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.

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 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.