Four is Fair

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

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

See, that was easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Internet is too small

The Internet is too small for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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