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Life or death, withdrawn or at risk, shielded and key.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.

 

The Anxiety Song, by Futzy and the Bitch

Guests at the launch concert of Xanadu Online Theatre in September 2020 would have heard this song being debuted.  Many people have had an increase in anxiety levels over the past year, but does yours have a name?

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?


			

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….


Why Lockdown has been a Lifeline for me, by Mary Tynan

Lockdown may have made life smaller for many people, but it made mine bigger.

Unlike most people, I wasn’t that upset when the first coronavirus lockdown began.  As far as I could see, it wasn’t going to make much difference to my life.  But I was wrong: it made my life better.

As a chronically ill, disabled person (I suffer from the neurological condition (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) living alone in a rural location, I had long been used to spending most of my time alone.  Many weeks, if I didn’t visit a shop, I didn’t see anyone.  And shopping was becoming harder – I had already begun the transition to grocery delivery before the pandemic.  I connected with people mostly via telephone or, more and more as time went on, via the web.

I used social media such as Facebook for two main purposes: to keep up with people that I rarely saw, such as friends from my previous life as an actor in London, and to make new friends, especially within the ME and chronic illness communities.  I joined support groups, book clubs and other interest groups; I attended and ran virtual pub quizzes and parties.  I also used the internet for solo activities, such as practising and learning languages on Duolingo, and studying everything from Archaeology to Cyber Security.  I was well-practised at living life online.  What happened early this year is that everyone joined me.

Right at the beginning of Lockdown, some friends and I decided to set up an online school.  Ar Líne Le Chéile was small, and part-time, and wasn’t intended to replace or compete with anything that children were getting from their regular teachers – rather, it was to help combat loneliness and isolation.  In this it succeeded, and our small class of primary school children had formed great friendships by the time we finished in June.  As I was already an experienced teacher, I took an active part in this, the highlight of which was the weekly multidisciplinary lesson where we made virtual visits to such places as the British Museum, NASA and the London Underground.  It was a lovely feeling to have my own class again, for the first time since 2008.  A side effect of this for me was that my old interest in coding was reawakened by a Scratch class run by another teacher (Philipa Farley, the writer of our Farley’s Philosophy column), and I ended up learning the Python programming language during the month of April when Pluralsight offered free courses for a month.

There was so much life online all of a sudden!  Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and plays from the National Theatre, for example, were available to watch free of charge.  I attended an online 80s concert with a couple of friends, who didn’t know each other previously; we watched in our separate homes and chatted via text at the same time.  I joined an online choir, and played board games with friends all over Ireland via WhatsApp.

I had an online magazine, Notes From Xanadu, predominantly an arts review, which had been semi-dormant over the preceding five years.  I had written a couple of Covid-related articles, and was in the process of revitalising it.  Then I had an idea: instead of relaunching as just a magazine, why not do something novel and create an online arts centre?  I set the date for the May bank holiday weekend, and got in touch with artists of all genres.  Over the four days of the launch we had 20 different features, ranging from writing to opera (world-renowned soprano Ailish Tynan was one of our first contributors) to puppetry.  We had visitors from numerous countries on six continents, and have continued to gain new followers and artists since then.

Although I don’t generally manage to get out much, I always do something for my birthday, whether that’s a restaurant and/or pub visit, or a small party at my house.  I decided not to let the virus stop me this year, and organised my first audio-visual virtual party.  I had guests from as far apart as London and New Mexico, and we played games, performed music, chatted and generally had a “night out.”  Unfortunately, problems with internet connections kept a few people away, but the evening was enough of a success for me to decide to develop a theatre as part of the online arts centre.

On 23 September 2020, Xanadu Online Theatre was born, with a launch concert/variety show featuring artists from three different time zones, and an invited audience from countries stretching from Finland to the US.  Unlike other similar ventures that have begun since Covid 19 gave us the New Normal, which use Zoom and other such platforms, this theatre is embedded in the Notes From Xanadu website and uses the open-source software Jitsi, which very much fits ideologically with the values of the online arts centre.

As part of the launch concert, I decided to perform a short scene with an actor friend in New York, Ash Reddington, and thus I found myself practising my craft as an actor for the first time in almost 6 years.  I have since set up an in-house theatre company, and we are having our first show in December.  Thus, as a result of the virus, I find myself where I thought I would never be again – in the rehearsal room, preparing to act on stage in front of a live audience.

This is the first in a series.  Watch out for accounts of other people’s positive lockdown experience in the coming weeks.

 

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 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.

Adam Driver, by Futzy and the Bitch

Have you had any fantasies during lockdown?  They’re completely harmless, right?  I know Futzy and the Bitch have a strong marriage, so I’m not worried about them at all.

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

 

Come Shopping with Me, by Ash Reddington

Ash Reddington is a talented Irish actor, writer and filmmaker who is based in New York City.  In this short comedy film, her character Svetlana goes window shopping in Manhattan during lockdown.

You can find out more about Ash at her Backstage page.

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

Ein Traum, sung by Ailish Tynan

Ailish Tynan is a world-renowned soprano who has played the lead in operas such as La Boheme, Hansel and Gretel, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Magic Flute, appearing in venues such as The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Grange Park.  She also performs extensively at recitals and concerts, and is a regular on the BBC Proms.  Here she performs Ein Traum by Edvard Grieg, from his Sechs Lieder, Opus 48, accompanied on the piano by James Baillieu.  This was recorded while in self-isolation during the current Covid 19 pandemic.  An English translation of the song is printed below the video.  Ailish is represented by Steven Swales Artist Management.

A Dream

English Translation © Richard Stokes

I once dreamed a beautiful dream:
A blonde maiden loved me,
It was in the green woodland glade,
It was in the warm springtime:
The buds bloomed, the forest stream swelled,
From the distant village came the sound of bells—
We were so full of bliss,
So lost in happiness.
And more beautiful yet than the dream,
It happened in reality,
It was in the green woodland glade,
It was in the warm springtime:
The forest stream swelled, the buds bloomed,
From the village came the sound of bells—
I held you fast, I held you long,
And now shall never let you go!
O woodland glade so green with spring!
You shall live in me for evermore—
There reality became a dream,
There dream became reality!

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.

Ar Líne Le Chéile – Online Together

Before I was involved in an online arts centre, I was involved in an online school.

The Covid-19 has involved a lot of “online firsts” for me, many of which involves using new software for face-to-face online conversation. Ar Líne Le Chéile was the first of the firsts.

As soon as the schools in Ireland were shut, on Thursday 12 March, three friends (Notes from Xanadu contributors Philipa Farley and Simon Woodworth, and electronic engineer Gerard Heaney) and I decided to set up an online school. We wanted to be able to help children of friends and family with any isolation and loneliness that they might be feeling as a result of the crisis, and to give them the opportunity to explore new ideas with each other. The next day, Philipa gave Gerard and me an introduction to Microsoft Teams, and two days later I ran a trial lesson with my niece and nephew, to make sure I knew what I was doing, software-wise (with more than a decade’s experience I was fairly confident on the teaching front).

As it soon became clear that the regular schools would be sending work home for the children, I decided to have a different focus – theme-based, multi-disciplinary lessons designed to whet the student’s appetite for further exploration or activity, in whichever direction might take their interest. The first of these was a virtual visit to the British Museum to visit the Rosetta Stone. We also used a hieroglyphic typewriter, and made posters. After a meeting with parents on the Monday night, the school opened with this lesson on Wednesday, 18 March, with 11 pupils.

We settled into a regular routine after that with the themed lesson on Mondays and an associated feedback class on Fridays. On Wednesdays, I led a half-hour conversational Irish class, whilst Philipa taught Scratch programming on Thursday. Gerard gave us an evening Introduction to Electronics on the second week. During what would have been the school holidays, I led a weekly “keeping in touch” session on the two Thursdays.

Ar Líne Le Chéile has pupils from Sligo, Roscommon, Dublin, Cork and Galway. The school is free, and the teachers are giving their time as volunteers. I asked some of the children and parents for their thoughts for an earlier press release.

“It’s a great way to learn – you feel connected with other learners” said Jack Keaney, a 12-year-old student.

Charlotte Gask, mum of three of the students, had this to say:

“For me, I think the subjects are great. It lovely that it includes lots of ages and abilities, but mostly I love that it is scheduled. It gives us an anchor for our ‘school’ day.”

Her daughter, Georgie Longstaff, added:

“I like it, it’s more fun than school.”

Philipa’s two daughters, Ruth and Zoë, love that they can help demonstrate and make a game (while learning). They also like helping their mother to teach.

We are currently on a two-week break, and there was some thought that maybe the normal schools might be resuming before the end of that, but An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement yesterday has made it clear that primary and secondary schools will not be reopening until September. Ar Líne Le Chéile, on the other hand, will be resuming on 11 May. Our students are the nicest bunch of children you could possibly hope to meet, and I am looking forward to seeing them all again on Monday week – nuair a bheidh muid ar líne le chéile arís (when we will be online together again).

Mary Tynan

More information about our school can be found at www.arlinelecheile.school.

Covid Economics

The grave situation we find ourselves in with regards to the coronavirus could actually also be an opportunity for positive change in a couple of ways. Here, I would like to address the first of these. It is quite obvious that the current, long-prevailing, market-based, economy-driven form of supply is not going to be able to meet the needs of the majority of people. We cannot continue to base the distribution of goods and services on the monetary wealth of those concerned. There will be very few winners and millions of losers.

An awful lot of people are going to lose their jobs. The first to be hit will be the hospitality and tourism industries, but this is a house of cards and each industry depends on supplying the needs of another. The money is going to continue the trend of recent years and move towards the bank accounts of a smaller and smaller group of people. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What people have started to forget is that money is only useful if it’s used to buy things, whether goods or services – it’s not meant to be an end in itself, a goal to chase after, a way of keeping score, so that some people have so much that it would take them several lifetimes to spend. It’s not an entity, like a person or an animal – it doesn’t “need to be free.” It doesn’t actually exist in that sense. It’s a social construct.

How about if we start thinking about what we actually need, rather than how much money we need to buy it? If the global financial markets and stock exchanges crash, does that mean there are any less actual tangible resources in the world? We still have the same amount of land, food, houses, people, technology and expertise as we had the day before. So, what do we need?

At the very basic level we need food, shelter and healthcare. At the next level we have the things that bring living to life, such as education, entertainment, and communication. Then there is transport and travel. Finally, there are technologies to support all these things.

Is there any reason why all these things should be entirely dependent on a free-market economy? Starting from the expertise level, there are many, many examples of people who share this without payment. People teaching/tutoring/coaching in subjects they are experts in, whether within their own circle of friends and family, or within the wider community through charities such as adult literacy. People writing software that was shared for free (the early days of the internet were heavily dominated by this kind of people, as opposed to the advertising model that prevails now). People devoting their spare time to uploading books to Project Gutenberg, so that copyright-free works can be available free of charge world-wide. Entertainment is an obvious one: there are very few people who get into acting, music, writing fiction, etc, in order to get rich. The same can be said for the majority of people in the healthcare, education and other caring professions. Scientists are not in it for the money. Food: community gardens growing crops together, people volunteering their time in foodbanks and soup kitchens. Shelter: housing co-ops who build homes together in much the same way as communities such as the Amish have always done.

Money was supposed to be a tool, a medium of exchange, something to work in our service. Instead, we have ended up serving it. It is a game with an ever-decreasing amount of billionaire winners, and an ever-increasing number of destitute losers. It doesn’t make any sense. A situation like the current pandemic gives us a unique opportunity to re-evaluate and change this. Forget about accumulating wealth. Let money be our servant rather than the other way around.. Let’s use it for sharing resources. Let’s use it to build community. Let’s use it to make sure that everyone’s basic needs are met as an absolute minimum, and then let’s look at what else each of us can give – to each other.

Mary Tynan