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

Energy Saving Lightbulbs

Bloody energy-saving lightbulbs, eh? They’ve attracted a lot of chatter lately, and the last thing this debate needs is rabid, misinformed invective from me. But here it is anyway.

For I have vast and unhappy experience of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), aka energy-saving or long-life bulbs. It started when an electrician skilfully smashed one in our small bathroom, a facility used mostly by the kids who were cavorting barefoot nearby. Naturally, he sloped off without a word, believing perhaps that placing one large shard of glass in the sink was sufficient duty-of-care for one lazy shiftless lifetime, and possibly unaware that (a) CFLs contain mercury and (b) mercury is bad.

That’s when I learned the proper, EPA-approved clean-up procedure for such scenarios. I won’t bore you with the details because well, they’re boring, but highlights include not being allowed to vacuum or brush (because that makes the mercury airborne) and using sticky tape to pick up small fragments and powder (because you’ve got all weekend to do this, right?)

Also, be aware that CFLs don’t play nice with dimmer switches. Don’t use them together, or, bang!, you’ll end up exploding both.

We have a CFL upstairs which has started to flicker. Constantly. It cost €7.99 a few months ago, but now it has to go. Last week I replaced the candle-style CFL in a child’s reading lamp, for €5.99, because it was melting.

Yes, melting. The whole energy-saving point of CFLs is they don’t get hot – unless, it seems, a fly gets incinerated inside their ugly tubular coils, which is what happened here. But c’mon, who knew that insects would fly towards lights? You can’t expect the bulb people to plan for something as rare as that, can you?

In the kitchen, we have an even more expensive “soft” CFL which supposedly replicates the warmer glow of incandescent bulbs. It also replicates their curvy, tasteful, almost mammary appearance. Sadly, however, it fails to replicate the not-being-a-piece-of-crap aspect of old-fashioned bulbs, in that it only works half the time. Weeks will pass without a single lumen – then one day it’s back, shining away. And I can’t throw it out if it’s still semi-working. I’m not made of lightbulbs.

Look, I’m being moderate here. I haven’t mentioned CFLs’ alleged links to epilepsy and migraine, the cancer scares around their ultraviolet emissions, and the distinct probability that the CIA is using radiation to brainwash and seduce our beautiful redheaded women. I’m not a crackpot.

But dammit, I’d rather sit in the dark than clean up after another broken “long-life” bulb.

George Wells

Viral Times

Deliverance it said.

I have been reading. I mean I do read especially if I’m waiting. For a delivery. You become very aware of time. When I’m logged on, when I’m not. You find yourself kind of quantifying your day by how long and how much; like your score.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I am part cyborg. Or rather we all are. I read somewhere that increasingly we’re kind of fused with our gadgets. Actually it’s not gadgets as a term – I mean, it sounds like they’re toys – but it’s more than that, and anyway they aren’t toys. In fact if I was talking toys, we’re the toys, or, rather, we feel like toys, as though we’re toyed with. You know – the ones the baby suddenly throws out.

Thrown out, or, rather, dropped; it’s like, I imagine, a bungee jump. You’re falling through life, I don’t know, eating breakfast or digging the garden? And suddenly, ’ding dong,’ it chimes. You’re yanked upward or out of it, delivery! And then it’s like, not exactly panicky, just fiddly – laces, pulling the fleece or jacket or maybe even waterproofs on, faffing but only until you’re on the bike, and the phone is mounted on the handlebars, then it goes smoother as your legs kick in, a change of gear. Almost like film being reversed, because you don’t feel completely there; still tasting the eggs.

From there on you can see yourself doing the routine: showing the number, standing back, social distancing, offer the bag, zipping up and back on the bike. Your senses are attuned to the information on the road. Your mind is elsewhere – maybe back at home, or maybe asking will there be another delivery after this. Until you get to the address, when you complete; then you’re back biking it home or ding dong again. This happens whenever you’re logged in; when it doesn’t happen you feel disappointed, because you’re not earning, and when it does you feel disappointed, because you have to sever yourself.

Anyway, reading: this journalist said that technology is becoming more integrated with our lives and work and that algorithms are increasingly ‘making the big decisions.’. He talks about a crisis in liberal democracy. That it has lost its way. It’s becoming less humane: the poor are getting poorer, the one percent are getting richer and governments increasingly are incapable of protecting the interests of the less well off. He says that we are just expected to behave -in particular ways that we’re nudged to, that the market is seen as the highest good, and human beings are no longer special, in themselves, but only ‘big data’ – just a herd whose behaviour can be nudged into particular directions. Technology is part of that. We kind of fit in with it. Not just the web, no, but everything. Social media, it kind of extends us; we live through it but it actually uses us. The power of it for those who own it is big, big data.

And I kind of get that. I do deliveries to people: they pay for food delivery, and we jump, and it is delivered. We are, notionally, clients engaged in a relationship, a business relationship with the company or more specifically the App. We have a very defined part to play, or be played. We do the moving, the physical part. We can say no, but then there’s always the question, will we get another? Will our stats count against us? It’s like sin, karma. Anyway, we don’t really have a choice if we want to get paid; we say yes, and then we do it. We behave by doing the action that they specify. Then we are rewarded. Our fees are increased – not our pay, because we’re not really employed. They invoice us to tell us how much we are receiving.

We are that thing – the zero hours contract thing. All they expect from us is to behave in a particular way, and if we get lucky we get sustenance. But it is quite fickle, the App; it’s an arbitrary god. At least it feels like that. One day it’s all milk and honey: tips galore, short runs, short waits and doubles. You are cooking on gas. But then, will you still love me tomorrow? Clearly, all too often the answer is no. The next day, week or fortnight is a regular desert, with skeletons littering it. Your mind starts playing with you. When it’s going smooth you think you’ve mastered the App.
If I only accept doubles, or short ones or long ones before six, then I will make enough. But the App has no charity. Because then you spend night after night not delivering. Every passing ‘ped’ is someone else receiving blessings, but you’re fated to die. The system always twists the knife. So the App is a cruel, capricious god. Just like the old gods. Just as you feel blessed, a bird shits in your mouth.

Now someone must have coded that, or made it a feature, because there are definite red letter days, and each rider has them and they rarely coincide. It all seems calculated to keep you guessing, hoping that today will be the day. Maybe it’s a behavioural nudge.

He who wrote the book says we can make one powerful choice, that is to refuse. He sees these moments of refusal as the significant moments. He even goes back to the old gods. Apparently the end of the persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire, and the empire’s subsquent adoption of Christianity, came about as people gave up on the daily performance of rituals in temples to those old gods. People recognised that the routine sacrifice and repeated offerings given actually made no difference to the run of fate. The character of the gods in legend and myth was frequently cruel and despotic, as though the storyteller was trying to explain their indifference to the lives of their worshippers.

The algorithms of the gig are similarly disinterested. Nothing moves them other than wealth accrued. The system similarly relies upon a stunted belief that human needs can be easily met by a greasy morsel presented by an economic inferior, kept in line by a system that favours any who own, and that promises a ladder of improvement to those who buy into acquiring first, a bike and then, a moped with all attendant insurance and security paraphernalia – those willing to submit to the futility of chasing the next good day. This all presented as the nature of the world. It is a line that cannot be questioned. The owners have always owned, and everyone needs to be driven by hunger and need. I wonder how, if ever, the rejection of the old gods can ever be echoed by a similar refusal to labour for such meagre reward?

Maybe the virus has created a window through which another vista is visible? It has certainly created a moment. A kind of sustained pause, a buffering point, at which our frantic ritual travel seems more intensely futile. Against the static painted backdrop, we plunge through the night – only the ambulances have similar urgency – every time the notification chimes. Our status as ‘key workers’ has risen. People frequently tip us and comment upon our service to them and the community. Strangely, this kindness of strangers throws the austere fees we receive from the App into sharp relief. This all occurs in a moment when the economy is faltering, economic activity largely halted.

This gap is less bridgeable for some. Many are living on borrowed time. Reserves are stretched. Disposable income is no more. Some who hoard wealth can sit back on their haunches and wait to pick the carcass clean. But we can all make a decision to not be bound by this, to not deliver. To not accept property as the rule. Eat the food you were to deliver. Insist that hoarded wealth in offshore havens pays out and is redeployed. Bankers bail society out rather than the reverse.

The writer I refer to as ‘journalist’, is Paul Mason, who’s book ‘Clear Bright Future’ I highly recommend.

Ian Macnaughton

Ian is an actor, writer and Deliveroo courier who lives in London.

Number Withheld

Yesterday I received four calls from a blocked number. This has been going on for weeks now.

I received them, but I didn’t accept them. Nor will I, no matter how often the dastards call. Like many others, I won’t answer blocked numbers. The era of friendly, unsuspicious telephone-obedience is over, and good riddance to it. Telemarketers, stalkers, creditors and odious prank-calling radio DJs have brought the age of telecommunications innocence to a shameful, paranoid end, like a bankrupt businessman’s relationship with first-class airport lounges.

These days, making a call with your number blocked is like wearing a balaclava to a speed dating event. It’s like covering someone’s eyes from behind, yelling “Guess who?” but refusing to take your hands off. It’s like going to a job interview with one of those black rectangles from old-style “identities concealed” news reports pasted over your upper face (which would actually be totally cool, now that I think of it).

You may well be experiencing similar harassment yourself; I know of two other confirmed cases (and we’re all on the same network, for whatever that’s worth). One guy, Dave, actually answered recently, and got thirty seconds of silence before he hung up. But still that infuriating impersonal buzz keeps coming.

It’s gotta be a call centre. If a reasoning human being was behind this, and they really wanted to get through, surely they’d have the cop-on to change the “send number” setting on their mobile, or fire off a text message. If they’re using an unlisted landline, they should know that entering 142 before dialling makes your number visible just for that call.

Call centres, on the other hand, navigate by the pure hard stars of bits and bytes. Once your number’s on their list, once you’re scheduled, then no force on earth can prevent that hateful ring-ring from finding you. Their evil computer brains advance-call the next number even if no-one’s yet ready to talk to you. Not a microsecond of company time is wasted; immediately poor Jimmy Q Agent on node 212 finishes one call, he’s connected directly to you or me, wondering who the hell this is while he fumbles the intro of his why-you-need-underpants-insurance spiel.

Except he won’t be connected to me. I don’t care how often he calls, who he is, or what he wants. I’m not taking his call. Show your number, you dirty feckers, and maybe we can talk.

George Wells

Philipa Farley

Summer Plans

Transplanted. Geeking out about most things AI, law and quantum, offline and online, when not spending time with the family, pets, and friends. Expect commentary on food and wine from time to time.

What are your summer plans? I can tell you that we were planning on a trip to the seaside, possibly to a hotel. This was besides quite a long list of day trips out to touristy joints such as the Cliffs of Moher. We were perhaps partly planning at some point to go to Disneyland Paris*. These things obviously depended on work going well. You know, because I’m ‘self-employed’** and these things are generally achievable and within our control.

Well, Mother Nature, God, the Universe and everything else has handed us 2020 on a plate with a side serving of ‘screw your plans, human’! I suppose at this point on day whatever of whatever we call this situation – lockdown? quarantine? self-imposed semi-solitude while we count our loo rolls? – it is as good a time as any to practice gratitude, mindfulness and everything else akin to such.

I’ll start with gratitude for the fact that we likely won’t be subjected to masses of humanity in small enclosed spaces over the summer. Most likely you, dear Reader, will have experienced the deep joy of overwhelm and meltdown, as we have on several occasions, in the midst of activities that had previously been begged for with much persuasion. So, I am thankful that I can just cite COVID-19 LOCKDOWN 2020 in response to any such Disneyland related requests, parks and cruises included. My screw you to TV advertising during prime time! We’ll save a few ‘youro’ in the meantime too. Happy days.

Let us move on to mindfulness and living in the present moment, because, let’s be honest, there doesn’t seem to be a single human on this earth that can tell us what tomorrow will bring. Our default is the present moment. And it’s pretty damn uncomfortable! I’m on the verge of doing the |||| / on the wall above my desk. I keep having to ask what actual day it is. Now, more than ever before, we realise what a man-made construct time in fact is.

Everything else akin? Well, I for one am at the stage of hands in the air and do what you want***. Really, I am. I am a compulsive goal setter, planner and organiser. These are great skills in the context of a regular and functioning system. Right now, not so much. They are anxiety causing beasts.

Which brings me to the last point of this likely last column because like our previous reality, all changes at some point****. Was ‘before’ regular and normal? Is the universe resetting? Should we have taken the other colour pill? Forgive me, I seem to have woken up in the midst of the type of ridiculous movie that I usually don’t go and watch because when will that ish ever happen to us? Daily life feels like driving in the mist. It just swirls without context or horizon.

So, with time passing as it inevitably does, this summer, you might find me and us here at home, braai’ing*****, fixing up the garden and generally enjoying each other’s company. Outsiders of the household might be welcome but keep your two-metre distance. Happy days!

*The smallies were negotiating a cruise. Not going to happen ever because I have the words DIAMOND PRINCESS forever burned into my prefrontal cortex. Everything from hereon in will be put through the COVID-19 LOCKDOWN 2020 filter.

**On my LinkedIn though, I’m a director, lead auditor and consultant. Sounds so much better, no?
***But only after the daily schedule has been strictly adhered to – school work, cleaning, meals by the clock.
****Someone else can have a turn now!
*****Because barbecuing apparently holds a whole cultural context that we have yet to wrap our heads around.

Philipa Farley