Three-day weak

three day week

Because I’m not having to commute to work, I’ve replaced the time I would normally be on a train playing i-Spy with unsuspecting passengers, by walking.
Aside from taking photos of various flora and fauna and keeping them in a folder ready to show anyone out dogging (regardless of whether it’s a Doberman, Chihuahua or Ford Cortina), I’m listening to documentaries on my radio.
These past few weeks I’ve been listening to the BBC’s 25-years of rock. This week, I listened to 1973. It is, as the show title suggests, mainly songs, but interspersed with clips of news items. Really good if you were a fan of Ted Heath or Richard Nixon!
One of the songs, ‘You’re so vain’, I thought particularly apt, as I like to keep my hair in place in my local park, even when going through particularly dense undergrowth – David Bellamy I’m not.
1973 saw us enter Europe, work three-day weeks, wish we’d bought shares in Wandsworth’s Price’s Candles and sit in cars for hours, queuing for petrol, when the question: ‘are we nearly there yet?’ had the consequence of having your Green Shield Stamp allocation being taken away by an equally-bored parent.
It was also the year of the release of ‘Tubular Bells’ – bought mainly for the B-side, which, played backwards, got you a small part in ‘The Exorcist’.
For me it was the year I managed to obtain one-seventh of the O-levels I took; my excuse being I was trying to learn the words to ‘Tubular Bells’; sadly, I only got as far as ‘two slightly distorted guitars’.
Although, I did learn that a mandolin wasn’t a small French cake.

Mrs Mills solves a problem like Maria

mrs mills

Not that I went to the theatre before the lockdown, but now, thespians around the world are bringing their offerings, using live streaming, into your front room.
To make this experience even more intimate I believe you should take part in the actual screening: if it’s Les Misérables then sling all your cushions onto the carpet and build a barricade; if it’s Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and his technicolour dream coat, get that crochet kit down from the loft and help the Family Jacob out – it doesn’t have to be any special material – any wool will do (see what I did there?) and, if you’re watching Macbeth, and you have lodgers, try not to murder them in their sleep and watch what’s being put into that evening’s stew.
It’s also your chance to be the next Vanessa Redgrave or Neil Pearson (good Tooting boy) and say the lines as your favourite character. Take the TV remote, hover your finger over the “mute” button and when it’s your turn say: “To be or not to be”; sing: “I dreamed a dream” or re-enact the fight scene from Women in Love – although mind that fire.
Give it everything – no one will see you (if you’ve got nets); no one will hear you (unless you’ve not got double-glazing) and no one will say anything unless the nets are in the wash, the windows are wide open and you’ve left the living room light on.
And if all that fails, get that nun’s costume out and pretend to be Julie Andrews singing about a goatherd with no mates and potential altitude sickness.
Plus, who needs an excuse to put on an excessive amount of make-up? Oh dear, time for the lockdown to end.
Ready for you now, Mrs Mills.

SOS

flag-semaphore

Given the current lockdown, 1967 was a very important year for me.
As a ten-year-old living in south London, this was the year I attained my Cub’s Signallers’ Badge.
As I still work, my communications these days involve Zoom (not the lolly, nor the 1982 Fat Larry’s Band hit); Webex (like Zoom, only with more spiders) or Teams (not ideal if you’re an only child). House Party isn’t perceived as professional, plus I’m at an age when most things are too loud anyway, so this method won’t ever feature with my client calls.
The novelty of video calls has worn off; so I’ve ordered a set of giant semaphore signalling flags, as my future communication will be waving these frantically from the roof of my house.
My training, back in 1967, involved several wintry weeknights going to a house in Tooting to be taught semaphore by a man so old he could have been Samuel Morse. There was no bell on the front door, just a selection of tom-tom drums in the porch with which to send messages saying you were outside the house (oh, and please either open the door or pop an umbrella through the letterbox).
With my work cap on, as opposed to my Cub cap (and matching woggle), I will be starting business meetings with no introductory pleasantries, but with messages I learned during my 1967 communications course: “My boat is sinking”; “Can anyone erect a tent?” and “I think I’ve burned my sausages”.
In case the latter is construed as a euphemism, I’ve also ordered a set of Aldis lamps.

You’ll be lucky

fence

I had to look up what two-metres was in old money. Turns out it’s six-foot, six and a half. I am six and a half inches smaller than that so, if I’m social distancing, I have to lie down and visualise I’ve grown another head.
Apart from very small basketball players, what else is two-metres, so I can mentally imagine this distance in shops?
There is a chart for children which depicts how tall things are, enabling them to see where they fit: Queen Victoria (very short at 152cm); a baby giraffe (183cm) or a female ostrich (194cm). This is as high as the chart goes, the assumption being that, once your child has grown to six- foot-three, they probably aren’t that interested in marking how tall they are with a pencil.
We are now a nation where, if you want to talk to anyone not in your household, you’re going to have to learn how to project your voice (sales of Betamax videos of John Gielgud Acting for Beginners Masterclasses have gone through the roof). People are keeping a safe distance and talking to your neighbour across a fence is (after an absence of about fifty-years) making a coming back.
Up and down the country people are re-enacting Al Read sketches.
And the safe distance either side of a fence will be one-metre of bedding plant. If you’re shouting across the fence, make sure you pronounce the word begonia correctly or Neighbourhood Watch will be on your case.
So, if you see people walking down the street dressed like Bernie Clifton, don’t worry, they’re only going to have a gossip with their neighbour.
Anyone got a cup of sugar?

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Rapunzel

pinocchio

What bloody day is it?
I’ve not felt this day confusion since my last six-week school holiday and given my last playtime was forty-seven years ago, I’ve lost count which day it is.
Given the lockdown could last for months, I’ve decided I might get a set of seven underpants and, together with my name tag, sew in a label stating which day of the week it is.
The only problem, given the current shortages and delays in deliveries of certain items, you can’t guarantee what you want and end up with a substitution like when the Ocado delivery person gives you spam when you’d ordered sun-dried tomatoes.
Having ordered my daily pants, I notice from the confirmation, that they will all be Disney-themed. Therefore, no need for any sewing-in of any day tags, I shall simply create a mnemonic to remember which day it is: Mickey; Tigger; Woody (insert your own gag here); Tinkerbell; Anyone from Frozen; Simba and Snow White.
The inherent danger here is if it’s Thursday and I have an accident with Tinkerbell pants on.
My favourite Disney character is Pinocchio – sadly there in no day of the week beginning with P, so I won’t be wearing those; no bad thing if I ever started to lie wearing them. Mind you, in this cold weather, that’s largely academic.
Do you want to build a snowman?

It’s Wagner!

wagner

I like to think my Man Cave is slightly more sophisticated than Fred Flintstone’s.
While I haven’t got a pet dinosaur (walking it day and night in mid-winter doesn’t appeal) I do have everything I need in my self-appointed self-isolation room.
Because I’m working from home, and with no one to talk to (or at as I’m an only child), I need to have elements of distraction and comfort. I have a desk; an ergonomic chair; a sofa for lounging on, in the style of Noel Coward, when I’m not having to look at Excel spreadsheets, Word documents or participate in Zoom video calls.
But above all, I have BBC Radio 3.
I realise classical music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I have plenty of that too) but, as I sang in a church choir (arguably when I looked my most angelic) and also played in the school orchestra – I was third violin (mainly because they didn’t have a fourth, fifth or six – I wasn’t brilliant, but it did get me out of Maths); although if Richard Wagner had ever heard me playing his overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, he’d have turned in his Bayreuthian grave.
This exposure, throughout my life, has endeared me to the genre of music they play on Radio 3 (although I do struggle with Jazz Record Requests), especially Essential Classics which is on during weekdays mornings – it offers great, accessible music with some light-hearted banter too – it keeps me sane, plus sometimes I can sing along or pretend I still own a violin.
However, because it is on in the background, I tend to forget it is on and on it remains during my newly-increased habit of video conference calls. While no one in my offices or any of my clients believe I’m training to be one a concert pianist, I was asked the other day, “What is that noise?” (The overture to Fidelio) I now know not everyone likes Beethoven and many people with whom I have these calls think it is a film about a giant dog. I have yet to fully master “mute” during some of these calls – although there is a part of me which believes I’m educating and entertaining my fellow video call participants.
A video conference call in itself is a curious things: several people on my computer screen, in their own contained box, make it like watching an episode of Celebrity Squares. As, at 62, I’m invariably the oldest one on the call and think of myself as Arthur Mullard or Pat Coombs.
I must encourage more of my video callers to listen to Radio 3, who knows, some might come away knowing that Wagner isn’t just some random bloke who appeared in X-Factor.

Haircut 100 (days in solitude)

haircut

When will I get my hair cut (properly) again? As the amount of conference calls grows, so is my consciousness to look professional, but, if my hair isn’t likely to get cut for another three months, there is the danger it will be the length it was in 1970, the only difference being, I’m no longer thirteen and Mungo Jerry not Number One.
I wonder if that’s what will happen with contact only via a phone or computer screen? If this is the route we’re going I might as well get my flares down from the loft now and buy as many different coloured pieces of wool to create the mother of all tank-tops.
I will probably have a fear of girls, as I did when 13. My insistence of wearing tank-tops, which would have made the biblical Joseph look colour blind, didn’t exactly help my cause.
When this is all over and get invited to my first party will I be taking a Party 7, a bottle of Blue Nun together with the Simon & Garfunkel album, Bridge over Troubled Water. And all this smelling of too much Aramis. If the latter is correct that will ensure my own social distancing will continue.
(Although there is a certain irony that the 8th best-selling single in 1970 was the England World Cup squad singing Back Home. I’m surprised this isn’t played during any messages given by Boris Johnson).
I’m at that age when I can remember great details about 1970 but cannot remember much about yesterday (oh yes, I stayed in).
1970 was the first year of Glastonbury, a town previously only famous through King Arthur having rented a flat there. Half a crowns were no longer legal tender and given that these were the coin which were fed to the gas meter I feared my teenage years would be in perpetual darkness (and owning such a selection of tank-tops I’m surprised there weren’t).
Will my return to work show a 1970s-length hair or will everyone have thought themselves an amateur Vidal Sassoon? Or return looking like Yul Brunner, Duncan Goodhew or Uncle Fester?
I shall miss going to my barber. To whom will I be able to tell where I’ve been on my holidays, that I don’t work locally and that I am the person who last cut my hair?
I think I might watch an episode of Desmond’s for some ideas.

Vole steam ahead

trees

Bit like being in the Scrubs, you are now allowed to leave your house once a day for exercise.
Because of the closure of gyms nationally, and therefore the need to find a replacement to my cancelled Zumba classes, I am taking advantage of this allowance from the correctly-advised government-induced curfew.
A few days in and I’m witnessing things near my house I’d driven past previously (probably quite badly as Lewis Hamilton I’m not) but can now stop and think and wonder which aspect of flora and fauna I’m looking at.
However, the disadvantage of having been brought up in urban south London, means my limited knowledge of nature is confined to the ability of being able to identify different dog turds. We did have trees, but they would either be goalpost one, goalpost two or a very thick cricket wicket. No one ever returned home saying “Mother, dearest, my friends and I managed to scale the entire height of a Canadian Redwood earlier.” (Also, because this was Tooting Bec Common and not a park in Vancouver)
Having escaped, like the TV programme to, suburbia, the nature-identification needs are far greater. Aside from identifying a dead mouse (it could have been a vole or a shrew, I’m assuming here) I’m struggling with my lack of knowledge.
Because of this ignorance I’m thinking of taking a series of educational books with me on my daily hike: The Observer Book of Birds; the Observer Book of Trees; the Observer Book of Dead Rodents.
Carrying the contents of a small mobile library could also act as a replacement for the free weights I use at the gym. I could strengthen my biceps courtesy of a book with several pages devoted to pictures of deceased gerbils.
I’m going out early in the morning for my walk. I’m at that age when I wake up early and have invariably done the ironing by half four. Walking around you notice many things about peoples’ houses: the porch lights which come on when you walk past (handy if you’re an aspiring burglar – which I could be as I suit black); as the houses get bigger, so the car number plates become more personalised (my car’s number plate is MDZ, which would work if my surname was Zither) and whose nets need cleaning.
Today, during my hour-long traipse, I passed four people, two running, two walking like me (the two walking probably having a copy of I-Spy in Suburbia tucked inside their newly-bought kagools. The normal British response would be to ignore any passer-by, but these are different times and I’m wondering what the correct protocol might be? Should I have said anything or even doffed my cap (or in today’s case, my Bayern Munich bobble hat)?
As this process continues then I’m sure we’ll all be talking – albeit shouting across various roads to each other, keeping a safe distance, obviously, “Did you see that dead mouse on Banstead Road?” “That was no mouse, that was an aardvark!”
This in turn will prompt me to return home and order the Observer Book of Ant-Eaters.
Time to wash my nets.

WFH; WTF; VPL

cabin

I’m one week in into working from home or WFH to give it its abbreviated title. It would seem these are the words used by WFH novices; veterans of WFH call it: “working remotely”.
However, with the closure of anywhere where you can sit for hours on end tending an increasingly cold cardboard cup of something which originally housed a large latte, these “remote” people will be restricted to WFH and therefore, be on the same level as us WFH newbies.
This could go on for three-months – or, if you’re a gynaecologist, a trimester. I am not a gynaecologist and the nearest I will be to being one is that I own several pairs of gloves, most of which have remnants of begonias on them, none, as I’m 62, have a giant loop of elastic attached.

What are the essentials to a three-month imprisonment? There could be a lot of downtime, so read everything by PG Wodehouse, this is essential to keep your spirits up and also books by John Buchan to read about the derring-dos you’ll be re-enacting once you’re released from your confinement.

john macnab
It is also important to have one DVD – the BBC version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy being my DVD of choice and have my own competition with myself before I say “dead, mate!” to the TV screen.

tinker
You must still take on liquid – you don’t want to be the person who doesn’t return to work because they’ve dehydrated. Drink Benecol drinks if you have high cholesterol, Irn Bru, if you don’t. Don’t start eating more cake as your gym has been closed, time to get that Bullworker down from the loft if you’re tempted by a Victoria sponge.

Bullworker_in_1960s
Learn another language. Esperanto will probably be the favourite as we’re all in the same boat and we all need one thing which will bind us together. If you can’t get hold of a copy of Teach Yourself Esperanto then buy John Buchan’s John Macnab and learn how to capture salmon off posh Scottish people.
Knitting, crochet and cross-stitch will become less important as most people tend to only create toilet roll covers and soon we’ll be out of that – if you have a garden, build a pine forest – suddenly you’ll start to get on with your neighbour (wouldn’t that be nice, to quote the Small Faces).
But worth occupying your heavily-washed hands (opticians will soon be closed, so you don’t want to be doing too much self-isolating) so, building the Bismarck out of discarded matches might help pass the time – unless you’re a convicted pyromaniac, in which case carrying on sniffing glue while constructing an Airfix ME1019.

me 109
And if you’re looking for live sport, badminton is still on, but I bet you’ve not watched it longer than five minutes before you’re saying: “Stone me, they hit that hard, don’t they?”
Stay safe and remember, it’s just a matter of time before they are re-showing Mind your language.

shuttlecock