Social Distancing

Day 4

As this is becoming somewhat of a sartorial advice blog (which was not my intention when I started it – when I find out what my intention was when I started it, I will let you know), I’ll kick off by letting you know that today I am wearing full Sunday best. That is, a three-piece suit (non-matching waistcoat to hint at how ‘radical’ I am), white shirt and formal brogues. As the suit is light blue (aren’t they all nowadays?), the shoes are brown – I cannot stand that brown shoes with dark suit crack: who thought that was a good look? The shirt, while formal, is collarless so that no one can demand I wear a tie with the outfit. Ties are so 20th century. Interviews and funerals, those are the only two occasions appropriate for ties anymore. One more point; the suit actually fits me. Whoever is advising the young men I see walking about in suits obviously two sizes too small for them is either having a laugh or was born blind. But are there no full-length mirrors in these young men’s houses where they do the final check before they go out the door, simultaneously tapping two pockets to check they have keys and wallet on them? Obviously not, or they would be as appalled as I am at the sight of a simian-type creature dressed in ill-fitting human clothes with bulges showing in all the wrong places.

The concept of Sunday best will probably soon join those other aspects of life like record players and film for cameras that I have to explain to my children in their weekly social history lessons. When we used to be allowed to go to Mass (-7PC), I would note the diminishing number of old men decked out in the full whistle and flute garb, straggling hair plastered down over the bald spot on the back of their heads, bright red neck bulging out over a collar starched to within an inch of its life. Mind you, having seen the state of their clothes during the week, their suit was probably the only clean thing they had left in the wardrobe come Sunday. But, for those men, after their weekly wash on a Saturday night (whether they needed it or not), Sunday Mass was an occasion marked by pulling on the fresh set of underwear that would do them for the week and clobbering up in the full suit and tie attire. Like the pint after Mass and before lunch, this band of dapper pensioners will soon go the way of all flesh, and join wrist watches, tape recorders and washing dishes by hand in the history bin. I will miss them. The men, not the dishes.

So here I am, all dressed up and – increasingly – nowhere to go. Why the suit? Well, why not? It will confuse the resident teenagers and break the monotony a bit. (An interesting – to me, anyway – linguistic side note: for Irish speakers, the teenage years begin at the age of 11 and not the 13 prescribed for the monoglot English speakers amongst us; whether or not this means that Irish-speaking 11-year-olds display those annoying traits of teenagers two years before their linguistically-challenged contemporaries is the subject of my up-coming PhD thesis, to be jointly supervised by the schools of Celtic Studies and Sociology at QUB, if it ever opens again.)

Also, and wouldn’t you know it, the plumber turned up yesterday! And me wearing a dressing-gown so tatty that Arthur Dent would have been proud of it. Yip, after six months of waiting to get the downstairs shower fixed (see references to ‘bathroom permitting’ in previous posts), we gave up on the ‘real’ plumber and asked the wee lad down the lane to do it; I am not even sure if he is fully-qualified yet, but I do not care as I now have a working downstairs shower in a room off my study and, as yet, the resident teenagers do not know it is operational again, so I can skip the queue for the upstairs one and wash myself whenever I feel like it – except on Saturdays, of course. As men are allowed to pee in the shower as well, this means my en-suite study is – nearly – fully set up for when my family ramp up the social distancing and stick me into a cocoon because of my diabetes. They can also leave food out for me on one of the windowsills if they want, so that is that sorted. As for the other thing … maybe, to be delicate about it, I can retrain my bowels to operate during the wee hours of the morning, meaning I can sneak out of my cocoon study to the toilet half a metre away along the corridor in the east wing of the hacienda and not risk catching anything off the other residents, who are not in an at-risk group. Oh the joys of this brave, new world.

So the suit covers me (do you see what I did there?) in case the electrician turns up today. But there is as much chance of that happening as there was of the real plumber turning up yesterday. If anyone is looking for career advice for their children after Armageddon, send them to one of the trades: they will never be short of work, and, with the amount of moolah they will earn, they will probably be able to afford a private tutor to teach them all they ever wanted to know about the nuclear physics/soap opera studies/comparative linguistics they thought they wanted to study at university.

The suit is also an indication that, despite it being the weekend, I am actually going to do some work work today. I have figured out that, as I know what the boss will be asking me to do, if I have it done in advance but do not tell her that, when she asks me to do it on Monday I can agree wholeheartedly and negotiate a deadline of early Tuesday morning for it, thus leaving me free to implement my next social experiment: incorporating a Spanish siesta in my working-from-home day. I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

I have just noticed that my organisation has ditched the term ‘working from home’ in favour of the new ‘remote working’. The cynic in me insists that this is because those senior managers who previously availed of the opportunity denied to us plebs did nothing remotely like work while they were working from home.

Social Distancing

Day 3

It is Saturday, apparently: it is already getting hard to tell the days apart. Maybe, hopefully, we get spared the daily Boris bluster on Saturdays? Although he can be quite amusing. Yesterday he defined going to the pub as ‘an ancient, unalienable right of free-born British people’. Funny, I do not recall seeing that right in any of the international statements of human rights, nor even in the Magna Carta. And what about those British people still apparently labouring under the yoke of slavery? Are they not allowed a swift one or a drop of the cratur to temper their miserable existence?

Saturday, so. That does away with both the shower conundrum and the dressing gown enigma. Since moving to the country, I have been introduced to the refreshing concept of ‘clean dirt’. Maybe because they are surrounded by so much real – and dangerous – dirt (slurry, slurry and slurry, in that order), the natives have a fairly relaxed attitude to things like cobwebs and dust that send some city-dwellers into a frenzy of cleaning. Never take a picture off a wall in a country house: while the amorphous, grey mass sticking to the wall behind it could, at a stretch, be a class of abstract art, the bean an tí does actually get a bit embarrassed if you expose it, especially if she is your mother-in-law and already wary of your sophisticated, city-slicker ways and notions.

This notion of ‘clean dirt’ extends too to the human person. Apparently, you can ‘wash yourself too much’, and, especially if you have not been playing in enough ‘clean dirt’ during your childhood, further deplete your body’s natural resistance and immune system. I am more than game to go along with these notions as they mean I have no hoovering duties to speak of, and dusting is becoming a quaint tradition practised in that different country called The Past. In an attempt to integrate myself with the locals, therefore, a Saturday shower would be an act of rebellion and make me stand out, and for the sake of community relations, I am willing to forego the daily ablution.

As for getting dressed, you can only find my house if you get lost, so there is no real point in putting on any other attire than the tatty bathrobe as I am 99.7% certain there will be no visitors to deal with today. Sure I would only be taking the clothes off again in about 15.2 hours, so what’s the point? And, as there are no shops or pubs or gyms to go out to, clothes would seem to be an extravagance too far.

I will wash my hands though.

Social Distancing

Day 2

To shower, or not to shower? That would appear to be the question. Normally – bathroom permitting – not an issue at all, but given that for the first time I will be moving a total of four metres (mostly vertically) to get from my bed to my work station, is it really worth the hassle? And then, with all this social distancing going on, personal hygiene is not the priority it once was, surely?

I say ‘for the first time’ because, although this is Day 2 of distancing myself socially, emotionally and spiritually so far from my workplace that I do not plan to go near it for the next three months, embarrassingly I had to show up there yesterday, having forgotten on the last working day PC (Pre-Covid) to take the charger for my laptop home with me.

When I was there, I went into town to get a few essentials – cigarettes, cat food, a wireless mouse – and did my civic duty by not attempting to buy any toilet roll. There wasn’t any anyway. Belfast was a bit of a ghost town, a smattering of pedestrians about the place (maybe the rest of them are still at work passing the virus on to each other?) and any shop or business I went into had weird new rules about queuing a metre behind each other and only approaching the till when summoned. As a practised eavesdropper, I can report that 99.2% of the conversations concerned bore-oh no-virus: not much material there for the novel.

Even if I do – bathroom permitting – have a shower, another quandary then presents itself: to bathrobe, or not to bathrobe? Do I really need to go to the bother of getting dressed to sit in my own study in the middle of the countryside with a laptop on my knee? But the boss might decide to do one of those video-conference calls, and the bathrobe is a bit tatty. I could probably get away with it by making sure the camera only shows me from the neck up.

I am beginning to appreciate how much Covid-19 has affected our lives. Normally I do not do any thinking at all in the mornings – late afternoon is much better for that kind of stuff, I find. It’s usually just wake up, cigarette, coffee, second cigarette, diabetic drugs, shower, second coffee, third cigarette and into the car and off to work. Oh, I usually get dressed at some point in the routine too; generally after the shower. But here I am this morning stuck in the whole shower/no shower, bathrobe/no bathrobe conundrum. As they say, life will never be the same.

Mind you, it is only 6.26am, so maybe I should just go back to bed for an hour or two? The laptop isn’t going anywhere (now that it’s fully charged) and will still be waiting for me when I re-wake up at a more respectable hour. Problem solved! See you tomorrow.