Four is Fair

You know what? You deserve a day off. Why don’t you take a long weekend, stay home on Monday? Hey, it’s cool, don’t worry, you can tell them the guy in Notes From Xanadu said it was okay.

In fact, take every Monday. Or maybe Friday. Yeah, Fridays would probably be better. Sure, why not? Take Fridays off from now on. Yes, you – all of you. No problem. You’re welcome.

See, that was easy.

What if we all just started working a four-day week? Simply downed tools, shut off the PC, parked the train, trousered the last brown envelope… all on Thursday evening. Then rang in sick, like the Blue Flu, every seven days.

Yes, those phone calls would be awkward at first: “Well, I guess it is strange how we’re all sick again this Friday boss, but (pinches nose, coughs) I rilly habe a bery bad cold.”  Yes, there would be fury at first. Yes, some of us, many of us, might be fired. But we would be fired for the greater good. You can’t make an omelette without a few pioneers getting arrows in their backs.

And after a while, we wouldn’t have to ring in at all. Eventually, even those most incensed by this great leap backward would capitulate. Owner-managers, CEOs, bosses of every kidney would, after a while, throw up their hands in despair and start taking their mistresses to Kinsale every Friday (metaphorically speaking, of course – at least till the pandemic is under control). After all, how can you work if there’s no-one to work with?

Clients and customers too would learn to appreciate this extended breathing space at the end of the traditional work cycle. Even foreign trading partners would come to terms with it: “Ah oui, the lazy Irish … but what can you do, uh?” In time, and with an easterly wind, our bold initiative would sneak across every European border, like Johnny Logan and the smoking ban. And inevitably, other continents would also follow suit. The grassroots support is already there, worldwide – after all, who doesn’t want to work less? – and once Ireland is out there as proof of concept, nation after nation will tumble before this beautiful historical tide.

With reduced working hours comes reduced productivity, and from reduced productivity flows the manna of reduced prices, thereby slowing inflation and gradually bringing down the cost of living. Possibly. While I’m making stuff up, let’s say also that the social and economic sea-change of a four-day week would, within 12 months, end the current global fiscal crisis, boost consumer confidence and spending, cure Covid, slash the price of oil and put a 64-inch plasma TV in the arms of every schoolchild in the world.

Where did it come from, anyway, this inviolable figure of 40 hours’ work per week?  It’s so uneven, so awkward – such an unwieldy figure. It should be rounded down. Maybe to 30. That’s a nice handy number.

The first step is up to you. Enjoy the long weekend.

The Watchers

In another piece of prose poetry, Ian Macnaughton imagines life in a post-Covid-apocalypse England.

The Watchers

The sky greys, blood-framed as it leeches edge in.
Drifts often tailed across the flat worn ground.
No one watches even I gaze without sight.
My breathe catches, phlegm lines my mouth, bruised and blistered. Guarding our shelter I lean and catch my flagging attention;
she dozes, fitful and sick. Has she long? I wonder.
The ashes are still warm. Though enough to warm a bevvy?
Most likely not. Our hide lets my eyes grasp the gap:
all passers, to’ers. But no fro’ers. Seldom see those now.
Them in the wood take their toll. She stirs, a cry;
my eyes drawn up, instinct, questioning how?
No birds seen since the long night. So why?

When the sickness came first we did not See.
Months rumoured a new illness.
Places with a name we knew not. All seemed vague and distant.
Which shrunk the problem. Made sleight, it becomes fiction.
But like a day dream we had to wake.
Which we did to a creeping shroud.
Slowly obscured the world we believed we knew.
Through its dense weave contrasts grew.
Life or death, withdrawn or at risk, shielded and key.
We had leaders then. Blind they be.
Listened, hearing nothing, threatening only
that which sung their song. Sated a thirst for the apex.
We belittled it. But no sense of scale
allowed our leaders to scale it wrong.
They, full of empty rhetoric, unmasked, grew silent.
Following the science in fits and starts, senseless or unconcerned.
They, only arse covering, hung back.

The cities like a slide revealed our demise:
hollow, eaten out. A ‘donut’ too sweet on the edges,
hole at centre remodels our true being,
broken from within. Grow disquiet,
as idle hands, eyes, desires, breed envy – and hate.

This was long time back.
Not stopped, slowed, seized,
without any maker to oil or note the stop.

Now is the time to clean, wash, purge; hands first and, with a count,
palms, knuckles, nails, back, lines are scoured with stone, safe saved,
then the outer garb and any skin or surface on which particles may fall.
Last is mask renewed. This time the only time I see my face –
and only me. She does not see me.
Only her sees her and I see I.
I know her eyes and the bridge that links but the rest is felt.
That instant in each eve when the mask is shed
is the one time I see self now – a stranger,
glimpsed in fragment.

Because we no longer make, things ran out over time.
Firstly parts so The Machine stops! Later fuel, lubricant,
oil, not because we run out. Because too few need.
So no one will make. So fewer will need.
and soon we are impoverished.

We can laugh, what makes man less feared?
A mask. How do we know? By their masks. If you
love them reveal it by not two.
Whom it may concern know them not.
As love is blind.

 

Philipa Farley

Generation Pandemic

The most socially awkward thing I’ve ever done.  So awkward I’m not going to * anything.

Have a baby in 2020.

But first, please enjoy the preceding few weeks’ hilarity in my meme and photo folder.

It was really awkward.  Not least because of how it happened.  One-time-only bad decision making, if you know what I mean, after a few glasses of Irish-cream-what-what from Aldi.  I mean, can we be more classy?  I’m thoroughly embarrassed as I type this and remember myself saying something like: “it’s the end of the world, who cares anyway?”  (April ’20).  In any case, one fine day sitting at the computer, the nausea hit me from my toes up.  My first thought was, no.  Just no.  No way.  And then himself got sent straight to the pharmacy.

 

Back to the awkwardness.  For a while, it just looked like the Covid Stone.  Then it started looking like a real baby.  I was stuck at home, as we all were.  Going literally nowhere except to hospital appointments by myself.  Time went on and it was just too late to say anything on all the work video calls.  I mean, what do you do?  Stand up and show off your belly in an ‘accidental’ side shot?  Yawn and stretch?  Or do you interrupt proceedings with an “excuse me I have some news?”  While debating these various different and equally awkward scenarios, so much time passed that it was nearly time to have the actual baby.  And then he arrived early.  So then the message had to very quickly turn into “hey, I’m off here now for a bit of personal time, but not for too long.  No, I don’t have Covid.  BRB”-type messages.  AFK for a few days.

I had my baby on the 29 November, by section, in CUMH.  It was a Sunday night – change of shift time.  It was really scary and very unpleasant, with  Graeme (my husband) waiting outside in the car park for hours and nobody knowing what was going on.  I was admitted to the Emergency and was in for about five hours, in labour, on a narrow bed, not able to reach my phone.  By the time I got somebody to pass it to me, I was pretty much being dressed for theatre.  We thought I’d go in, be calmed down, and sent away again.  Not that simple.  Graeme was allowed in basically as they were cutting me open – after they had to repeat the spinal block that didn’t work the first time.  Just a really unpleasant evening.  He had to leave when they wheeled me out of recovery.  He hadn’t been able to attend a single doctor’s appointment with me.

Ruairí came out shouting the odds though and was pretty okay.  This was the biggest relief for me at that moment.  We had a difficult pregnancy, him and I.  Besides it being incredibly awkward, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  From start to end, the ball was dropped by the doctors and midwives involved in that regard.  If not for our GP and the village pharmacy, I don’t know if we would have come out okay.  That, and all the delicious healthy snacks Graeme made.  Endless snacking.  Snacking till the food is up your throat with the nausea.

To this day, I’m waiting for the South Infirmary to phone me back to get my sugar readings from about 6 months ago.  And yes, assholes, I left multiple messages on your various answering machines.  Can you tell I got sick and tired of injecting myself with insulin?  I have the biggest respect for anybody who lives with diabetes.  I did a needle count one day, rough estimation:  I had to prick my finger seven times a day in order to test sugars and inject insulin twice a day.  I will be avoiding the follow-up fasting glucose test for a while, possibly until the trauma subsides.

When I went into labour, they gave me medication for high blood pressure, as that was playing up too.  They explained at the time, but, honestly, I wasn’t listening to anything or seeing very much.  I met so many people there that Graeme remembers; don’t ask me who they are though!  That medication did something, and Ruairí’s sugars crashed at 48 hours.  He landed up in the neonatal unit with a sugar level of 1.9.  This was at 10pm at night.

After I had been told that afternoon that he had a murmur in his heart, I had to tell Graeme in a text message.  I couldn’t voice note or call because the other children were listening in.  Then I had to message, from the deserted basement passage of CUMH in the middle of the night, while our baby was being revived.  He got through that.  The murmur disappeared.  And then he was jaundiced.  So jaundiced he went back into the neonatal unit for a few days and sessions under the lamps.  We had been able to take him home for one night only at that point.  I had to go back to the emergency for very high blood pressure.  Sitting, alone, again, on a tiny bed, my milk came in leaking all over.  I pumped.  He drank.  We got through it.  He was allowed home when he was one week old.

I don’t think anything gets more awkward than this experience.

All that trauma with nowhere for it to go, in the middle of all the trauma of our lives every day these days.  At times, the awkwardness is really funny.  But, at other times, I cry.

When we need the hugs and the chat the most, they’re not there anymore.  We need to fix this.  Be kind to the people around you.  Ask how they’re doing.  Make space for people to tell their stories.  We’re all going through something, and we need each other.  Let’s take turns having a bad day and allowing ourselves and others to have a bad day.  We’re nearly there.  Let’s not leave anybody behind.

As my niece says, he is our tinnnnyyyyy piece of cheese.

 

Testing Times

So you’ve been feeling a tad Covid.

So you order a test, which arrives.

First off, they give you a three D cardboard box net to construct.

Great, you’re right at the top of your game. Love origami.

Not sure what it’s testing for though? Spatial awareness?

Then a series of bags and containers that have to be assembled very carefully in a specific order, Russian doll-like, when you do the actual test. Weird, I thought I’d already started, and then I notice in the book of instructions – that was in the bag – that I shouldn’t open the bag without washing my hands for 20 seconds, and that I should also clean all the surfaces before I get them out, but I haven’t finished the box; but then I shouldn’t have started, because I’ve got to clean everything first. How the fuck am I meant to know that, as, to read it, I’ve had to open the bag? So now I clean everything because it’s wrong. Could have Covid on it. So I go back and I wipe everything and I think I’d better finish the box, or maybe not? Maybe I should unfold and start all over again, in case I’ve missed something in the instructions? When I do read the instructions, I say “thank goodness I didn’t just see the big cotton bug and stick it up my nose and throat,” and then it tells me to do that anyway, but it must be an hour before the collection at our priority letter box, and we mustn’t touch anything with the cotton bud apart from two and half centimeters up my nose and the back of my throat. By this time I’m feeling so much better: I mean I’ve made the box, laid everything out and I’ve cleaned everything three time,s and I’ve learnt a lot about my area and where our priority post boxes aren’t, probably super spreading all the while. So then I find the link to the you tube video – which is handily in the booklet – so much easier to click on a link in paper instruction booklet – or rather it isn’t – but I manage to type it and link to Ali, the nice man who explains everything handily and simpl,y including which things might not be in the kit they’ve sent me. He says he know it’s a bit fiddly and frustrating but not too much he hopes, as I guess I could be feverish and confused at this point. He then reminds me to wash my hands for twenty seconds exactly. I nearly scald myself with the tap, but guess that’ll kill Covid as well. He also shows me how to stick a cotton bud in my throat and up my nose without touching anything else with the fabric. This all needs to go into the tube with liquid, and I must snap off the handle and close the tube without contaminating the contents. At this point I have a headache and have discovered how to stimulate a gagging reflex from the back of my throat without touching anything else. But have I rubbed my tonsils, and who knew they weren’t the dangly bits, for fecks sake? Also, this is where it goes into a second tube-  that I don’t have – and into two bags: one labelled bio hazard and the other with a pinch seal. All in a specific order, which is then all packaged in my handcrafted origami box, which has a special seal sticker that is in the bag in the box. Bollocks; still, it’s all part of a test, so I backtrack and seal the box thankfully with all the contents. I’m now running late for the priority collection, so in my feverish and somewhat confused state I, masked to the eyeball, stagger to the priority post box, narrowly evading non-socially-distancing pedestrians who ring the post box.

I then wait for three days. For a result which by the time it arrives; merely confirms the obvious: that I’m positive. Never has positive seemed so negative or vice versa.

But the test is still not over, as I now get sent a link for feedback to ‘test and trace’ (not ‘track n’ trace’)? Guess they’ve changed the name in case someone asks about the missing twelve and and a half billion.  But to give them feedback I have to set an account with a password, so I offer my best password effort, and of course it’s found wanting, not strong enough. So I try a random selection of letters, symbols and punctuation. No, that won’t do, too short. I lengthen it and, oh no, it’s too sequential, so I try another and another. But they’re all sequences. Yes, surely that is the nature of a password. It has a beginning and a middle and an end. Finally, randomly, it accepts something.

What have I learnt?

That I wish hadn’t started.

I also know, two days after I need to know, that I can stop self-isolating, that is, if I haven’t developed another symptom, maybe confusion?


			
Philipa Farley

Welcome to 2021

Merry New Year to all of you!  I went AWOL for a good reason there – to be revealed in the next column as The Most Socially Awkward Thing I Did in 2020 and Ever.*  In any case, here we are.  Locked down.  Again.  The third time over.  Well, it’s more like the second time, as the time before this didn’t really count.  Or did it?  Time is a bit hazy at the moment.  I find my mind reverts back to our Southern Hemisphere, South African calendar in a Clockwork Orange-type blip from time to time.  Is it the start of the school year? Is it the end?  What’s happening?  It feels like July, but it’s not.  Will summer ever come back?  If I start posting pictures of crossed out I I I Is send help!

At least this time I’m allowed alcohol.  Counting down the days till my Kahlua arrives.  I plan on making copious amounts of Dom Pedros.**  The older children have asked for banana bread.  This is such old news for me, I’ve decided that we’re clearing a shelf in our front entrance little room which is as cold as a fridge.***  This shelf will be dedicated to all things baking.  I’m going full Martha Stewart this round of lockdown – minus the securities fraud and Snoop Dogg collab.  Expect a slew of overnight and two day fermented yeast baked good pictures if you follow me on Instagram.****

Other coping slash distraction mechanisms include binge watching series.  Schitt’s Creek has opened up a world of meme-age.*****  We’re onto Brooklyn 99 now.  It’s making me regret not going into the police service and becoming a detective (that is one of my lesser-known regrets – I think I would have made a very good detective.  I also have a queue of schmaltzy 90s and 2000s romantic comedies to get through; Sweet Home Alabama ticked off that list.  Mental chewing gum is where it is at.

Seriously though, what are you doing to cope?  Retail therapy is dire.  No more middle aisle shopping at Aldi and Lidl.  Who the fuck classified that as not essential?  Can we have a word, please and thank you?  I’m still on Amazon – yes, with my Prime account intact.  I spent a couple of days doing calculations and comparisons with .de; shipping is a monster, yoh!  Still cheaper on Prime.  And for those of you buy-local loyalists, the money I save buying on Prime gets spent on (Michael McIntyre Voice) spicey bags (normal voice) at the village takeaway.  My version of shop local.******

In any case, fuck Brexit.  Really.  I don’t say much about it publicly, but I am sad it actually happened.  I’m sad for all that could have been and now never will be.  I’m sad for people who believe they’re so much better than everybody else that they put walls up, slam doors shut, and retreat.  Small people with small minds.  Nationalism turned disease.  There, I said it.  Ugh.  In protest, I check out my items on Amazon one by one,******* while I watch my romcoms, eating alcoholic milkshakes and dreaming of UBI and communal gardens.

Welcome to 2021, everybody.  The year we all eat less and walk more.  Or not.

 

*As in EVER.
**Discovered this is a Very South African thing.  Basically, adult milkshakes.  Double cream, ice cream, and whiskey whizzed up together.  Can substitute whiskey for Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico, etc.  I might try a chocolate/orange combo.
***We could right now skate on our swimming pool.  Yes, the above ground pool is still up.  Totally ran out of fucks to give.
****Don’t follow me on Instagram.  Most vanilla happy-snap account ever – more for my own amusement.  Twitter is where it’s at – JustCallMePips.
*****David Rose is a gift.
******Just go with it.
*******Avoid VAT and import duties: tick with Prime.  You’re welcome.

Opportunity

Once again Ian Macnaughton moves away from the column format, also with prose poetry, but this time on the sardonic side.

Opportunity
Take it from me
it’s the key.
You
See it
Everywhere
And in everything.
Someone else’s grief is your opportunity
So take it
Don’t hesitate
Cause if you don’t
I will grasp it with both hands and milk it
Because anyone who tells you that’s wrong is a killjoy
Life is for the taking
You, we, all of us choose our destiny
The proles see this corona virus as a sentence, a ball and chain.
But really it’s the dogs bollocks, it’s the wings.
See it the right way and you will go far.
So
Set up that delivery service for the shielded
Start buying up the PPE
The textile machinists for masks
The cemetery plots or the crematorium
Or maybe just shares in Amazon and Netflix
Because if you don’t someone else will….


We Riders

Here Ian Macnaughton gives us something different from his usual Covid Life column: a piece of prose poetry based on his experience as a delivery rider during the pandemic.

Happen we ride, we  ride, take route pedal
Stepped hard thrust fully stretched down but we are
Free. To be riding, driving through for fee.
Cutting not corner. Slicing wind behind
And through the line. Furrow the holloway,
Grooves cut, burnt friction clattering we take
The back route, the cut through, clear of traffic.
That’s dead, slunk solid, jammed not going,
We gone. Looking back and grinning all way,
Through night and on, passed to the drop (beat),
Hauling rolling, wheels cut through muscle flesh,
Scars deaden, waking to stiff pushed locked legs.
A gap – we  ride it quick. Across darted
past, you hang alone. Our rhythm around
step that lifts again, shifting cogs whir, know
only when ground thrusts back and legs seem bruised.
Brutal, dis-jointed our frame dents no flex,
But take the beak between the thighs, and we,
born in newly strung bones, can translate stride
Into ride, step into schlep, harnessed (beat).
One with the bike, apart moving, mapped mind,
Motor transferred through the limbs as reflex
Involuntary, the will subject to
Wheel, channelled through the app becoming whole,
But still lingers in the surface fuzz a
Soul voice commenting in stream, washing clean
Through, like tears, wet, salty, anger, muted,
In play on the last rake, spit sprayed within
the hollow head of saddled puppet (beat).

The Internet is too small

The Internet is too small for me.

What’s that you say, Google?  Seventy-eleven gazillion web pages indexed?  Pah.  That’s kindergarten stuff, a puny collection, about as impressive as Donald “Big Brain” Trump reciting the ten times table.  Sure, there’s lots of info out there: if I search for details of artists who work exclusively in the medium of baby duck faeces, for example, the web will ask me to “please specify type of duck”.  But if I then search for jobs for these envelope-pushing visionaries, the electronic ether smugly reports that it found no matches, suggesting instead that I might be interested in some crudely hand-drawn erotica which clearly violates Disney and Warner Brothers copyrights, as well as the laws of good taste, physics and most civilised nations.

This just isn’t good enough.  Now that we’ve sloshed about a bit on the oily, trash-polluted waters of this ocean of cultural bilgewater, we naturally want to sail on bravely, endlessly, like Detective Columbo in the Santa Maria, further and further over the horizon, chasing that last elusive Wikipedia citation on the episode where Pikachu teams up with Akira to defeat nine (yes, NINE!) Digimon in magic battle.

I want, as a bare minimum, blanket CCTV coverage of every celebrity (defined as min 5MHz, or at least five Mickeyhartes), with MMS alerts to notify me immediately every time they go to the bathroom.  I want 3D walkthroughs of every “ghost” estate of unsold housing in the country, schadenfreude-oozing showcases where our on-screen cadavers or avatars or whatever the hell they’re called can scribble begrudgist graffiti on the virtual walls.

I want jobs websites specifically for waterfowl faecal rendering specialists.  I want 10,000-word reminiscences of every politician in the country from everyone they ever went to school with, also their results, disciplinary records, and scanned PDFs of their homework.  I want insider revelations of every dirty trick used by every single profession, from actuaries to zoologists, to separate people from their money.  I want to download endless hours of whalesong, or at the very least a passable dolphin tribute act, to help my insomnia.  I want pictorial tutorials on how to replace every single part in every single consumer appliance ever made, from cars to electric chairs.  I want to know what the second assistant cameraman on “Metropolis” thought of director Fritz Lang, I want to know how many joints George Harrison smoked while watching Lennon and McCartney squabble over the creation of “Let It Be”, and I want to know exactly where in Upton Park my Uncle Billy stood as he cheered the Hammers on to victory over Ipswich in April 1986.

After all, information wants to be free [(TM) and (C) Selected Sarcasm Corporation 2020. All Rights Reserved].

The New Normal

What the fuck? The new? New, new, new what? Normal? Fuck no! Are you seriously telling me this is new? What, we weren’t governed by a bunch of self entitled, public school, ‘man of the people’ wannabees before this? No, and they couldn’t run a sack race or world beating track and trace before this either, yeah. This is not a revelation to me. Or you, I’m thinking, at least if you have a grasp on whether it’s Sunday or not and who Meghan Markle isn’t?

And have you heard it’s a virus that effects the poor, old, under classed, vulnerable, and ethnically other than white wealthy worse? What are the chances of that eh? Exactly, nothing abnormal or radical or different about this shite. So new that it’s no surprise. It’s exactly what it was before, the old unchanging order. Because, lets face it, the odds have been stacked breathtakingly high against the usual suspects for ever.

The only new is that that bunch of no marks are too incompetent to have worked out how to really squeeze the rest us of yet, even if their incompetent management is ensuring that those with least to lose are losing most. But don’t worry. they soon will have found a way of dodging the bullet – by using the rest of us as a human shield – even if Dominic Bummings and Dido Hardarse do decide to return to producing limp dance music. Because, while they are apparently very bright and see the real picture, they don’t exactly seem to be having the required surgical impact on the virus. They’re not the antidote. You need to worry though. You need to fire your fluffy little minds up about this, because their masters and mistresses are not up to the task of articulating a short sentence let alone killing the new cancer that is consuming our weakened corpse just as they throw away the EU drip.

Philipa Farley

Wheels Within Wheels – Part IV

Glad to see you back for the last part of this four part series! In Part 1 we had a look at what the Wheel of Life is about, in Part 2 we had a look at how to start using the Wheel of Life, and in Part 3 we looked at how to set and assess goals. This final part is on how to review and assess your life and goals using the Wheel of Life, changing for the better along the way.

Reading back, I realise I might have missed out a small, but rather vital, piece of information for you. That is, when you’re setting your focus for the year or quarter or month, to pick out two to three things to focus on. So, if we look at our categories for the year – and we’ve scored them in light of what our level 10 life looks like – in order to start achieving balance, we’d likely pick up the two to three lowest scoring categories and assign them highest priority. On my Wheel of Life, my three lowest scoring categories are: Health, Personal Development, and Fun and Recreation. I decided to concentrate on these for 2020. When I set my goals, I make the goals set in these categories a priority. Other goals come second to these.

Practically, we have determined the scope of what we’re doing; we’ve decided on the categories for that scope; and we have set some high level goals for the year. These high level goals have been broken down into goals per quarter and then into actions we can take per month. And now we’ve added a priority to the goals we need to concentrate on.

We want to document a formal review date for the end every month (make it about 5 days before the end), where we evaluate, mark off, strike out or carry over actions to the next month. At the end of every quarter, we want to do similar with our quarterly goals, but at this point assessing if we’ve climbed up closer to our level 10 goal from our current score. At the end of the year, we do the great big review, and see how close we’ve come to achieving balance – with similar enough scores between categories – and to see how close we are to that level 10 life. We like to do some reviews together as a couple or as a family, sometimes informally over dinner. Our work-related reviews might be more formal, as they require a bit more complexity in assessments – they are company goals mixed with personal goals. Personal goal reviews might require you to take some proper time out, alone.

A note on the granular level reviews. You might find at the end of the first or second month that you aren’t getting around to the actions that you set. At that point, you might look at your list of monthly actions and attempt to determine if you were trying to do too much as part of a single action, or if you have not assessed the time you can spend on those actions accurately. Take a step back, and look at your monthly and weekly schedule as a whole. Who gets what proportion of your time? Or, you might look at the black and white in front of you and realise that you actually just don’t want to be doing that. If this is the case, then don’t do it. Make peace with this fact and move on.

Take recreation or hobbies in my case. At the beginning of this year, 2020, the year of all that is Corona, I decided to brush up on my piano playing skills. Again. I thought I’d be able to sneak an hour a couple of times a week while the kids were at school to do this. And then we all laughed together. About halfway into lockdown, I realised that instead of carrying this over as a ‘priority’ task that I was never going to get to, I could shift focus and make sure that I spent at least half an hour to an hour, before I went to sleep, reading novels. This helps me to wind down and shift focus onto something that is not work or family related. I love reading candyfloss time-crime dramas or thrillers. Honestly, it’s as much me-time as piano was ever going to be. I’m not about to be sitting at the Heuston Station piano enthralling all who come and go with my talents, believe you me. It was purely for me to do something different. Reading has the same effect. It is okay to change that specific action of play piano for three hours a week to read for half an hour before bed every night.

In terms of my health, I was determined to lose weight and get fit this year. Life had other plans for me. There was a shift in focus there, but that shift in focus turned out to be me eating far more healthily than I ever have done, and, through this change, losing weight without that being the focus. Flexibility is key when we look at our higher level goals. We should not be too specific at the top level. Keep the specificity for the monthly (or weekly actions).

Our work goals have had to change drastically since lockdown happened. That required a conscious sitting down with real facts (not media hysteria) and doing a simple SWOT analysis on the facts plus business landscape. Out of this has come a new focus on longer term, higher value retainer clients, versus a bit of a putting out fires for clients approach. My business will be more robust and able to withstand the upcoming Brexit shakes through this move, too. I should have probably done this analysis a year ago with Brexit in mind, but I didn’t. Mistake acknowledged, lesson learned, and changes made.

Before I finish up, I want to note again that this is not a race to reach ten in your various categories. The point of using the Wheel of Life as a personal growth tool is to achieve balance between the different areas of your life and then to level up realistically to reach the life you want to live. You will learn so much about yourself along the way and your life will only be the richer for it.

So, I’m going to end the last part of this four part series with this part of Ryder Carroll’s quote.

“What’s important is figuring out which incomplete Tasks are worth your limited time and energy moving forward. Strike out those that aren’t, and migrate the ones that are.”

If you take anything from this process, take this with you. We all have limited time and energy, and the intention throughout has been to figure out how to spend this limited time and energy in the most productive way we can, in order to choose and achieve what we see as being our best life. I can tell you now that when you start out, what you think is your best life is probably not going to be what you will think it is 6, 9, or 12 months down the line. The beauty of this process is that we learn more about ourselves and what we really cherish and value along the way. Do not be afraid of changing your goals along the way or your focus, BUT make sure you give yourself enough time on something before you make big changes.

This will be my last bit of writing for Mary and Notes From Xanadu for this year. I hope to be back early 2021 with more insights and maybe a few mini lectures.  See you all soon.

Manual? What Manual?

I’m a parent – no, really, it’s true – and let me tell you, no-one could be more shocked than I. Does every father live as I do, in constant dread of the hand on the shoulder and the words “Sorry sir, been a bit of a mix-up”?  Or the inevitable letter from the Department of Ensuring All Destinies Run As They Should (DEADRATS), clarifying that only individuals of the highest mental and emotional calibre are permitted to have children, and that as a Grade-3 Minor Idiot (Category B), I unfortunately don’t qualify?

The lament is often heard that children don’t come with an instruction manual. That sounds reasonable, but it’s total BS coming from a dad. Because dads don’t read manuals anyway. We just pick up the DVD recorder, hedge strimmer, or 15-month-old baby girl, and expect it to operate within specified manufacturing parameters.

But being a dad is incredibly hard. Since I never seem to hear any other dads saying this – they’re too busy romping off with their sons on 6am camping expeditions, or teaching their daughters kung-fu – I assume there was some sort of no-complaining clause in the paperwork that I never received because of the whole mix-up by DEADRATS. Or else those other dads are just better than me.

Maybe, though, they’re not: maybe they’re more like icebergs, just 10% showing above the surface, but underneath, they’re paddling like crazy. Or do I mean swans? Possibly ducks? Hard to say. What is an analogy, after all, but a pig with five legs? The point is, possession doesn’t automatically confer expertise. Just because you own a few kids doesn’t mean you know how to operate them. That takes years – and even then, you’re probably only familiar with a fraction of their functions.

Of course the rewards of parenthood are among the most wonderful experiences this world can offer (and I speak here as someone who has seen the Northern Lights dozens of times, on Youtube). Every evening when I get in from work I’m greeted by stampeding feet and the giddy, affectionate sounds of happiness. But that’s enough about the dog. The kids might look up briefly from the TV too, if I’m lucky.

Sadly, though, there are no DEADRATS watching over us. DEADRATS don’t exist at all, unless, possibly, maybe in the health service somewhere. It’s entirely up to us to make sure things Run As They Should. But as the philosopher-poet Ralph W. Emerson  said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Hard as it is to take advice from a guy whose middle name is Waldo, I think that where parenting is concerned, there’s no other choice.

Philipa Farley

Wheels Within Wheels – Part III

Good to see you here for Part 3 of the Wheel of Life Series!  In Part 1 we had a look at what the Wheel of Life is about and in Part 2 we had a look at how to start using the Wheel of Life.  We looked at how to decide on the eight sections we’d use for assessment and how to work out what a 10/10 life means for us personally in the areas we choose to assess.

In this part, I’d like to have a look at goal setting and how we assess goals.  I’d also like to look briefly at how to adjust goals along the way.  I’m a great believer in bullet journalling and the philosophy behind the methods used.  Particularly, I love the monthly migration aspect of the bullet journal methodology.  In the words of Ryder Carroll teaching the methodology:

“At the very end of each month, set up a new Monthly Log. Once that’s done, review the pages of the month gone by. Chances are, you didn’t get around to completing all your Tasks. That’s fine! What’s important is figuring out which incomplete Tasks are worth your limited time and energy moving forward. Strike out those that aren’t, and migrate the ones that are.”

and

“It may seem like a lot of effort to have to rewrite all these things, but that’s intentional. This process makes you pause and consider each item. If an entry isn’t even worth the effort to rewrite it, then it’s probably not that important. Get rid of it. The purpose of Migration is to surface what’s worth the effort, become aware of our actions, and to separate the signal from the noise. This is where BuJo shifts from a system, into the practice.”

Part of our goal setting and assessment when using the Wheel of Life, and assessing quarterly (or monthly if you choose to do it this often), would be to examine the goals we’re setting and determining whether the actual goals are moving us toward our level 10 life.  Weed out what isn’t working and try something different.  Always, move forward.

In Part 2, one of the examples I used for a 10/10 for Finance might be to save ten percent of all income into a credit union account and have a cushion of three months expenses built up in a current account.  If I assess myself now, at the start of 3 months, at a 2/10 because I have an actual credit union savings account set up and maybe two weeks of a bit of a slush fund in my current account, then what would it take to get me to a level 10?  Do I have a budget set up where I know what my personal outgoings and incomings are?  Do I need to set this up?  Will I use an app?  Will I use a spreadsheet?  Will I set a weekly or monthly reminder to reconcile my bank account or accounts with this spreadsheet?  Will I assess every outgoing and other spending habits to cut down?  Will I need to set up a standing order on my current account to send over the ten percent on payday to the savings account?  How will I stop myself from spending the three months excess in my current account?  Should I open a savings pocket on the current account and put it there?  And so on.  There are very specific actions that need to be taken to achieve that level 10 goal.  It is up to you to work out how to prioritise actions and how to work out dependencies or prerequisites.

Setting achievable goals depends on many different factors.  It does require you to know yourself.  I’d recommend doing a bit of research (not a lot, don’t get bogged down) on different methodologies for goal setting.  The most common you’ll come across when researching in the personal development context would be SMART goals.  Choose your method wisely, as the last thing you want here is to set unachievable goals that break you down and make you feel like that level 10 is unattainable.  Start with baby steps and increase the goals as you go along.

Once you’ve set your goals, work out a task list of actions that you will need to actually do to achieve your goals.  Set deadlines on those actions.  It might work for you to set higher level goals for the year and then work out in quarters the next level action that needs to be taken.  From those quarterly higher level actions, you would draw down the actual minutiae for completion on a monthly or weekly basis.  Again, write all of this down in your journal.  You could also make use of an app like Microsoft Planner or Trello to set up boards with deadlines that integrates with your calendar so you have reminders on actions.  This might sound like a lot of work, but trust me, very satisfying when you get going.

Personally, I find this type of organisation allows me to maintain some sort of illusion of control over my life!  Covid lockdown sanity retained.

In the next part, we’ll look at how to review the process and pivot or change as needed.  Until then.

 

Philipa Farley

Wheels Within Wheels – Part II

I hope you enjoyed Part I of this little series on the Wheel of Life.  Now that we have an idea of what the Wheel can do for us, we need to look at how to start using it.  This is going to require some introspection!

First, you need to decide the part of your life to which you will apply the Wheel of Life.  Will it be an overview of where you’re at as a person?  Will it be for a specific part of your life – maybe an important relationship?  Will you use it to aim for a promotion at work?

When you have decided the scope of the application, you’re going to look at the 8 sections you’ll be assessing on the wheel.  Obviously, these 8 sections depend on the scope of the application you have decided.  To recap, for a general overview, the 8 sections would be something like: {bullet points}

  • Business and Career
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Family and Friends
  • Romance
  • Personal Development
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Contribution to society

On my Wheel of Life, which is in the pie style, I have the following 8 sections:

  • Work and Career
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Family and Friends
  • Significant Other
  • Personal Development
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Physical Environment

Before we start dreaming of our 10/10 life, we need to set a time scope on this Wheel.  I do one for a year, and then assess at each quarter.  So, to make my year scope, I decide what represents 10/10 at the end of 12 months. and then I assess where I’m at now.  At the beginning of each quarter, I then assess how far I am and make adjustments to my specific goals and processes.

The next part of the process can be the really hard part.  This is where you need to identify or dream up for yourself what a 10/10 life would look like in each section of your Wheel of Life.  In the time frame you’ve set (3 months, a year, three years, whatever is appropriate), what is a 10/10 life in Work and Career?  For me currently, it would be having a solid customer pipeline (thanks for messing with that, corona!).  While I get great referrals, that are mostly word of mouth, from current and past clients or colleagues, it makes me nervous that we don’t have a stream of clients from tried and tested marketing and advertising.  To get a 10/10 would be a huge achievement, and probably not quite realistic in 12 months, but I felt that this year we could make significant strides in this direction.  I’d be happy if we got to a 7/10 by the end of the year.  For those of you who don’t know me, I run my own company, so these goals wouldn’t be related to a promotion in my own position.

What is a 10/10 in Finance?  This can be quite a tough question, as it depends on how hands-on you are with your own personal situation.  Would you bring family financial planning into this?  Would you consider your retirement years?  Do you need to learn more about different aspects of your personal finance?  A goal of mine might be to save ten percent of all income into a credit union account, and have a cushion of three months expenses built up in a current account.  Last year I achieved putting into place various life covers based on our potential needs.

What would a 10/10 be for Fun and Recreation? To be honest, this is probably the hardest section for me.  I love working, but my love of working isn’t conducive to a healthy work/life balance.  I constantly mark myself quite low in this section, and I battle to achieve higher scores.  This is where I have to work the hardest.  I’m a mom of two who are now 9 and 7 years old.  Who I was 10 years ago is not who I am today.  Some days, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to have fun.  Although, maybe that’s lockdown talking!  What is fun for you?  Do you have a hobby or an amateur skill you’d like to work on for your own pleasure?  Where are you at with that now?

And so on, and so forth.  I’ll spare you an essay on each section.  The first time you go through this exercise (of looking at your level 10 life), you might take a while to work it out, so set aside a decent chunk of time for this.

In practical terms, get yourself a notebook, and dedicate a page to each section describing what your level 10 life looks like.  Then, draw up your first Wheel of Life, and get ready to score your current status out of 10, compared to what your level 10 looks like.

In the next part of this little series, we’ll talk about how to set and assess goals that will help you achieve that level 10 life.

In the Queue

In the seventies we used to be sniffy about queues. They were an Eastern Block thing. Behind the iron curtain you’d queue to buy anything; everything had it’s own queue.  A successful purchase could lift the spirits for the week. Pavlov has got wodka; he managed to swap his wife for two bottles, and his little Micha is queuing in Gdansk – for what, she doesn’t know – but we’re bound to need it by the time she arrives at the front. Oh, how we laughed at the foolish communists. Why queue for a Trabant?

Who’s laughing now eh? We got some lovely garden furniture and slug pellets. We were queuing for filler and paint, but you’ve got to take what’s available. It isn’t just shopping either: we now queue virtually as well and, frequently, without a clear objective in mind. Yes, I now understand online means you’re in the queue. It’s weird: I keep finding myself in the waiting mode – buying a ticket, logging in and then waiting in zoom. Time has changed. Anyone would have expected lockdown to make it less relevant. I mean, people are frequently working from home – they can do it in their pyjamas and, probably, whenever they like, but wifi has even inserted a queue there – because everytime you wait while the screen freezes or buffers, you are essentially back in a queue. My youngest gets up every Tuesday at dawn to get a place on the supermarket ‘merry go round’. Whatever we are, wherever we go, we are infront of someone and behind someone, and we don’t really know what we’ll be getting.

You can see it way off. The outriders on the hill down to the junction, along to the gates to the retail car park, and then the extended spiral that allows for social distancing, and on. But do take a trolley before you start, oh, and a novel, script, bottle of water, sandwiches – and always a sense of humour. Oh, you may as well dispense with the list, or at least write it whilst you wait, because, by the time you get there, you are going to be a different person, and stuff you thought you were buying may not be what you leave with.

Happy queuing!

The Plot

It’s been tidier, everywhere, here. I mean, normally they encroach on any area of vulnerability, the small, frail, tender and new. Anything emergent. This was seen as usual until recently. We have the new normal, the aged, depleted and compromised, and like before it is often someone we could identify if we ever saw them or spoke to them, types who are more likely to suffer. But in the main people have been put away, stored for their own good, shielded; we’ve been obedient, compliant and safe. But there are still junctions that allow us to fraternise. That’s what the plot is, an edge, a vantage point, a hide?  Where we can look.

Like any point that can be occupied, it has a defined area and edges, although faces might be more visual. These surround the centre of the plot and can be defined, or limited or, apparently, infinite. At least your eye could just keep travelling infinitely upward, but be under no illusion – the plot has limits. For a start, you can only really see things one way. When you look at something, you’re not looking at something else. Or is that a limitation in us and not the plot? I guess how this limitation changes us could only really be tested if we were like, maybe, ducks, with eyes on the side of our heads, or maybe the compound eye of a fly or nine eyes in or across our back. Anyway, within the plot, we are with our two eyes placed in parallel mounted on the front of our face giving us stereoscopic vision, and we have the element of time allowing for movement. Particularly rotation – the capacity to look different ways and then remember what we’ve seen before. But do we remember, or does what we see in the immediate downgrade our memory? Should I have asked this?

Because where we are now in the plot? Our plot seems quite overwhelming. I’m engaged with a cone of experience that projects from me. I move, it moves, the world shimmies. Suddenly I have neighbours. How do they operate? Do we speak? Do I engage? Do we both? When we do engage, it seems better to me – at least richer. I watch them unfold, and, if they engage with me, we find ourselves dancing, shadowing, allowing. Some information sticks: his face, how I placed my tools? Where they’re from? But not their name or the distance thing. Did I step too close? When they’ve moved on, I am no longer engaged, but I construct them. He: big head almost as wide as his shoulders, quilted jacket, curly hair, eyes like black olives, teacher, political, funny. She: scatty, frizzy ball on a cone. Arms gesticulating, jointed? Teacher, geography, Tallis, thinks she had the virus. Agree on everything with them or at least everything we say.

The dances with other neighbours are different, but the scorecards reveal after the event.

A phrase:

’Work in telly’ and I’m split. Part of me says.

’What does he do?’ Yeah he looks like an editor. Another part continues to weed and dig the border. I don’t ask for detail, just as I don’t ask her is she scared? Because I know it puts me in the wrong territory. I must not be too interested. We are allowed to compare our plots, but with self critical amusement and irony, and without actually saying what we think. He is jumpy, small head, suspicious, thinks I’m going to be too close to his beloved. She, girlish, frail, dry dark humoured, has the air of not-quite-dead crow, road kill, limping but bright-eyed and sharp, able to forage and possibly exaggerating her gait. Her mask is medical grade, not cheap disposable, no full PPE filter. She takes pride in it.

The newbies, one man and his puppet child, clearly get in everything including the way. He feints inexperience. But clearly does it by the book. Each day he leaves a neat illustration from the Readers Digest Home Garden Manual, down to the fork and sacking bookend. As the weeks pass, his master plan emerges: bamboo palaces, pyramids and teepees, dust surrounding de-potted seedlings, bought already striving.

The plots surround and jostle for attention. Further back, they fall into types; the diggers, the builders, the ornamentalists and then the warden.

He who watches. His plot immaculate, admired. Everyone knows his name. He decides: strimmer or not? Tidy your plot border. Even an email reminding us not to allow those from other households on our plot, because it had come to his attention that someone was bringing visitors to the site. Yes, and avail yourself of the sanitiser, with rigour to hands and handles, at the beginning of your time with us and at the end.

Secretly, his perfection rubs me up the wrong way. I intentionally choose to plant my plot without a rectangular grid. My planted areas include curves, and I frequently deviate from the mono cultured rows. Every little poke gives me a little more pleasure, and I hope he somehow knows it and resents it.

Ian Macnaughton,

 

 

 

Philipa Farley

Wheels Within Wheels – Part I

Following on from previous columns, where I had a bit of a moan about lockdown, I’ve decided to focus on change and being positive about change.  I’ll also alter my style a bit for this series.  Slightly more serious – but only slightly.

We’ve all had to change – whether we like it or not, whether we wanted to or not – over the last while.  Change is difficult.  Alongside the change, I’ve personally gone through varying cycles of emotion that range from utter despair and anger to acceptance and joy.  I have had to maintain being mindful throughout, as the negativity can take over quite quickly.

One of the tools I’ve used as part of my mindfulness practice is the ‘Wheel of Life’.  What is the Wheel of Life?  The Wheel of Life is a tool that is widely used in coaching circles, to simply benchmark where we’re at against where we’d like to be in certain areas of our life.  I use it as a personal accountability and development tool.  It keeps me on track, and from wandering down rabbit holes where I can get lost for days or months at a time.  You can adapt the concept to suit yourself and your own needs.

Before we get into the practicalities, some history first.  Some like to say the original, original concept came to us through Buddhism, however, the original concept originated with Paul J Meyer, the founder of the Success Motivation (R) Institute in the 1960s.

The original wheel, with six slices of the pie, looked like this:

You’ll note the sections were labelled:

  • Financial and Career
  • Mental and Educational
  • Physical and Health
  • Social and Cultural
  • Spiritual and Ethical
  • Family and Home

The more modern Wheel of Life is usually subdivided into 8 sections.  These are, commonly:

  • Business and Career
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Family and Friends
  • Romance
  • Personal Development
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Contribution to Society

My wheel of life is very similar, except I would have ‘Physical Environment’ in place of ‘Contribution to Society.’  This doesn’t make me a cretin who isn’t interested in society.  My contribution to society runs as a natural thread throughout my interactions with society; I don’t feel the need to actively measure this or set goals for it.  However, my physical environment is very important to me for various different reasons, so I prefer to measure this.

If you want to focus in on one area and break it down into other sections, the Wheel of Life can be used that way too. Some people use it to assess themselves in each of the roles they play in life, such as partner, manager, parent, sports coach, teacher, etc.  Try and keep your set consistent when designing it.

The Wheel of Life is used in two styles: pie and spider web. When we use the pie style, we draw a line to mark how far up the slice we are, whereas with the spider web wheel, we can plot points on the slices as if it is a graph.  Both result in the same messaging, though.  Personally, I use the pie style, keeping it simple.

In the next part of the series, I’ll look at how to get started: identifying what an aspirational 10/10 is for us in each of the categories of the Wheel of Life, and how we benchmark where we’re at now.  I look forward to sharing more with you in the next column: showing you how I use it in a very practical way, from longer term goal setting that then translates into small, daily actions that I take to reach said goals.  Through this, you’ll get a glimpse of how I managed to maintain a semblance of sanity during lockdown, even though our lives were turned upside down.

As a small teaser, you might want to try this online assessment: https://wheeloflife.noomii.com/

Philipa Farley

 

Don’t Change a Hair for Me

Here’s a cautionary, and true, romantic story.

Seán and Jenny had a wild romance: fiery, adventurous, hungry… especially hungry. They both loved fine food and tried to visit a nice restaurant at least once a week.

Giddy on passion and reckless zest, they developed an eating-out routine which combined their shared taste for theatrics with a soupçon of adrenalin. This involved Seán rising from his seat mid-dessert and sinking to one knee before Jenny, producing with a flourish the unmistakable, iconic cube of a ring box, as every eye in the place turned to watch this age-old human fairytale.

They were good actors, and invariably Jenny’s happy Oh-darling-I-do! would elicit a round of applause. More importantly, it also brought material benefits: free drinks, at least, and sometimes – you’d be surprised how often – a torn-up bill. Cakes were produced, waitresses sang songs. There are at least three upmarket bistros in Dublin where you can still see, pinned up behind the bar, a yellowing Polaroid of the allegedly betrothed, toasting their fictitious future with champagne donated by the beaming manager who’s embracing them both.

Even if their romantic hamming hadn’t moved the boss, some well-to-do fellow patron might pull out his credit card, spurred to generosity by this sentimental reminder of the beauty and optimism of l’amour even in our uncaring, dog-eat-dog age. The world will always welcome lovers, after all.

On holidays the pair fished for every conceivable freebie by claiming to be on honeymoon. They even brought props to support their Bonnie-and-Clyde sham: wedding cards, a bridal veil, leftover confetti. Happy, daring, aphrodisiac times ensued.

But of course they were playing with fire. Not just the fire of potential discovery, but the fire that smoulders, usually undetected, in the hearts of the young and infatuated. The lie oft-repeated became an internalised truth. Jenny made certain assumptions, subconscious perhaps but no less important for that. Seán meanwhile remained blissfully non-committal as the years whizzed by and the pretend engagements mounted.

It could only end one way. After five years they parted. Badly.

Five more years passed, years of hard graft, hard knocks. Lessons were learned on both sides. And finally there was a reunion. In a different restaurant, surrounded by another crowd of strangers, peace was made. Dessert was ordered. And Seán produced another little jewellery box – this time for real.

Tears in her eyes, Jenny rose to her feet. “Too late, darling, too late,” was all she whispered as she walked away. There was no applause. Seán quickly settled the bill, dozens of sympathetic watchers pretending not to see, and left.

George Wells

Many Diminishing Returns

It’s not helped by the weather.  I mean, it’s definitely that time when you start thinking about getting away.  Dawn chorus is actually getting louder; maybe it’s just the contrast.  I mean, there’s nothing happening.

Anyway, that’s the time for me.  We always used to set off then.  Car was packed, evening before, and then we’d eat something.  And I mean something; Mum was always thrifty – Dad said ‘Mean.’  So, whatever was left in the fridge was cooked and eaten, then off to bed, too excited to sleep.  Eyes shut, make it pass quicker, then woken by my dad saying “Shhhh, it’s time.”  We’d dress in that curious garb only worn for holidays.  Dad’s weird trousers that had zips just above the knees so they converted into badly fitting shorts.  Then downstairs without breakfast, off through the empty streets.  How long before we see another vehicle?

Like now.  The rumble behind all the other sounds is gone.  But we are still waiting to go away, to escape, to be released, for the summer, vacation, va-ca-tion?

Well it seems more vacant than a holy day.  I mean, the next step is unlikely to be a celebration.  It is not a return.  The new normal is not so easy to shed; it has to be tailored to fit the circumstances.  We’ve not been here before, and this journey is not a reversal – more a gradual course adjustment, a slight curve.  People say ‘when it’s over’ but can it be?  Over the horizon perhaps?  Which means we might glimpse further ahead.  Are we there yet?  Yes, we’re always there.  Is there a real ‘us’? Maybe the immediate household.

The family has, for some, returned to staycation; children are suddenly familiar with family.  For some, this will be a positive discovery; for others it will be ‘domestic.’  For some, it will be duty or servitude as carers; for others solitary ‘lives in parallel.’  Our main community is. in many cases. now digital and is itself fragmented.

So, which ‘us’ are they briefing?  Who is in it together?  The death rate among the solitary and the marginal has risen, the rest shunted into a virtual world in which social relations are through a screen, muffled, partial, and easily monitored.  Does this contribute to a sense of disempowerment; of being done unto?  It might be a contributory factor to recent rise in active protest.  Is that where ‘we’ need to be next?

Philipa Farley

Lockdown Lunch

It has been a while, dear readers, since I have been sat down and writing.  Much has happened in ‘lockdown’ which I won’t get into right now.*  Yes, I prefer the term ‘lockdown’ to ‘self-isolation’.  Like, I’m not self-isolating.  I haven’t chosen to isolate myself.  I’m not isolating because I’m not by myself.  ‘Self-isolation’ is a very confusing term.  We are, according to public health advice, limiting our interactions with people outside of our core home unit to the absolute essentials.  What do we call that?**  It’s definitely not ‘self-isolation’ in my book.

‘Lockdown’ is far more sexy and intimates some kind of purpose or goal, maybe.  If you say it the right way.  You can’t say it in a sad or whiny tone.  You have to say it with authority, possibly with your eyes slightly wider than usual, giving you a bit of a crazy look.  Practice in the mirror.

We started ‘lockdown’ gloriously.  Well, I think I did.  I spent hours in the kitchen making wonderful exotic dinners for the family.***  I’ve since lost count of the cheese toasts and teas I’ve consumed.  Unfortunately my waistline insists on bearing evidence.****

We have managed to avoid the whole artisan, bread starter craze but only because I’ve been there and done that.  That ish is worse than caring for a baby.  It gets everywhere and becomes all-consuming. The only excuse you’ll ever have for keeping a live starter is if you’re baking for your neighbourhood.  Don’t bother, otherwise.*****  We did build an open fire pit in the garden so we’ve reverted back to the African way of cooking over the open fire a bit.  That has been particularly enjoyable.  Possibly have gone feral making pallet furniture.  Yet to be completed.

On the food note, I decided to sign up to a cooking newsletter on email.******  First edition just arrived.  Full of soup recipes.  Soup.  Even the word: soup.  Say it.  The mouthfeel of the word soup is not even satisfactory.  If soup is not accompanied by a nice big fat plate of toasted sandwich with everything in them (preferably snackwich style for dunking), it’s not worth it.  I don’t know how I feel about drinking my food.  Never got into the juicing craze.  Smoothies need to be thick enough to eat with a spoon.*******

I also have just realised thanks to the red underline that snackwich is probably not a well known term.  South Africans call toasted sandwiches with the sealed edges from the home toasting machine a snackwich does in fact have a good mouthfeel when you say it.  Far more satisfactory than soup.

Cooking newsletter did not just seem to put soup on a pedestal.  It advocated biscuit making with lard.  Yeah yeah to the pros.  I get it.  Crispy biscuits.  Ireland has spoiled me for life.  Butter is queen.  Lard is not.  I love bacon, don’t get me wrong.  But knowing the fat from the abdomen of a pig is inside my delicious crispy biscuit is just not a great feeling at all.  Similar to handling raw chicken.  It makes me want to scrub, violently, with soap and hot water.  At least I won’t catch corona in my kitchen.

‘Til next time.

*Suffice to say, I cackle every time I see a man saying we’re all inadequate if we haven’t learned a new skill, blah blah.
**Being A Responsible Human?
***Didn’t last a week.
****Trying not to bare the evidence…definitely not a bikini ready summer, lads.
*****You’re welcome.
******Feels like 1999 again.
*******Smoothies count as food only when fruit to liquid (yoghurt) ratio is correct.

Dear You

I remember the first time I saw you. The light haloed you. What do they call it? An aura? Yeah, you had something about you. Something that drew me in. I knew I wanted to …. not to question but know, know you. Not like an address book, no I wanted to understand what makes you tick, at a molecular level, (chuckles). I wanted to be close to you. Yes you were beautiful, different, easy to look at, fit, elegant, nothing overstated, something drew me. Maybe your taste, I’m sorry, is this too much? Curiosity killed the cat. Or maybe the Cat had nine lives?

So I surveyed you. I’m not one to leap in. I like to know my locale. I’d find a comfortable position in the middle of the class. Part of your inner circle. I start to know you, through them. The neat way you take in the world, your habitat, the community? You are a warm, reliable, person. Not one who needs to see themselves liked by social media; a people person, touchy feely, a hugger; people feel they can rely on you, and you smell good. Not cheaply floral, no, broad, sweetly herbal, maybe spice and a healthy scent of exercise. I wanted to be immediate to you. The thought of being confined with you tickled me; in a warm closet or airing cupboard, dry and warm, intimate, shared breath, I can still feel your heat, smell your hair, taste your constrained breath. Your body frames mine. Clasping together. Your brother searches having reached ten. I was still small, too small to be taken seriously. But I meant it. Even then I was feeling it and it would only get stronger. But I had to bottle it. I, in the …. past, well, I suppose I’ve been too obvious, wooden, gauche. To win you, it had to seem like your victory. Otherwise you might think I was a stalker.

I love you. I don’t mean in a half hearted flirtatiously attached sort of way. Not dalliance, not a teasing exchange. You make me complete. I no longer imagine going places without you. You’re long term. Not just a travelling companion. In you I’ve seen myself. I can see our potential. You embody it. I commit to you fully.

But what do I get in response? Fear, I can taste it. The way you distance yourself. Not just slyly relocating the table tent at the meeting so as to avoid being my neighbour. No, excusing yourself from events, soirees, involving our mutual friends, always a reason, not a school day, migraine, need to catch that train and look, they can all see it. They know we fit together. Complimentary flavours, primary colours in our social palette. But you don’t buy it. Anyone would think I was toxic, I just need to be close. I’m not asking for conscious commitment. Choice is irrelevant. Our willing compliance is unnecessary. Our connection is fundamental. It seems trite to say we’re made for each other.

An item; we have a future; potential to make something simply beautiful. So this change in your behaviour, this cruelty will not go unanswered. I’m afraid, or rather I’m not. To be brutal is a mark of my passion. It’s all or everything. You can’t just cut me. I know where you are. How you behave and how to exploit your instinct. Take a long hard look at yourself and reconsider. Because I’m resilient, persistent and patient.

C