Do Your Home Work and Get the Job Done

Home working Guru

Home working. Remote working. Hybrid working. Virtual office. Many terms are being bandied about on the merits and negatives of working somewhere that is not ‘work’. My workplaces have included lay-bys, Portstewart beach, a pub near Loch Ness, various coffee shops on the North Coast, the garden, my bed, hospital, St Peter’s Basilica and the Colca Canyon in Peru.

Years ago, when I was being interviewed for an employer that operated across multiple sites, I was asked in the interview how I would manage working across long distances. I replied that I had just worked on a book with a writer that lived in South Africa, so I didn’t see the difference between the north coast and Belfast as much of a problem. That was before email, the days of fax and putting items in the internal mail.

Funny how some people think writing memos all day telling people what to do, justifying what they have done or exercising their personal desire for a bit of office-onanism. These are the same people that think lengthy meetings are ‘work’ and productive. They aren’t.

Now it wouldn’t be best practice to give away the trade secrets of the brotherhood and sisterhood of home workers. But there are a few pointers, and as Jane Eyre might have said, Dear Reader, you can make up your own mind which is true.

Most people assume that working at home involves a fair bit of dossing. Certainly, aside from the givens like wearing whatever you want, or nothing if the mood takes you, there isn’t the same pressure to look busy or appear absorbed in your work as in a ‘normal’ workplace.

Suspicious Minds

Employers have a natural suspicion of workers ‘working from home’. So as I heard an IT Guru explain earlier, often you may have had to be in your role for two years before you get the go-ahead to work from home. Having been there for the arbitrary time of two years clearly delineates a worker that is dedicated to the cause. Think about it. What nonsense. That thinking will no longer be acceptable in this post-post-industrial society or whatever it is we live in.

As an aside here, companies generally aren’t judged as profitable based on the number of hours an individual spends inside its four walls are they? There is an assumption that time on the premises is related to productivity. When you break this down, the logic of people coming together to work was a product of the industrial revolution and manufacturing technology growth. The calculation is simple. More people operating more machines generated more product.

So success was based on an equation of something like ‘No of employees x Hours worked = Output (profit)’.

So as an employer you want the maximum number of people on-site to operate the maximum amount of equipment possible for as long as possible. Think about the domino effect on all aspects of the worker experience, enjoyment, quality of life.

So success was based on an equation of something like ‘No of employees x Hours worked = Output (profit)’. That’s fine if you’re producing something tangible like a widget, a shirt or a component etc. The equation can be further refined by burnishing the employee factor by adding things like training, skills, being nice to them. The ‘hours worked’ factor can be adjusted by paying staff to work longer hours (overtime), or by making the equipment they use more efficient. There is the option too, of course of shift work. Demand will dictate that half your work force at any time are working at night. And they’d better get used to it.

Of course the optimum for many employers is having efficient equipment and having employees prepared to work for longer hours for no extra financial reward. There is a reward of sorts, of course, in that if you are always seen to be working late or starting early, then assumptions are made about your dedication and commitment. Sending that 3.30am email solving a problem or completing some task is a way of showing your undying commitment to the cause.

Absence Makes the Cart go Under

Except it’s not. One of the problems in the workplace is that of absenteeism—the crime of not being there when you’re supposed to be. I always thought this was a fallacy because I worked with many people, and with quite a number of them, it really made no difference if they were physically present or not. Both in terms of their own efficiency and productivity, and in the positively detrimental effect they had on the people around them. This can apply equally to management, and the saying when the cat was away, the mouse can play is true. Let the frivolity begin. Equally true is the reality that if the cat is away, the mice can get on with their work in a state of uninterrupted euphoria that the boss won’t be lurking about, checking on them and generating additional meaningless and pointless tasks.

I worked with a manager who worked late one evening a week minimum, dictating memorandums to all and sundry. That was his work. To me, that is not work. Yes, he was there physically, but it was a pointless enough task. So my judgement was that it was a waste of time being there and suggests a further waste of time during the working day to necessitate after-hours presenteeism.

Yes, then the other side of the coin is presenteeism, the opposite of absenteeism. In this situation, the worker can get themselves into such a state of workplace ecstasy and frenzy that they spend multiple extra hours at work and then bring the work home, plug in their device and go again. This individual is to be pitied, looked at askance and sent for help. They will buy TV dinners for the microwave, drink excessive amounts of coffee and volubly tell everyone how busy they are, how tired they are. They won’t admit that they are in fact, inefficient in their use of time, possibly incompetent.

If as a worker it is your misfortune to be managed (often micromanaged) by one of these people, then you will likely be expected to devote yourself to the Gods of Presence, and tension is inevitable if you don’t conform. The trick, in this case, is to be efficient in what you do, get the tasks done and preserve the artifice of being a slave to your work and your workplace.

Otherwise simple landmarks like completing a task during the working day and getting ready to head home at the appointed time will generate muttering.

I will return to this new method of working from a location that is not work in due course, but in the meantime, here are some tips on home working based on working on many assignments.

Ten Tips HR Won’t Give You About Home Working

1 Invest in a sofa. Hard to beat a sleep during the day as the need arises. More comfortable than slumping and drooling over your desktop let me confirm.

2 Try and identify a time to be at your work station, whether it be desk, kitchen table etc. Once you get there it may take a while to get into work mode and you may get lost down a rabbit hole or two, but you are there.

3 Keep a list of what you’re trying to do and don’t be afraid to switch from one assignment to the other for short blocs of time.

4 Have a notebook and pen to write down your stream of consciousness, ideas, notes, frustrations. If an idea doesn’t work in one place, you may be able to produce it as a solution somewhere else.

5 Get a good selection of tunes and a decent sound system so as necessary you can turn up the volume.

6 Don’t watch daytime TV or use daylight working hours to catch up on your box set (not even just one episode….?) NO!.

7 Live and work guilt free. Want to go for a walk? Do it. Need to go to the bank? Go do it. Couldn’t be arsed working this morning. Then don’t work. Want to work tonight instead? Do it. Find the times that you work well and slot yourself in there. Employers need to understand we’re not all morning people.

9 Invest in a fish tank. Very relaxing.

10 Play your musical instrument for a while every day at your desk.

Rather than be a slave to the clock, remember you’re not a factory worker or a sweatshop worker. Apply different rules for yourself. Your own rules. Based on what you produce. Not on time spent. And stick to them. And have a few plan Bs and Cs. Not every day is the same, and as Heraclitus said, you can’t step in the same river twice.


Fair Warning Lord will Strike That Poor Boy Down

With the passing of Eddie Van Halen I’ve had a sad excuse to listen back through my Van Halen collection. Probably goes without saying, for any Van Halen fans,  their first album is the benchmark. I always liked VH I and II, but for me the albums that are the most memorable are Women and Children First and Fair Warning. The reason?

When I was doing my A-levels I applied to do English at Kings College and University College London. This required me to attend for interview so off I went to be interviewed by a couple of scrufty old profs and a rather stern-looking but attractive woman in a not-quite Ann Bancroft way. She who gazed at me over a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, nodding sagely at my answers. The old duffer beside her in jumper and tweed stroked his beard thoughtfully.

I wasn’t sure what her intentions were. The nadir of the whole experience was when she asked me for a comparison of Edmund in King Lear and Iago in Othello. My response? I replied, “to be honest I haven’t really thought about it too much.” That was my considered opinion on two of the great Machiavellian villains of Shakespearean literature. I knew then that my chances of joining the elite in London had disappeared. The woman looked mildly disappointed, it was as if she’d set me up for an open goal and I fell over trying to kick the ball. All was lost. Even namedropping that my mother was a first cousin of the brilliant Irish playwright Brian Friel, as she had instructed me to do, didn’t get me out of jail. It was a close shave. I could’ve spent the rest of my life gazing into the abyss of my own academic arsehole in London. Instead, I ended up in the fleshy parts of the holy land. What dear reader you may think has this got to do with Eddie Van Halen?

Well during my visit I took a stroll to the Virgin megastore and spied there two Van Halen albums that you couldn’t get hold of back in Omagh. Women and Children First and Fair Warning. I arrived home full of glee more excited about my new listening material, fairly unconcerned about the blown opportunities in London. I consoled myself safe in the knowledge that the stern older lady often mentioned me at fancy cocktail parties in Bloomsbury or Highgate or wherever the academic class gather. “That Irish fellow… I wonder where he is now? I’m sure he could’ve been someone,” she probably mused wistfully.

Meanwhile back in Omagh I was seduced by the divebombing and tapping of EVH as he kicked off Fair Warning with Mean Street []. The album is probably Van Halen’s heaviest effort. The guitar playing is supreme, I Alex Van Halen’s drum sound was immense,  t combination the brown sound as they called.

Standout tracks are the aforementioned Mean Street, Hear About it Later (Isolated Guitar track:] and So This is Love, the drum intro on the latter a thing of beauty. Alex Van Halen is on tiptop form and alongside them Dave Lee Roth jackasses around on vocals, entertaining as usual. Dirty Movies is a funky enough outing, with a classic Roth interlude “Take it off, take it all off.” Funny, dunno if he’d get away with it now, or if he’d care! For me Unchained, is one of the classic EVH riffs, chopped guitar with staggered drum beat a bit like Bonham []. Sunday Afternoon in the Park is weird, something you’d play loudly on repeat to annoy the neighbours. Push Comes To Shove has a reggae like bass intro and a leery guitar line to go with a sleazy vocal from DLR.

When I heard from Brogy that Eddie Van Halen had died Fair Warning was the first album I stuck on [for some reason we used to refer to it as Fair Warning Fair Warning I don’t know why].

“…And someone said fair warning, Lord will strike that poor boy down”

If I could meet the lady professor in London now I would ask her for a comparison of Women and Children First and Fair Warning and see how that one goes down at a fancy Bloomsbury cocktail party or wherever. Eddie Van Halen, RIP. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.


Travelling Lockdown Bar Blooze

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time when miserable.”
Dante Alighieri

Pubs. My mother grew up in one and I’ve personally funded several establishments over the years, freely giving my time and money to ensure their ongoing prosperity. But.

I don’t get out or go out much anymore. Nothing to do with lockdown, no. It’s more to do with getting older, disinterest, and the problems of getting locked on a night out and the unplanned adventures that can ensue.

The people you meet, bump into, folks you see after all these years, or the local plumber you’ve been trying to get a hold of to fix the toilet. On any given night out, that’s all part of the craic. On a weekend in Dungloe last year some of my longtime beer drinking comrades attempted to relive parts of their misspent youth jousting with a few locals from Kincasslagh who behaved poorly in a chip shop. We had to intervene to diffuse an impending melee. In the course of the gung-ho diplomacy one of the younger nightowls told me that he respected old people like me. If he’d hit me a punch in the mouth he couldn’t have stopped me quicker in my tracks. It was funny. And reality.

The vintners in Ireland are desperate to get the pubs up and running and have proposed a series of measures, or half measures, to get things motoring again. Now, frankly the ideas floated propose a vision of going to a bar that I don’t recognise. It’s the pub Jim, but not as we know it.

The new sanitised, hellish and unfortunately necessary vision of a trip to the local is so squeaky clean that a night out with Stepford Wives would be more fun. It sounds like being forced to socialise with people you don’t know times ten. You know like when you end up accidentally part of a girls night out and you scour the bar for a sidekick. You won’t even be able to do that.

Six people only to a table. Everyone must stay seated. Organised visits to the bog. Table service only. Remind you of anything? School dinners. No DJ or live music. Too bad, by the way, about the gig economy. Musicians who are the lifeblood of pubs; the two piece with a chickaboom drum machine; the somber-faced, utterly miserable looking traditional musicians in a corner belting out their sets (they definitely won’t be smiling now); the one man storm-in-a-tee-shirt-Christy-wannabe; the Argyle-jumper-clad accordion player with the long suffering wife dressed in housecoat accompanying gamely on banjo, bodhran and backing vocals, quaffing pints of Smithwicks.

“Please be seated over there. Six to a table. A waitress will be over shortly to give you the Covid Safety announcement. Please do not leave your seats.

When she arrives, haggard from a career in Aer Lingus, the automaton waitress’s instructions are clear, dreary and tired. Borne of necessity.

“The queue to the bathroom is to your left. No more than three occupants at any one time in the Gents. Please observe social distancing by using every second urinal and we ask in particular that you exercise due care when shaking the last few droplets, as you know droplets can spread disease.

“There will be no communal eating or sharing of crisps or nuts at your table. Each patron is requested to purchase and consume their own snacks.

“Customers should not fraternise, flirt with or glad eye any patron at another table. Once assigned a table you must not swap tables to get closer to a nearby acquaintance. Attempts to do this by subterfuge will be resisted. Closed circuit TV surveillance is in place at all times.”

“You are not permitted to go to the bar; all orders will be administered by waiting personnel in a manner befitting social distancing. This requirement will be strictly enforced. All high stools have been removed.

“Any patron displaying signs of intoxication will experience the form of social isolation known as being thrown out and barred. Signs of intoxication will include loud argumentative talking resulting in the release of spittle; such slabbering will be frowned upon because of the droplets. Likewise outbursts of loud solo singing in the absence of proper music is forbidden, many people release droplets when they sing. Sean Nos singing is also strictly prohibited, nothing to do with Coronavirus.”

“Smoking in the smoking area has been decommissioned and patrons are asked not to smoke in the environs as WHO advice suggests compromised lungs may increase your chances of infection.”

It is a vision of hell at the bottom of a glass. Public houses will become rooms where groups just sit and drink. I went into a mining community pub in East Falkirk once that was like that. Linoleum floor, formica tables. It was fucking grim then. The Scots were protesting poll tax and the Miners strike had been and gone, the men sat at these tables, heads bowed, not talking. Drinking.

If you can’t stand at the bar, sit at it or go to it, remove the bar itself to a backroom and make more room for the drinking stations. Bring back snugs, with their service through a hatch, locks on the inside and opportunities for couples to court or priests to drink furtively after mass. Anyone who’s ever been in the Crown in Belfast has experienced a snug session. Cramped and good craic, social isolation it is not.

Some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, you meet at the bar. Conversation and loquaciousness suitably lubricated, the at-the-bar banter is witty and charming and at times irresistible. At other times your bar encounter can be a pure pollute. “would you like a drink?” “No I’m in a round (code leave me alone).”  To a hapless female standing waiting, who ends up with too much head on her beer, the witty interjections, “would you like a flake in that. Do you come here often?” Tactlessness award goes to the man who unwittingly in the old Queen’s Speakeasy asked the girl with one arm to help him carry his round down from the bar.

Standing at a counter I’ve met Pat Cash, Jimeoin, Andy Irvine from Planxty skulling brandy, and Gerry Adams who I told not to take my seat as it was against party policy. Many others. The Bomber Liston, George Best, Pat Spillane, Pat Crerard, Norm from Cheers. It isn’t on the cards anymore, no not for the immediate future. And it can’t be.

The concern is that in trying to keep the industry afloat, Vintners will distil the pub experience from a pint into a shot glass, sanitised. If there’s no atmosphere, no experience there’ll be no people there. Other than the people who are there to drink and drink only.

For now all these seem a distant memory of times past. For the future we need some thinking outside the box, so its not just all about getting locked and out of your box.

The hardcore drinker at the bar traditionally practises social distance easily with a growl and a grunt so no one comes near. The bartender knows by eyebrow lift and subtle hand movement that more porter in required. The reverse nod indicates another half ‘un.

How do I know? A lifetime in bars, I used to sit as a cub beside the daytime drinkers in my uncle’s bar in Omagh. Dipping a finger in the bitter drip tray, a taste of what was to come. Even at the age of five the bar stool was my throne, my platform and my high chair.



Home Work #3 – Triggered in Tesco, Social Distancing in Sainsbury. Lockdown Looms Large.

Standing in a queue outside Tesco the masked stranger in front casually broke wind loudly and forcefully, not a whiff of an apology. Thank the Lord for social distancing in this instance. But since when has it become socially acceptable to Bris Gaoth in this manner in a public arena? When he wasn’t looking inside the store, I deliberately sprayed the hand disinfectant in the direction of his derriere.

The giant extra terrestrial bodypart threatening mankind.

That we are living in unusual times is stating the obvious. This week astronomers revealed that a mile wide haemorrhoid will pass within 3.9 miles of the earth. Well that’s what I heard half sleeping listening on Alexa. When I interrogated Alexa further, it transpired that it was in fact an asteroid and it will be 3.9 million miles, not piles. I had calculated half asleep, that it would be closer to our house than Portrush and was puzzled at the scientists’ apparent complacency. Surely such a large heavenly body would pose a severe risk to mankind? Then I saw an image of the item and it indeed looked like a heavenly body of a different sort. My mind was put at ease.

So. In other news, the Pentagon just casually put it out there that the US Airforce had video footage of three Unidentified Flying Objects. Sure enough the scarcely believable news was backed up by the evidence. But if someone had asked you three months ago which of the following is more likely:

1          The president of America will suggest people inject themselves with disinfectant or

2          The Pentagon will publish detailed images of UFOs.

Which would you have gone for?

There is no point dwelling on Trump because any ridiculing of his antics dates so quickly, as he surpasses his own stupidity daily. It is a sad reflection of American politics that the best counterpoint that anyone can find to Trump is Hillary Rodham Clinton and now Joe Biden. People like Mario Cuomo have something about them in terms of gravitas, a presidential air and some sort of stature about them. Al Pacino would play Cuomo well in the movie of the Covid19 Disaster Movie.

Picture Joe Passmore

Social Isolation

When we look back on these strange times, what will we see? A mere Pangolin or Bat responsible for a change in the way of the world. Airlines grounded, football suspended, pubs and chapels closed. Hand sanitiser everywhere.

Whenever the next generation ask what did you do during the Great Lockdown of 2020 the answer will in large part be ‘Not Much.’ I had contemplated keeping a diary for posterity sake during these times. You see people would like to know what I thought, I kidded myself. A voice for the age. Erudite insight. The Lockdown Journal. But it became apparent early on it would be an exercise in tedium.


Woke Up. Ughhh. Waited for other house occupants to vacate bathroom. Checked news for anything interesting. Tried bathroom again. Still occupied. Check in on the WhatsApp to see if there’s any rumours doing the rounds or funny videos. Back to bathroom, almost left unusable by previous visitor, tremendous fugue & stench. Check WhatsApp again. Mute conversations showing loads of our young club players practicing their skills. Why? For years I’ve been preaching do this at home, been ignored… now its wall to wall dedication. Vacate bog. Hunt for breakfast. Try to avoid a fry every morning or I won’t get out the front door. Work. Fuck about on internet going down a few rabbit holes. Make coffee using the bialetti. The more like tar the better. At various junctures, visit kitchen to observe home schooling children avoiding school work, bluffing on various devices; a while later venture in again to diffuse tension and succeed only in increasing it. Sense of humour in short supply. Hiatus. Sleep. Vacant time. Eat dinner. Read Samuel Beckett (more of that anon), do a quiz on Facebook, do another one, go for a walk, take some photos trying to include the star Menkalinan which seems to follow me wherever I go walking. An interesting but useful fact is that this star – whose name means shoulder of the rein-holder in Arabic, is of such a distance away that it would take me 13,598,428,694.55 years to walk there. Will the lock down be over by then I wonder? I turn for home, listening to music, and the odd Vodcast. It has occurred to me that I could present an interesting Vodcast if fuelled sufficiently eponymously. Home. Watch TV, drink wine / beer. Then Eat, sleep and repeat. It’s all a cliché.

Day 2

See previous entry

Day 6

See previous entry

Day 4 

See previous entry

Day 5 

See previous entry

Day 3

See previous entry

Day 5

See previous entry

So it goes on and continues. The next day. And the next day. And the next day. And the next. And the day after that. Another day passes. And another. Ad infinitum, but hopefully not ad nauseum. Which is why I am not venturing out much. It is easier to remain seated and write stuff like this.

When I do leave Lockdown, venturing abroad, the change in people is marked. You have to consider is this wearing of masks going to become a thing when this pandemic passes? Or will we start wearing some sort of adapted helmet apparatus with built in mask, headphones, eye wear doubling as a tv screen. People seem more cocooned. There is less eye contact. People go about their business, cowed, muted, head down. Brow furrowed and preoccupied. Eye contact is frowned upon. It is almost as if we can spread this damn thing by looking someone in the eye. People soon adapt to the new normal. Well almost. In Tesco, failure to observe their confusing one way system results in glowering scowls from other shoppers getting triggered in the baked bread aisle. Turn right too soon at your peril. Earlier there is a sort of chicane where you can veer recklessly past the veg. One of the Tesco personnel  informed me ‘we are operating a queuing system here can you go round there’ indicated a lengthy snaking detour. My daily step count went up markedly. I was on the horns of a dilemma then when I received a text to get some milk and white wine. The one way system does not allow for haphazard meanders through the store anymore. That is my preferred approach. I didn’t want to ask the Tesco apparatchik could I retrace my steps. Meanwhile he allowed an attractive house wife to disregard the queuing system. She smiled demurely and unloaded a case of wine and two bottles of gin noisily on the conveyer belt.I deposited my goods in the car and returned to join the one way system to obtain the items omitted.

Another day, on an essential visit to LIDL to peruse the middle aisle, I watched one of the locals lustily search through a basket of carrots lifting, handling, looking, returning, rummaging for the next. Mental note to self, not to buy any of them. Indeed be thankful for the plastic wrapping that encases much fresh produce and protects it from the great unwashed hand. The little eco irritant Greta would no doubt be appalled at all the plastic. Just a note there that Covid has done more for the environment than dodging school every Friday ever will.

Wildlife are now roaming the towns and villages like wildfire. We have observed Eagles soaring overhead on thermals. A fox patrolling the middle of the street. Goats on street corners, and corner boys who think they are Goats having to stay in the house.

Of course the problem now is that the novelty of lockdown and working from home is wearing off and patience among the plain people is wearing thin. The concept of the herd immunity is being replaced by a herd mentality as people become complacent, impatient and irritated.

“Fuck this, I haven’t caught the virus, I’m heading out here to meet ones.” The result is that roads have more cars, more people clumping in groups. The worst are those Americans who seem to want to drive as far as is necessary to be offended. The redder the neck the better.

On what basis have the population begun to declare a unilateral declaration of ignorance? The threat of illness and death, really really bad death is still present. On TV the politicians are still required to explain complicated medical terms when they patently don’t know arse from elbow. In the south the propagandists are trying to get as much spin out there to counteract what really is going on. In Westminster, the government is a farce led by another idiot. The future is uncertain. The politicians underwhelming.

As the reality of this new lifestyle loomed large weeks back, I was fortunate to still have some bits and pieces of work to keep me occupied and I’m grateful to those clients big time. I did a deal with myself to make sure I did at least two constructive things every day. So every day, come what may, I would get out for my allocated period of exercise by taking a walk,  and I would read Samuel Beckett. Why Beckett? Well in caring for my elderly mother it was all very real. The creeping decrepitude of old age. The dependency on others. Bowel obsession. Reminiscences. The futile drudgery of every day routine, all captured perfectly. The late Prof Bob Welch, an old friend and colleague at the University once told me that I would appreciate reading Beckett when I was older. He was right.

But in the hope that things will improve, we all have to keep going. To add further variety to the daily monotony I have now resumed guitar playing. It keeps me entertained. As lockdown looms large for another while, we are all surviving. Some better than others. There’s no alternative. As Sam says, I’ll go on. And every morning, the Sun shines having no alternative on the nothing new.