Day 90

James Joyce as a cat

Social Distancing into eternity …

Fried liver for breakfast today, obviously, with a dab of relish. I think I’ll go for Branston Pickle as that is my favourite relish this week. My usual favourite, HP brown sauce, does not go that well with liver. I am aware, Query Boy, that that is not what Jimmy Joyce meant in the relevant quotation from the book celebrating this date in 1904 when Jimbo had a date with his Galway girl, but I prefer to interpret it that way. [You had better give them the quotation; they expect to be spoon-fed by now – Ed.] (spoon fed liver?)

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

James Joyce, Ulysses

See what I mean? Jamsie does not specify the type of relish preferred by Bloom, choosing instead to leave it up to the interpretation of the reader. “But the whole ‘with relish’ thing is not a noun phrase,” interrupts Query Boy, “it is acting as an adverb qualifying the verb ‘ate’. Can’t you see that?”

And there, oh my foes and oh my friends, you have the whole delight and conundrum of Ulysses in a nutshell. And maybe in a gizzard nutshell at that. Like that other Bible, it is open to interpretation, a source of endless argumentation and almost nobody reads it. But they should, because it is a good laugh. The resident genius in the hacienda, the Female Teenager, has read a good portion of the tome. My fault, I admit: I had deposited a copy in the downstairs toilet [in the actual toilet? – Ed.] for my own purposes as accompaniment when working out some knotty, fundamental issues, but had failed to stick a label on the front of it precluding other end users of the facilities from also reading it. There is a barring order on the front of the toilet itself (not the actual toilet, BracketsHead), but that would not have prevented Female Teenager’s access to the book, as you see.

Executive exclusive washroom in the East Wing

Female Teenager was not even a teenager at the time of the incident; she would have been about nine or ten (and that use of the conditional perfect is deliberate, and, I suspect, peculiar to Hiberno-English) when she emerged from the toilet (faut-il?) one day and announced, “I think that Mister Bloom man is a bit of a creep.” I put it to you, your Honour, that a more succinct summary-analysis of Joyce’s novel has yet to be produced, and I have always maintained myself that there should be some sort of an erection on the south Dublin seafront to commemorate Bloom’s wank there, and to serve as a warning to female bathers that there may well be other creeps in the vicinity still. As for what age she was when she went into the toilet, I have no idea.

If youse are in search of any Bloomsday activities, you could do worse than having a gander at this page in The Irish Times. Of course, on-line Blooming will not be the same as strolling around the Big Schmoke, dropping in for a pint in Davy Byrne’s and laughing at the wannabes all-dressed up in their early 20th century finery, but it’s the best I can do.

Should the Jamser himself be reading this, I feel duty bound to supply him with the answers to two of his most famous questions. Yes, James, there is one who understands you, and yes, you were walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand. What’s that? Speak up, you say, it’s quite noisy here in Dante’s Purgatorio. YES, I said YES!

Day 39

Seriously Worrying

2020-04-26

And on the seventh day, God created Sundays because, basically, she had run out of good ideas. As my mate Kris sings, ‘There’s just something bout a Sunday.’ And that thing is a vague sense of ennui, for the French speakers among(st) us, and a general Wednesdayness for the linguistically-challenged.

For me, in PC times, Sundays used to start off well. The sex question sorted for the day, I would get downstairs early, wind up the battery on the computer and read a chapter of the Bible in Irish (the original language of God). Reading the Bible in Irish with a parallel English copy open for reference (not for cheating) is a real eye-opener. Quite apart from some of the unforgivable (ironic, given the reading material) grammar errors committed by the wee Taig priests who provided the Irish version, there are times when it is hard to see any connection between certain phrases in the Irish and English versions. Where the English had ‘eunuchs’, for example, the Irish equivalent meant ‘holy fornicators’, or something to that effect. I cannot be bothered looking it up now. But if you want to try it out for yourself, this is a great app. I must have a go when I am bored to find out what a French eunuch is. [Jean-Paul Gautier, surely? – Ed.]

KGB, Moscow, Putin, conspiracy. Sorry about that, just my wee experiment. Anytime I type in words such as those, the site gets a hit from Russia from the spy employed there to read the interwobble every day and chase up any reference to his employers. And speaking of the site [were you? – Ed.], have a look at the pic up there. I mean, are youse serious? We were motoring along nicely in our (apparent) attempt to flatten the curve and keep readers of this blog in manageable proportions and thus avoid over-burdening the medical services in various countries, and then what happens? (Rhetorical; no prizes for answering that.) See that spike in readership on 23 April? I will save youse the bother of checking your archives – youse would probably be as good at so doing as Darzán and the Headscratchers are at coming up with the original references I ask them for. What happened on that fateful day was that I stuck up a picture of a cat, and put the word ‘cats’ into the tags for the post. I mean, is that what it takes, really? Pictures of cats? Fruck that for a game of marleys. Cats are now banned from mention in this blog, although they are welcome to continue reading it.

[Any chance of a few call-backs? – Ed.] (What do you mean? – me) [Have a read of what you have written already and you will see what I mean – Ed.] (You mean you expect me to read this stuff as well as just typing it out off the top of my head? – me) [Well, it’s up to you, but … -Ed.]

OK. The proof that Irish is the original language of God comes from the Rastafarian word for God which, as even Question Girl knows, is ‘Jah’. Now this is so close in pronunciation to the Irish word for God ‘Dia’ that it is obvious (to me) that both derive from the antediluvian, spiritual language actually spoken but God, which is therefore obviously an early form of Late-Modern Irish. Ipso facto, QED.

So Sundays PC would start off well but go rapidly downhill before, during and after the weekly, compulsory attendance at an act of communal worship. (Mass, Shirleeen.) Part-time wife would get her knickers in a twist that we were going to be late, or that there would be no seats because there was a funeral on or it was one of the big, religious feasts. We were never late in our lives for Mass as I have the journey from the hacienda to the église timed to within an inch of its life: it takes 9.47 mins on a good day, and 8.97 mins on a Sunday, which is not a good day. But because part-time wife was brought up in house with a driver (her ex-father) who, being a confirmed pessimist, always factored in changing a flat tyre into every journey and who firmly stuck to the premise throughout his life that ‘on time’ actually meant half an hour early, she gets jittery and bitchy at my Japanese just-in-time delivery methods. Which, I might add, is not an ideal state of mind for her to be in in preparation for a celebration of Christian values. As for there being no seats, as it is a venial sin in the countryside for the congregation to use the first ten aisles in case they draw to attention to themselves, there are ALWAYS seats available, so long as you do not mind providing staring material for the rest of the crowd for the duration of the service. And then the actual Mass itself would bore the hind legs off a donkey. It is as if they (the clergy) have gone out of their way to make what is actually a riveting subject as arse-numbingly dull as possible. And the music! Why don’t they try something like this holy song from Counting Crows the odd time instead of those dreadful dirges about niceness and loving and comfort? That might at least wake the captive audience up.

Then, post-Mass, I would have to endure a 47.3 minute sulk from teenager #2 as I drove him to Lisburn for his judo class. That’s right, readers, I am going out of my way to give the ungrateful cur a lift to a venue where he will enjoy his hobby while I have to hang around for 1.57 hours doing nothing much except drinking coffee while waiting to give him a lift back home, and the wee bastard sits sulking in the passenger seat for the whole of the trip there as if I am forcing him to go to the class or something. I do not remember signing up for this level of treatment. He would be/used be more talkative (he could hardly be less) on the way home as he would have managed to beat someone up during the class and thus rid himself of some of his pent-up aggression.

All downhill after that for Sunday because of the pile of chores assigned to me. What with having to walk 0.53 of a mile to put the bins out for collection, an afternoon nap on the sofa while pretending to watch the live GAA match on the telly, 2.35 hours for my weekly bath (whether I need it or not) and then the realisation, near midnight, that I have not even started on reading the Culture Section in The Irish Times that I bought the day before it’s a wonder I even had time to draw breath – or a detailed landscape or portrait – on a Sunday. So, a drop of reading and into bed never any earlier than 01:58 with a whole 9-5, five day work week ahead of me.

But most of that – including Boresville, Arizona, Mass. (complicated geographical joke there for the Yanks) – is out the window now. Even more bountiful blessings from covid-19. Let’s all clap the virus itself the next time The Man tries to force us all out of our houses (which is illegal, according to the same Man) for a demonstration of totalitarian power. And Sundays are as a result quite pleasant now.

Oh. And Happy Birthday, Mo!

Day 36

D2D06620-6016-42E0-ABCE-1B43D1D8E3D4

Shirleen’s Birthday

In an attempt to determine which sex they are, we sheared two of the human teenagers last evening. We could have got away with just shearing one of them had that one turned out to be the girl, because then, ipso facto, the sum of the square on the other two sides would have been equal to the square on the hypotenuse. Ended up being the two males under the lock of quarantine hair (did you see what I did there, Mal?), and, as they now have the requisite haircut, we will be posting them off next week to the US Marine Recruitment Centre. Once we get the required packaging materials from the Post Office. Does the Post Office do deliveries? (That is not a joke – well. it is, but it is also a query: go and find out for me, Question Girl, please, now that you know what google is.)

Because fruck this home schooling lark for a game of marleys! They will learn more in their six months in Marine Boot Camp than they would in a month of Sundays on Showbie or Google Classroom. And they might actually learn something practical – like how to speak English to adults again, albeit American English, which should probably be re-classified under modern foreign languages, like. (What I have done there is, without being specific about it, I have satirised an aspect of the paucity of American English usage by using one of its indispensable communication crutches as the final word in my own sentence. And, yes, I have been watching too much Stewart Lee recently, but, sure, why wouldn’t you? There is, as usual, nothing ‘worthy of my serious attention’ on the TV, as Mal’s Da used to say when perusing the television listings in the daily paper, when such listings used to consist of only six channels, and when he used to be alive. Now, how am I going to get out of these brackets?)

And with one bound, he was free! The male teenagers already know how to disobey direct orders from their full-time mother, but they might find that skill of little practical use to them where they are going. I hope, at least, when they come back that they have not been afflicted by the terrible mid-Atlantic, hailstone accent that affects Graeme Mc Dowell (why can he not even spell his own first name properly?) and several other Irishmen who have to spend part of their time in the US of A to earn a few bob. Our wee Liam from Ballymena is not completely immune to it either. I wonder will yer Hollywood star who is currently stranded in Dalkey because of the Kerfuffle be inversely afflicted when he gets back Stateside and start pronouncing ‘many’ as if it is the word ‘man’ with a ‘ee’ sound on the end of it. Here’s a linguistic tip for the Mexicans on this island: the vowel ‘a’ has two pronunciations, and they are not both the same; any questions? Or, as some of them would pronounce it, ‘Annie questions?’

Sorry, I got side-tracked there [from what? – Ed.] (Oh here, by the way Ed., since you’re here, I should inform you that two sub-eds have joined the gang, so watch yourself! And welcome, Lick&Spittle; sort out among yourselves which of you is to be Lick and which Spittle, and let me know, but I will generally refer to youse in the collective noun indicative of the work youse do to keep this blog up to its traditionally (too) high linguistic standards. If I had a Finance Director, he would be on to me about the added expense of all these brackets today.) So, yeah, I can’t say I will really miss the male teenagers when they go off to be marines. They do not really contribute much to the ambience of the hacienda at the moment, unless constant conflict is the parent-offspring ambience we are aiming at. And it’s not, as that is taken care of by the parent-parent relationship. Part-time wife was (slightly) concerned that one of them might get killed when they are over there playing their war games. She did not specify which one (she is not, despite her working conditions, in a Nazi war film) and was (slightly) mollified when I pointed out that we did, in fact, have a spare one, having over-produced on the male offspring project when sex was still a thing in the household. I think she was trying for a wee gay one, but got the cooking wrong. I further pointed out from, as you may guess, the beneficence of my accumulated wisdom that the USian army does not fight real wars these days anyway, so the chance of collateral damage to one of the sons was minimal. Their last two major wars have seen them pitted against an abstract noun (terrorism) and a microbiological virus (covid-19): not much danger of either of those two combatants surprising either son in his trench and stiffing him with a bayonet to the belly. They do still use bayonets in armies, don’t they?

Yeah, the pics? Fine looking cat, if you ask me, and you can see how seriously she takes her guard-cat duties: that garden furniture outside the bay window is going nowhere without her say so. But twas the Marketing Manager made me put them up. She sent me a memo pointing out that if I did not want to continue to flatten the curve of readership of this blog, I should post more cat pictures. I do not know why she sent me a memo as she was sitting right in front of me in our early-morning skype meeting at the time. Marketing types, eh? Who knows what they actually do? (That is neither a joke nor a query, although marketing departments generally are a joke.) But surely rather than cats, it is you, gentle reader, who should be assisting in un-flattening the curve of readership of the blog by using that secret weapon that you keep concealed behind your teeth? That’s right, smart boy at the back of the class, word of mouth. So off you go and tell all your mate(s) about the blog. I will wait on youse here …

… done? OK, two thoughts about the bottom pic: a) which of us is more relaxed? and b) did I copy the cat or did the copy-cat cat copy me?

As for the subtitle of today’s lecture, again twas the Marketing Manager who informed me that Question Girl aka Shirleen is 84 today. All together now, “Happy Birthday to it, Happy Birthday to it, we can’t sing ‘to her’ or ‘to him’ anymore, in case we get in the shit.” Is that how the new version goes?

Day 35

lila dirty look

Species Distancing

Fairly remiss of me not to have noticed until now, but I have come to the belated realisation that I am harbouring four fugitive teenagers, and not the previously assumed total of three. It would appear that the cat, too, is a teenager. It is not the fact that she uses my 40.2% paid-for house only for the purposes of food, shelter and lounging without ever sticking her hand into her own pocket that made me realise she was a teenager. Nor even the fact that she has forced me to learn a new method of communication that consists mostly of body language and wordless noises. Neither was it the fact that the words ‘thank you’ have never passed unbidden through her lips. That’s her in the pic up there, in case you were wondering, giving me a dirty look any teenager would be proud of as I spy on her activities – nothing much – through the bay window of the country-kitchen-style country kitchen.

No, her teenager status dawned on me the other night [some temporal mix-up there, surely? – Ed.] when I was ambling past The Vatican. Before you phone up the peelers on me for having fired up the private jet to fly to Rome for my daily, compulsory exercise, I should explain that, down my way, The Vatican is a small, mostly uninhabited cottage further on up the lane that used to be inhabited by a man who used to look vaguely similar to a man who used to be The Pope. Hence the name, which has stuck around even though the man and The Pope have gone the way of all flesh some time ago. So I passed The Vatican, giving it my secular blessing as I did, and spied the cat ahead of me on the lane at the edge of where the canopy of trees opens up doing her admirable impression of a stone. This appears to be her hunting technique: pretend to be a stone and wait until something small and alive comes within grabbing distance; saves all that running around, you see. Now I was not aware – she tells me nothing, another teenager trait I should have noticed before now – that the cat went this far on her rambles. I knew she patrolled the first and second woods in a proprietorial manner, and I have caught her on the odd time halfway down the lane in the other direction near the farmhouse where the other cats live, but these were uncharted waters for her, I thought. And there are foxes hanging out up this end of the lane, so potentially dangerous, uncharted waters too. But there was not a bother on her, it seemed.

I called her by a name. She does have a name, but I have no idea what it is, as I was not around when her mother christened her. The previous owner did tell us her slave name when she donated the cat to us: the cat was trying to kill her so she had to get rid of it. But sure that is only a name that humans made up and forced on her. Like Kunta Kinte in Roots, she no doubt has her own private, cat name that she keeps in one of her secret places and takes out and plays with when we are not looking. And anyway, when I am not calling her ‘cat’, I mostly call her by the name of the previous cat as I cannot keep two made-up slave cat names in my head at the one time. So I called her, and, after a pause, she stopped acting the stone and came towards me and, with only a desultory brush against my leg, kept going! That is when I had my epiphany about her teenager status. It is a punishment worse than death for a teenager to be seen in public with either of its two parents. Heaven forfend, both at one time! And so it was with the cat. Even though it was dark, even though there was a canopy of leaves shielding us from prying eyes, the cat could not risk being seen with me in public in case it damaged her cool level among her fellow creatures of the night. So she left me there, stunned and heart-broken, and sauntered back down the lane to a different spot to resume her stone-shaping activities.

I do not really know how I finished my walk so devastated was I, or even what route I took to get me back to the gate lodge and into the estate. I mean, I am well-used to such shunning from the human teenagers, but I really thought me and the cat had a connection going. She said not a word about it several hours later when she forced me to come to the window to let her back into the house – sleep was out of the question for me after such a blow, of course, and I was sitting with my head in my hands at the country-kitchen-style country kitchen table when she made her appearance at the window demanding entry. No thought of retribution entered my head, and I let her in immediately. I mean, hope springs eternal and all that.

But still, if she thinks I am going to start driving her to Ballygobackwards to collect her at three in the morning off the bus from some Kat Nite Klub she simply has to go to because all the kool kats will be there, she will have to dispose of the female, human teenager first as she has first dibs on that taxi service, which, thankfully, has been put on hold since the Kerfuffle business began. See, that’s me all over: always trying to find the silver lining. But my heart is clouded and dark. And will never be the same again.

Day 34

Social Distancing

The cat is out of the bag, Not that cat, Rhona; I don’t keep her in a bag (she prefers a box) and, if I did, it would not be a closed bag for kitten-killing purposes anyway, but one with the traditional facility for egress at one end, and so her getting out of it would hardly be headline news, would it? But, yes, this will be a cat episode after the virtual torrent of requests for same and the actual demands from the Marketing Department for me to pay some attention to the readership.

A cat episode then, but after what can only be described as a ‘lock’ of politics. By the way [oh no! – Ed.], the American correspondent of this site first came across the use of the word ‘lock’ (meaning an indeterminate quantity of some substance – OK, Shirleen?) during his meandering of the country with the Poly GAC. If I am not wrong, and the last time I was wrong was 23 April, 2013, twas the legendary Snowy, the doughty corner forward/back on that team, who used to ask the bus driver the odd time to stop when going past his house so that he could run in to collect ‘a lock of dinner’, ‘a lock of crisps’ and, in one memorable linguistic usage, ‘a lock of shoes’. Snowy is also the purveyor into national usage of the mysterious phrase, ‘There’ll be mass suicides and leppin at the bridge at Rody Tierney’s tonight!’ No one is completely sure what that phrase means, or what its exact provenance is, but we are all indebted to Snowy for bringing it to our attention. It seems appropriate for the times that are in it. Snowy’s contribution to Irish folklore will probably be only fully recognised after his death, but that’s the way these things go. He also used to describe thusly fellow players who had not been following the weights programme properly: ‘Shoulders on him like a fish supper!’ Is it any wonder that Poly GAA team won the Sigerson once with genius like that in it?

Yeah, politics. Certain sections of the British press have at last caught on that their government has made, and continues to make, a complete Horlicks of this whole Covid-19 schemozzle. Now I could have told them that yonks ago (a ‘yonk’ is longer than a ‘beagle’s gowl’ when a beagle’s gowl is being used to measure time, not distance, but not as long as a month of Sundays, which is interminable). The British Government’s default position on anything is: a) Britain knows best, and ignore any advice from Johnny Foreigner; b) British (fill in any plural noun or sphere of activity) are the best in the World, despite evidence to the contrary from Johnny Foreigner; c) agree to anything in a formal treaty or negotiation and then just don’t do it; d) at all times when your mouth is open, ensure that only lies are coming out of it; e) if all else fails, appeal to the non-existent spirit that won two world wars (for history buffs, Britain had undeniably lost both world wars until the USA intervened to win them).

Now our dilemma in The Annex (the artist previously known as Norn Iron) is to get the half of our politicians who use the term ‘mainland’ when not referring to continental Europe to wake up and smell the coffee. Before the Fools on the Hill (the Stormont Executive, Shirleen) decided, belatedly, to shut the schools because half of them had found out that their masters in England were going to shut theirs, the parents of children who do not use the term ‘mainland’ as described above had already shut the schools, ie refused to send their kids back to them after this year’s non-St Patrick’s Day (we are still owed one, Leo; stick it in your 2021 diary now). I note (obviously in the only way I know how, that is in overtaking parallel to said topic in the outside lane) that Ireland Leader Elect has already marked their cards for them a bit with this piece in The Irish Times. That’s right, lads, this place is an island, and an all-island, coordinated set of measures for the Kerfuffle is required, no matter what the Brits are doing. And this is not a back door into a Re-Untied Ireland [re-united surely? – Ed] (nah, it was a typo, but leave it as ‘untied’; I like it – me); that will come in its own time. This is a matter of life and death which, by all accounts, makes it important to most people. For myself, I take a more sanguine view of these things, informed by one of my Da’s favourite phrases to be doled out to grieving relatives at funerals: ‘It’s part of life, (fill in first name, if known, of interlocutor).’ He also always brought spare, proper hankies to funerals, and doled them out, as required, to (mostly) female members of the extended family, another of his traits that I have adopted as my own. Because life and death are not, as commonly held, opposites. They are aspects of each other, as shadow is an aspect of light. You cannot have one without the other, as the song goes.

Sorry, Marketing Manager, I’ll do the cat tomorrow. Not like that! Wash your filthy mind!

Day 33

Social Distancing

Last evening – and what a lovely evening it was – I took two of the resident teenagers for a walk. I am pretty sure it was the two male ones, but what with hairgate and all, it was not possible to be certain. One of them, the youngest one, had not been off the grounds of the estate since the complete failure that was St Patrick’s Day, 2020. (Note to government: we are due an extra St Patrick’s Day in 2021, at a date of our own choosing, as you cancelled this year’s one – we’ll let you know what date we choose in due time, but the Milky Bars are on you.) On the way into Toome, I pointed out the previously exercise-adverse culchies to him, scattered randomly on either side of the road (they vacate the middle of the road when they hear a car coming), and he was most amused at their antics: some of them have obviously not read the full manual on How To Walk yet and were swinging their arms in an exaggerated manner, or moving far more quickly than was sustainable over a long period of time, a lifetime, say. I may have to organise another evening class for the locals. Walking:101 to go alongside Parking:101 and Talking in an Intelligible Manner:101 in the suite of continuing learning opportunities I provide from what can only be described as the infinite depths of my munificence as landlord.

The ostensible purpose of our non-essential trip was to dispose of (some of) the evidence of the part-time wife’s new plan to empty my bank account, to wit, drinking more bottles of wine than an Andytown Five-a-Side Team on warm weather training in an all-inclusive in Magaluff. There is, indeed, a glass recycling ‘centre’ in Toome (the town is called Toome, by the way, not Toomebridge, despite that aberration appearing on some official road signs; as a hint, there was a habitation in this place BEFORE bridges had been invented – engage the communal brain cell and sort it out, civil servants!) although it has changed in the past four years or so from different receptacles for different colours of glass to a one-size fits all approach; the concept of distinguishing between the colours of their empty bottles of Buckfast was obviously beyond the cognitive powers of the locals. Dumbing-down again. I mean, in many ways, one gets hoi-polloi one deserves, doesn’t one? [Is there a definitive article missing there? – Ed.] (No there isn’t, hoi is a Greek definite article, you chube!  – me)

But, rather than try to squeeze the part-time wife’s admirable output of empty wine bottles into any of the already overflowing bins (another hint to civil servants: it is not sufficient to provide such community facilities for recycling; it is also imperative to schedule in emptying of same), our preferred method is to drive – quickly – through either of the housing estates infested with working-class culchie scum (the worst type of working-class scum, by the way) with the teenagers throwing empty bottles out of the windows of the car. There is a complicated scoring system in place for this game: ten points if your bottle reaches an outside wall of a house and smashes against it with a satisfying noise; fifteen points if it manages to hit and break a window of a house (thus creating even more glass to be recycled – a bonus for the environment); and a full fifty points if you can manage to break it over the head of a resident while driving past him. In yet another bonus to the whole Covid-19 rigmarole, residents are even less likely now to run out of their doors at the sound of breaking glass as they are not sure whether it is an essential journey. They are sure, however, that their neighbours will dob them into the police if they exit their house again at that time of the evening as the neighbours will have ticked in their log books that two expeditions have already been conducted from that house that day. This means that I can drive in a more relaxed manner through the dirty streets of the housing estates (there is a lot of broken glass about, for some reason), giving the teenagers more time to aim properly, and score more points. Points are exchangeable for sugar back at the ranch.

After the recycling, I dragged the two teenagers on a walk along my canal path, and quite an eventful walked it turned out to be. To my amazement, the teenagers seem to have regained the power of speech during the Kerfuffle as they chatted away like fluent English speakers both during the dander up to the mock castle at the edge of Lough Neagh and the amble back to the car at the historical remains of the first bridge over the Bann at Toome. I should qualify that: they chatted away to each other, intercourse with parents apparently still being illegal in Teenageville, Arizona (and if you are thinking of a different joke there, that is you own filthy mind doing it and I take no responsibility whatsoever for it; in fact, I wash my hands of the whole affair). But it is a start. Who knows, when this is all over (ie when they are twenty), maybe they will emerge as fully-functioning adults able to converse with cat and queen in an intelligible manner? Stranger things have happened. The British Government’s response to the Kerfuffle, for example.

The cat did not want to come on the walk. I asked her – in cat, a language I have been forced, by cats, to learn – but she prefers to do her own thing in terms of compulsory exercise and social isolation. And she completely rejects the ‘compuslory’ bit. She also objects to the colour of the lead I purchased for her at considerable expense as it clashes with her shimmering, grey, pedigree fur. In a quiet, chin-scratching moment one evening she explained to me as well, ‘Leads are really a dog thing, Phil, you know? Are you sure you’re all there?’

What with talking teenagers and walking culchies, I am not sure where I am these days.

Now do your exam from yesterday and send me the answers. If you have already done it, send it to all your mate(s) to do.

Social Distancing

Day 13

Unlucky for some, the cat in this instance. She tried to pull a fly one on me this afternoon, but she would need to get up earlier in the morning if she thinks a pre-killed dead mouse is going to fool me. Especially when it was me that killed it a couple of days ago when I picked it up and pitched it out the open door into the street. OK, call-back. I promised I would explain the term ‘street’ in culchie-speak, as it is not at all the same thing as the thoroughfare with rows of houses on either side of it found in urban settings. The street in the country is basically the yard outside the front door, usually concreted, generally dung-speckled, sometimes tarmacked, as it is in front of my hacienda, but, then again, I have notions. Concrete is good enough for the rest of the inmates of the reservation, apart from the people in the ‘new houses’ with their fancy gravel. (The new houses have been there for ten years.) Got it? The difference in meaning here in Slurryville, however, between ‘road’ and ‘lane’ was harder for me to wrap my city brain around as it is a much more subtle and particular thing. To me, with my fancy city ways, esoteric vocabulary and acquaintance with the English language, a lane was just a smaller, narrower road, and as most of the ‘roads’ round my way are barely the width of a tractor anyway, the distinction seemed superfluous, and pointless.

In our early, wild days as a partly-married couple, me and yer woman would sometimes go out for a wee drive round the locale for no particular reason. Oh, the debauchery, I know! Those were indeed the days, my friends. The odd time though, at a junction, I would be jolted out of my heady bliss by a scream approaching terror from the passenger seat. ‘Don’t turn up there, that’s a lane!’ The odder time, I would ignore the warning of dire consequences and go up my chosen track anyway. When the said route – sometimes after a quarter of a mile, sometimes after a few miles – would eventually end at an isolated individual house, she would turn to me with the closest thing to satisfaction I have ever seen on her face and announce, ‘I told you it was a lane.’ Under severe interrogation over the course of several days, she eventually cracked and broke one of the basic tenets of country living by answering a straight question with a straight answer. A road, apparently, went places; a lane went only to a group of houses (the inhabitants of which would invariably be related to each other and in a legal dispute about right of way) or even to only one house, and it was close to a mortal sin to go up a lane unless you had business with one of the residents. Under no circumstances could you just motor about the place willy-nilly, as was my wont, and perform a nonchalant U-turn in someone’s front street if you ended up at a dead end, driving off almost exactly at the same time as the resident ran out the back door and round the side of the house to see who was calling. As to how the part-time wife could tell at the junction just by looking at them which of the two bog tracks was a road and which was a lane is something that will remain a mystery to me, and a secret she will no doubt take with her to the grave. Unless she is covertly passing on the skill to the teenagers who are, to all intents and purposes, culchies now. As proof, they naturally say ‘pure’ any time ‘very’ would do the job just as well.

Back to that perfidious cat, though (happy now, Rhona?). She hasn’t mentioned anything directly to me – that is not her way – but I can tell that this whole Kerfuffle business is getting to her a bit. I mean, she enjoys a bit of human company as much as the next feline: we are handy for opening doors, fancy sachets of food and as mobile scratching posts. But this whole humans in the house 24-7 deal is not what she signed up for. It is, basically, her territory after all in the normal run of things, with us homo sapiens heading off five days a week at ungodly hours of the morning to our various pointless pursuits, leaving her with the run of both the interior of the house, and, via the discreetly left-open East window off the study, of the en-suite wood. So having us about the place observing her every move has her a bit on edge. She is maybe faintly embarrassed at the undeniable evidence of the amount of time she spends … I suppose I can only call it cat-napping. Hence her subterfuge with the pre-dead dead mouse. Part-time wife burst into the study this afternoon right in the middle of me moving a memo from one folder to a different folder on Sharepoint, and nearly broke her neck (like I would be so lucky) rushing to close the open window looking onto the charming wood and through which some of the copious amounts of cigarette smoke I am currently producing during a working day was softly floating. ‘The cat’s running around with another mouse in her mouth and I don’t want her bringing it in here,’ she blurted by way of explanation, and left again, completely failing to trip over the computer bag I had nudged out with my foot for that express purpose.

Later I examined said mouse when sneaky cat had deposited it at the spot below the back step reserved for ritual sacrifices to what she considers the chief of the human tribe she has adopted, i.e. me. That is when I realised it was the same mouse from a couple of days ago that I had asked one of the male teenagers to chuck into the wood when he was going out for his nightly, solitary ramble. Imagine my shock: the teenager had actually complied with one of my requests. As everyone keeps saying interminably, things will never be the same again. (Yes they will, by the way, they always are.) So I figured out that the cat had found it there and looked on it as a sort of free lunch, in the sense that if she brought it back to the house we would think she was a great guard cat altogether having defended us from two rodents in three days, and would we ever think of overlooking all that sleeping she had to do to keep her strength up for the strenuous hunts? She gets a free lunch every day, by the way, so has no need of actually eating mice.

As for how I could tell the difference between one dead mouse and another, like the distinguishing traits of a lane, that is something that will just have to remain a mystery. Now, I suppose there is no chance our World Leaders are going to announce today that this was all some elaborate April Fools’ Day joke, is there?

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?)