Day 60

Social Distancing

Sixty days! We’ve been playing hide and seek from each other for sixty days! Somebody should have won by now.

So, where are we now then? (Yes, ‘now’ and ‘then’ are allowed to be forenenst each other in a sentence like that without breaking the space-time continuum, which does not exist, by the way. You may as well make up a colour-taste continuum if you are going to go around linking separate abstract nouns like that with a hyphen.)

So, where are we now then? (That is not a time-loop; just a reminder for the slow of understanding among(s)t us. Gives me an excuse to link to this, though.) I am in the hacienda which is situated in County Antrim which is on an island called Ireland which is one constituent island of the geographical unit known as The British Isles. Now (and then) [stop it! You’ll confuse them. -Ed.] maybe only one, two at a stretch, of the physical locations mentioned in the previous sentence is not subject to heated dispute. Here are a few politically-disputed terms for good, bad or middling measure. County Antrim (and the hacienda with it) is also a constituent element of the political area known as Northern Ireland, which itself is a component part of the political area known as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or just The United Kingdom to its friends, if it had any.

Several readers of this blog have just exploded, by the way. One or two others are planning explosions, but not of themselves. Allow me to talk you through this disputed territory. (Hands up who did not see what I did there?) For a kick-off, there are those who object to the perfectly innocent geographical term The British Isles. Make yourself a coffee and read that linked article first, and then I’ll get back to you …

… OK? Are you now enlightened, or further confused? The clinching argument for me is that there is a sea between the main islands of The British Isles (because that geographical term includes minor islands as well such as Tory, Rathlin and the Isle of Man), and the, undisputed, name of that sea is The Irish Sea. Now given that our British neighbours do not raise a hue and cry over this and demand that it be called the Anglo-Irish Channel or some other atrocity, we should just bite the bullet, play cricket and accept the handy term as it is. Recoursing to the term in Irish for the area is of no use in this instance, as the term in Irish – Éire agus an Bhreatain Mhór – is incorrect, geographically, excluding as it does Tory, which has its own king, usually, and whose people talk of ‘going to Ireland’ when they leave the island; the Isle of Man, among(s)t other islands, is likewise not incorporated in the Irish term. (That bracketed ‘s’ by the way is a biting satire on some politicians and civil servants from this bedevilled place who are labouring under the misapprehension that there is some difference in meaning between ‘among’ and ‘amongst’, or that one of them is posher.)

The problem, of course, is with the ‘British’. [You know that that sentence works also without the perverted commas around the demonym, don’t you? – Ed.] (Of course I do. What do you want me to do, charge you twice for the one sentence if there is a meaning between the lines? We’d be here all day.) The inhabitants of the islands in question were never all Britons – Tory included, which used to be populated by Submarines – so the demonym might actually be an ethnonym. But, fruck it! We keep the Irish Sea and the Brits keep The British Isles, agreed?

Moving swiftly on [if only! – Ed.] to the other disputed terms, there are, currently, two jurisdictions on the island called Ireland, although this has not always been the case (NB DUP). One of them, rather confusingly, is called Ireland, in English, but in this blog is referred to as Mexico because … Its name is not now, and never has been, the Republic of Ireland; that is its description, not its name (nerds can read why here).The other one is called many things – shithole, Norn Iron, Ulster – but its actual name is Northern Ireland, in English, and this causes problems for some people who reject Partition and who tie themselves in linguistic knots trying to avoid using it. Thus we have euphemisms such as ‘the six counties’ [the sick counties? – Ed.], ‘the North’, ‘this part of the country’, ‘up here’ etc. For God’s sake, lads, catch a grip and call a spade a spade, will yis? Your mouth will not fall off if it utters the words ‘Northern Ireland’, and, as it is not going to be around for much longer, you will not have to do it for long. And rejecting Partition now that you voted for it in the Good Friday Agreement is akin to rejecting your dinner after you have eaten it. My dead Ma’s [as opposed to your live Ma? – Ed.] term for the place – the Annex – had its merits, but I prefer just to stick to the facts, Ma’am.

Where I do have a problem is with the term in Irish for Northern Ireland. Just because it is incorrect, linguistically, politically and stylistically. Tuaisceart Éireann is the term in question, and it no more means Northern Ireland than the man in the moon. The first word means ‘North’ and the second word is attempting to be the genitive case of the word for Ireland in Irish, which is Éire. Attempting, but failing. Like Galway, Éire requires the definite article when in the genitive case – na hÉireann – so Éireann by itself, if it was allowed to exist by itself (will I charge you double there?), could only be trying to mean ‘of an Ireland’. So the whole term, in my mind if in no others, equates to ‘North of an Ireland’. And your guess is as good as man as to where that might be. Norway, maybe?

County divisions were imposed on the island of Ireland by the Brits, so there are those who reject them for that reason. But, for sectarian reasons to do with the GAA, the authorities in Northern Ireland have officially done away with designating areas within their bailiwick by county names and now use the name of the local area council. Good luck with that one, lads, although a GAA team representing the Mid-Ulster Council would have a good shot at an Ulster title, I think, and maybe an All-Ireland too if covidnovid ever goes away. On another point [really? you are running out of space, and time – Ed.], some people use the term ‘All-Ireland’ when they are referring to the re-unification of the island into one jurisdiction, and God love them, too: it is a sporting competition, lads; now go and learn how to speak your native language (English) properly. So even the term ‘County Antrim’ is not free from disputation.

Those who know where I actually live would likewise dispute the term hacienda to denote my modest abode. (isolation blues) Which just leaves us with ‘Ireland’ the island as the only undisputed term from my seemingly simple locatory sentence way up there. But, of course, that is not what the island was originally called at all. At all.

I note, however, that the Mexicans have started to refer to their bit of the island by a different moniker recently. This is due to the Kerfuffle, and is an awkward attempt to ensure that the death figures for Ireland do not get mixed up with the death figures for Northern Ireland, although, technically speaking and for legal purposes, the Irish people included in both totals are still indisputably dead. The term they are using is ‘the State’, which is a bit too Big Brother for my liking, and if they don’t stop using it soon I may be forced to pay another visit to government buildings. But at least it is not a semi-state like the Annex is. (Can you see me now, Ma? Happy with that plug, Eddie? And he is British, though he lived in Northern Ireland for a while. But real British, not like the pretend British residents of the place.)

So, where are we now?

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 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.