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Working from home – or not, as the case may be – Lockdown Life 2020

In just a couple of months, a plethora of new expressions have entered the nation’s lexicon.

‘Social distancing,’ ‘the new normal,’ ‘key workers,’ ‘phased return,’ ‘PPE,’ all now tripping from our tongue with the honeyed delivery of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

But who paraphrased, ‘working from home’, or WFH?

As oxymorons go, it’s an Olympic gold.

WFH – ‘wringing frayed hands?’ perhaps. ‘Worrying fringe hair, ‘wanton ‘food hoarding’, ‘waiting for Hermes’ - all possibly true. But working, actually working, that’s debatable.

Despite nearly a quarter of the British workforce being furloughed (and there’s another term few had used until 23 March), this still leaves many millions wrestling with professional employment, while simultaneously stage-managing domestic pressures: “I’ve got to go and put on my mortar board,” my mate, a wry journalist, expostulated, terminating our call and tearing himself from the penning of a leader column to the task of education supervision for the under tens.

A couple of years ago during a live BBC interview, how the world laughed when Professor Robert Kelly, discussing a subject not known for its high humour quota (namely South Korea’s grave political turmoil) was interrupted by his kids entering the home-based exchange.

Little Marion (4) danced in with a jaunty swagger. Brother James (nine months), complete with baby walker, zipped in behind. In hot pursuit, mum, realising the gravity of the situation, quickly herded them from the room with the skills of a Calgary cowman, but not before delivering punchline, low-level, armography, of which Anton de Burke would be proud.

The perils of ‘working from home’ have recently become all too familiar to so many.

Smug in the knowledge that home-made soup was nestling in the freezer, merely awaiting quick release from its icy tomb, last Monday I settled down to work for the day.

Hastening to the kitchen, as the timetabled lunch-hour approached, I discovered the bag had split, liquid having reformed into an aggressive, unusable block, encasing ice-cream tub, puff pastry and a bag of peas.

Change of menu. It was a (very) late lunch. Oops.

Early in lockdown, bedding plants were off the agenda, so seeds it was. In late May, they’re just appearing (we’re going for the marigold and Halloween look). Having very recently braved putting them out to play on a full-time basis, imagine the horror when, during a work call, I watched as my spindly babies, upturned by Mother Nature, were mercilessly strewn across the lawn.

Interview cut short. Rescue mission marigolds. Another hour gone.

The day dawns bright. You put the washing out. You look up from the computer; it’s pouring. Washing has to come in, NOW! The dog needs a walk. The dog can wait. The dog really needs a walk. Arrrgh!

Parenting’s another time-consumer. All those wonderful subliminal services that schools provide – dealing with nose bleeds (check), computer failure (check), a counselling facility (check), exercise monitoring (check), hearty meals at regular times (check, check, check) have now to be subsumed into daily routine.

Professor Kelly worried that dear old Auntie Beeb might not want him back after familial intervention. He needn’t have been concerned, receiving upwards of 86million YouTube hits. For a few days anyway, he was the hottest media ticket in town, although perhaps not for his learned views on South Korea’s political stability. The very fact that his kids appeared was the attraction.

Previously, the professor might have agreed with the entertainer W.C. Fields who said: “Never act with children or animals.”

Pretty tough though when your current stage is the house with a supporting cast of children and animals.

But, hey, Fields started-off life juggling balls for a living. Lockdown has made us all proficient in his art, so it’s important to remember not to be too hard on ourselves if we do drop the ball from time to time.

Mairi Fraser


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