Day 29

Anti-Social Distancing

Mutiny on the Bounty! Strangers in the Belfry! The PhDeasants are revolting!

I was passing through the mutility room, brown waste food caddy in hand, on my way to the rear entrance of the hacienda to access the recycling centre, when I heard a faint, tapping on the stone floor. ‘What do they want at this time of the morning?’ I said (out loud) to myself (because nobody was listening, and, you may have noticed, I am fond of the sound of my own voice). The tapping on the floor is the negotiated and agreed signal that the herd of PhD students encased in the cellar require my attention. Even though they use a steel rod I threw down there expressly for the purpose, it is sometimes quite hard to hear the resulting, faint, pathetic tapping over all the hubbub of the upstairs staff going about their business, but, as I said [a long time ago – Ed.] it was early in the morning – 6.03am, since you ask – and they managed to attract my attention.

I released the concealed catch to open the hinged, sandstone tile that provides access to the granite steps down to the cellar, and, as I had the waste food caddy in my hand anyway, started, without looking, pouring its contents down into the darkness as I reckoned it was probably more food they were after.

‘No, it’s not food we want,’ spluttered Darzán, the apparent spokesman of the tribe and whose face was almost filling the hole in the floor when I did look down (he has a big face). He wiped a few lumps of caviar and truffle stew from his face and then proceeded, in full view of me, to insert one of his liquid-coated fingers into his mouth and lick it. Honestly, the manners of some people! What are they teaching them at finishing school (ie university) these days?

‘Nice stew, by the way,’ he continued, licking a few more digits as an obvious stalling tactic before revealing what he did actually want. But I’m wise to that game: whoever speaks first loses, eh Seán? So I waited, mentally rehearsing the paucity of Darzán and the Headscratchers’ actual output of facts for use in this blog as ammunition for whatever unreasonable request he was preparing to make.

‘It’s ah … it’s mmm …,’ he spluttered, displaying the traditional PhD student skill of not being able to put a sentence together, ‘it’s about these new government regulations about the lockout.’

‘Firstly, it’s not a lockout, it’s a bollocks, and by all accounts, about two weeks late in starting,’ I replied from a position of authority – anyone standing on a floor through which his interlocutor is staring is in a position of authority, for future reference. ‘And secondly, how do you even know about the regulations? Have youse sneaked a TV down there, or something? Using up my electricity to watch repeats of University Challenge, is that your game?’

‘No, mmm … no TV. But we do have our phones, you see …?’

This threw me a bit as those reading this who know me (which according to the statistical analysis from the Marketing Manager at the breakfast video conference we had the other day amounts to nearly 78.23% of the total readership of the blog) also know that I have an internet-free, completely non-smart mobile phone that cannot receive emojis (thank God emoji) leaving my real friends to either type out emojis in brackets as I have just done or to, I dunno, use actual words to convey emotion. I do not even want to have that stupid phone, and I plan to break it soon. Again, I waited for Darzán to speak as I did not want to be the loser in this early-morning, unequal battle of wits.

‘So, mmm … the regulations, you see, about social distancing and all in the workplace, you know? Some of the team were wondering if they were being applied rigorously enough in our case, don’t you see?’

Well, I ask you, where to start? I started by taking the steel pole off him and tapping him, firmly but lightly, on the head to emphasise each of my points.

‘Darzo, dear,’ I opened to put him off his guard. ‘First of all, youse are PhD students and, as such, have no need to practise social distancing. Youse are already experts in it as no one with a titter of wit would come within a beagle’s gowl of youse unless they wanted to be bored rigid by your latest ‘revelations’ into how many Old Irish glosses begin with the letter P, or which medieval French poet was more fond of enjambement, or whatever the Hell else youse were working on before I so kindly, out of the infinite goodness of my own heart, took youse in off the street after your universities kicked youse out to fend for yourselves in Lockdownville, Arizona.’

That fixed his wagon for him, and I turned to go out the back door, but a meek sort of whimper as I was flicking the trap door shut with my foot stalled my action. Again, I waited for him to break the silence.

‘It’s sort of that … mmm … the, what shall I call them … sumptuous conditions you have in your beneficence provided us with do not allow us to work 2m away from each other, and thus conform with the government regulations for essential workers and personal space … and all.’

Well, I ask you! Granted these are Phd students, but is a modicum of intelligence not be expected from same anyway?

‘Darzo baby, how long have you been in my employ?’

‘For about a month, Sir.’ The ‘Sir’ was better, but slightly too sycophantic for my liking.

‘And have any of youse either a) displayed any symptoms of boreohnovirus in that time, or b) been in contact with any real people? The answer to both is no, so do not waste your brain cell coming up with a response. So, ipso facto abracadabra, none of youse has the lurgy and none of youse can get it. OK?’

Mistake. I should have just kicked the door shut before the ‘OK’.

‘But … mmm … what about the compulsory exercise?’

He had me there, not that in normal circumstances PhD students wouldn’t run a mile from even the suggestion of playing any kind of sport [run a mile? surely ‘stumble’ or ‘hobble’ would be funnier? – Ed.]. So, if you happen to make it past the security at the entrance to the estate (the gate lodge keeper is Spanish and, as such, is entitled to 2 hours’ sleep during the working day) and happen to see a herd of ill-kempt, pale-faced, overweight (I must cut down on the number of times I empty the food caddy down those stairs) humanoid creatures grazing, or walking in circles that mirror their thought patterns, on any of my lush, rolling fields, be advised that this is Darzán and the Headscratchers out for their weekly – fuck the regulations! – negotiated and agreed period of exercise. Do not, under any circumstances, approach them or attempt to feed them: they are easily startled and may bolt for the semi-private lough. And none of them can swim.

And wash your eyes after viewing.