. Whatever, and as the other guy said the other day in the daily stand-up comedy show hosted by Boris, it’s on us. So, if you are working from home today while reading this (on your break, I might add), remember you are not on your own. If you do not get that spreadsheet completed in half the time it would normally take you to in the office, you are letting the rest of us lunatics down for the Post-Kerfuffle scenario in which working from home is the new black, and the Hill Section of the M2 is a roller-skate park for teenagers. (That was one of the solutions I mentioned earlier, but the part-time wife never thought that was a goer.) So, c’mon drones, get the finger out and do a bit of work work! There will be plenty of time in the late afternoon for staring out the window at the squirrels frolicking in the high branches of the trees in the wood, acting the eejits and delighting in their secret knowledge that they are already immune from this disease. Squirrels have always worked from home.

I note that the new term for working from home is now ‘remote working’. I would suggest that this is because those who were previously granted the privilege of availing of it did nothing remotely like work while so doing. (On edit, I realise now that I have already done this joke, but I feel it bears repeating. I promise not to do repeats in future.)

What am I wearing today? A Hawaiian shirt, beach shorts, flip-flops and dark glasses, which makes it hard to see the screen so please excuse any tpyos. And I have just read medical advice advising me – and everyone else, presumably – to sunbathe as a preventative measure to fight the beast. Sunbathe? In Ireland? In March? But at least I am wearing the appropriate gear.