Looking On From Above

When the clocks went back last October I wrote this story about the confusion it caused the bird population. As the clocks go forward again this weekend I’m wondering what they’ve been making of what’s been going on lately… 

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Keeping watch

After the mysterious event of the previous October, when all of humankind had travelled one hour back in time, the birds had for a while kept a worried eye on them, watching out for any oddities in their behaviour.

Just four days later the humans had all dressed either as if they were witches or as if they had an axe protruding from their head.

In December they had strung lights upon the trees in their gardens, something the birds found infuriating, much as we would if somebody broke in and filled our house with lava lamps.

On the last day of the year they had gathered in a circle in the street at midnight, linking hands the wrong way round and singing a song that made absolutely no sense.

In other words they were their normal eccentric selves. The birds had relaxed.

Then March came, and many of the humans simply disappeared.

The children no longer went to school. The teenagers no longer pretended to be going to lectures. The man from Number Four no longer headed off to play golf.

The small numbers that did take to the streets would pass each other in a wide arc, like ships in the night, though not in the romantic sense of that phrase.

The lady from Number Nine did still open her corner shop each day, though she now seemed to sell only toilet-roll and pasta.

The bewildered birds were now gathered in the tree at the back of Number Six.

“I reckon it’s Game of Thrones,” said the Blackbird.

“Game of Thrones?” said the Robin.

“Must be,” said the Blackbird. “It’s the only thing that would keep so many of them in. I reckon they’ve made a new series.”

“I thought it had finished,” said the Wren. “Most of them died.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time characters have been brought back from the dead,” said the Blackbird. “Sherlock Holmes. Bobby Ewing. Hamlet’s dad.”

“Hamlet’s dad was a ghost,” said the Thrush. “That’s not coming back from the dead, that’s just visiting.”

The Blackbird shrugged non-existent shoulders. “Whatever,” he said. “The thing is, Game of Thrones made an absolute fortune, there’s no way they were going to give it up.”

“O-k,” said the Wren doubtfully, “but why is the pub closed?”

The Blackbird hesitated, but only for a second. “Lent,” he said.

“Rubbish,” snorted the Robin, nodding at the phalanx of empty wine bottles in the garden of Number Six. “Whatever they’re doing, they haven’t given up drink.”

“Maybe they don’t need each other any more,” said the Chaffinch. “They have Netflix, and Facebook, and online just about everything. Maybe people have realised that they’re not people people.”

There was a pause while the others worked mentally through this sentence.

The Wren looked at the others – her fellow dawn-choristers, her flight companions, her co-conspirators in occasionally dive-pooing cats. Her friends.

“They’re wrong,” she said. “They’ll soon realise just how much they miss each other.”

 

 

 

Bearding The Lion

This is me.

The rules of machismo demand that I claim to have grown this today, so let’s start with that and get it over with. And then admit that it is not true. This is more the triffid of beards, slowly enveloping the globe that is my face. I started growing it, or rather stopped not growing it, on March 12th, the night before my last trip to the office. This therefore is sixteen days’ worth. Oak trees grow more quickly.

I am calling it the coronafuzz.

I didn’t set out to grow it. I have no interest in becoming a hipster. I do not intend to captain a pirate ship. I am not auditioning for the role of Hagrid. I simply didn’t shave that first weekend and then, as Monday arrived and I faced not facing anyone, I decided to leave it and see what happened.

The early shoots were grey and white, making me look like a dandelion clock. Over time, though, a certain amount of my original colour has filtered through, and now I’m more like an ineptly-fleeced panda.

I don’t hate it as much as I did at the start, and was startled yesterday when Mrs Tin said that she actually quite likes it. Nevertheless, the day this all ends it’s coming off.

But in years to come, when the grandkids ask “Grandad, what did you do in the Covid War?” I’ll be able to say that I helped conserve the world’s supply of shaving cream.

 

Airing Live

Sorry, brief rant..

I’ve just looked at today’s Irish Times. In their Good Week, Bad Week section they have the above.

I should start by saying that I have met Ciara Kelly, twice. Until she moved full-time to radio last year she was a GP in our town. My doctor is another woman in the same practice and on two occasions when she was away I was seen by Ciara. I know her no better than that.

She did indeed announce during the week that she has the virus, on her show that she continued to broadcast daily from her airing cupboard. In the body of the paper the Radio reviewer is full of praise for her, for the show that she continued to run, and for the topics covered on it.

So why put her in the Bad Week section? What was the point of this cheap sneer? Why say she “alarmed” listeners, when the fact that she was able to keep going might actually have provided encouragement? Did Michel Barnier alarm people? Did Tom Hanks?

She did a terrific job this week. well done to her, and I hope she gets better soon.

 

Never Seein’ No-one

My blog friend Janie Jones has posted about what things are like for her during these difficult times, after she read Sarsm’s post, and has asked that we bloggers all let each other know how we are getting on in our various parts of the world.

The short answer is that I am fine and well. The virus is most dangerous to elderly people with an underlying medical condition. Since I am sixty-two and have a pacemaker, this does not apply to me. I know by personal experience that sixty-two is not elderly, something that I didn’t know when I was thirty-two, and while anatomically speaking a pacemaker is about as underlying as you can get, it was put in twelve years ago for a condition that I had then and has had little usage since.

The underlying medical condition for this is called denial, and fortunately I have it only in mild form, so I am taking precautions. I’m into my eighth day at home, since our company is encouraging us all to work from home until March 31st at least. The good thing about this is that I get to stay in bed for an extra two hours every day. That is the only good thing.

Sorry, it isn’t. The other good thing is being able to swear loudly about colleagues. Upon receipt of a particularly moronic email yesterday I was able to yell “oh, you are such a gobshite!” at the screen instead of seething quietly as I would have had to do when surrounded by workmates.

Other than that, though, I’m working on a laptop screen instead of two monitors, everything loads up more slowly than it would in the office, and the silence is almost oppressive. Thus time drags, and my mind wanders.

I think about the survivalists who have cabins in the mountains stocked with essentials like half-a-ton of tinned pork and twenty-four rifles, in preparation for life after The End Of The World As We Know It. I wonder if our current experience is making them realise just how dreadful that life will be, and that when the day does come maybe they should simply join the zombies.

I wonder what will happen when border closures mean a shortage of some foods from abroad, such as French cheese, German beer and Kentucky fried chicken.

Me in six weeks’ time (still writing my blog, you’ll notice)

I wonder what my hair will look like as time goes on. Given its colour and general unruliness I’m guessing I’m going to look like Beethoven. A follow-on thought is that at least I don’t have to worry about my roots showing, a panicky thought that is slowly dawning on about half of the world.

I wonder can I ever write seriously about anything.

No man is an island, except of course for the Isle of Man, and I miss people. We have email, and Skype meetings, but it’s nowhere near the same.

Mrs Tin is here, of course, and great girl that she is she has not yet thrown anything at me as I stomp into and out of the kitchen ten times a day making tea. Other than her, though, I haven’t spoken live to a person for over a week. Yesterday was warm and sunny, so we stood in the front garden for the last ten minutes of my lunch break. A number of people went by, as a laneway into the next housing estate runs by the side of our house, but none of them looked toward us as they passed. Mrs Tin says that it is the same in our supermarket, that everyone scurries around gazing straight ahead. It’s as if they think it’s the Medusavirus, transmitted by looking into someone’s eyes.

Overall, though, I know that I am lucky. I am well, when so many aren’t. I can work from home, when so may can’t. I am in no danger of losing my job, when so many have.

To all of you who come here, I hope you are well and keep well. You are my friends too, indeed ones that I’ve had more practice at engaging with remotely.

Take care of yourselves, all of you.

Tin

 

Baby Remember My Name

It is well known in Ireland that St Patrick was actually born in Wales, and was brought here by an Irishman by the remarkable name of Niall of the Nine Hostages…. 

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Back in Fifth Century Tara, surnames were not as they are now.

For aeons they had been unnecessary, the size of the village meaning that there tended to be only one holder per name, so everybody needed just that name, such as Fionn, or Gráinne, or Cher.

Over time, though, some names became more fashionable than others, and a way had to be found of distinguishing between the many Seáns and Noras. A descriptive second name was therefore added.

These took two forms. One related to possessions, so that Tara was now home to Rory Of The Big Field and Emer Of The Brown Horse. The other derived from one’s occupation, giving the village Brendan The Carpenter, Lorcan The Weaver, and the local lady of the night, Ellen The Generous.

Niall (image from GENI.com)

It was very late one evening when village ne’er-do-well Niall Nojob crept up to the village tavern, The Old Storehouse. He pried open the door, planning simply to take whatever coins were in the till and slip quietly away.

He had forgotten about the Irish tradition of the lock-in, where a hostelry shuts its doors at closing-time but leaves its most favoured customers inside.

Thus upon opening the door he found himself looking into the faces of eight customers and the barmaid. They looked shocked, then relaxed visibly.

“Ah, it’s only Niall,” said one.

By that he was simply expressing relief that it wasn’t Conn Of The Slow Walk, the local policeman. To Niall, though, it sounded like a sneer, a dismissal, and though armed robbery had never been among his many petty transgressions, he drew his sword.

“Give me all your money,” he snarled.

The bar’s occupants stared at him in disbelief. “Ah, here, Niall,” said Bridget, the barmaid. “That’s not like you.”

Niall stared wildly at her, then lowered his sword, and his head. “You’re right,” he said, blushing. “I’m sor-”

There was a loud rap at the door. “Is there anyone in there?” came Conn’s voice.

“No,” said Niall, before he could stop himself.

“That’s you, Niall, is it?” laughed Conn, and again Niall felt the wither of withering contempt. Again his anger rose. He slid his hand down and up the handle of his sword, a move that looked, though he didn’t know it, as if he was pumping the handle of a shotgun.

“It is, Conn,” he said, “and I’ve got nine hostages.”

-oo0oo-

It was an hour later.

A crowd had gathered outside, including the local journalist, Aengus The Telltale.

“Aren’t you going to do anything, Conn?” asked Aengus.

“I am doing something,” replied Conn. “I’m letting him sweat.”

This was working. Inside the inn Niall was finding out just how whiny hostages can be. They were complaining that the fire was going out. They were demanding organised toilet trips, though this simply meant walking to the bucket in the corner. They were asking could at least Bridget be allowed continue serving drink.

After a further thirty minutes, Conn picked up a bull-horn. This was merely the horn of a bull and had no acoustic qualities, but he felt it made him look important.

“Niall Of The Nine Hostages!” he called out.

Niall unaccountably found himself filling with pride. “Yes?” he replied.

“Release the pregnant woman,” said Conn.

There was a brief silence.

“Er, what pregnant woman?” asked Niall eventually.

“In all hostage situations,” replied Conn, “there’s a pregnant woman. Trust me on this.”

Niall looked around the bar. A woman raised one hand and smiled sheepishly.

Niall thought for a few moments, then sighed. “Ok,” he said, “but in return we want pizza.”

Outside, Conn looked questioningly around at the crowd.

“It’s just flat bread with cheese and bits of pig on it,” said Pat The Baker. “Give me twenty minutes.”

The pizza was duly delivered and the woman released. After another hour Conn raised the bull-horn again.

“Niall Of The Eight Hostages!” he yelled.

“Dammit,” said Aengus. He started to scribble out the ‘Nine’ in his report, then shrugged. “Nah, I’m leaving it,” he thought.

This time Niall agreed to release the old man. Over the next four hours he also said apologetic goodbyes to the honeymoon couple, the man who had run out of his medication (blood of bat), the priest who was needed to say morning mass, the farmer who had to milk his cows, and a woman who was just getting on Niall’s nerves.

Now there was just him and Bridget.

“They’ll storm the place eventually, you know,” said Bridget. “You’ll be killed.”

“I know,” said Niall quietly, “but I don’t know how to get out of it now.”

To his surprise Bridget took his hand. To her own surprise she had found that she had fallen in love with him. This would in time become known as Storehouse Syndrome, and later Stock Home Syndrome.

“I do,” she said, and told him her plan.

“Are you sure?” he said. “It could be dangerous.”

Bridget smiled at him. “Danger is my middle name,” she said.

Niall calculated quickly in his head. “Mine’s ‘The’,” he replied.

She looked into his eyes. “Where will you go?” she asked, quietly.

“Wales, probably,” he said. He squeezed her hand, then stood. “But I’ll come back one day.”

Minutes later he yelled out “I’m letting Bridget go.” The bar door opened and a figure ran out, weeping, shawl wrapped tightly around its head.

Conn raced past, ignoring it, as it fled through the crowd. He burst into the inn, sword in hand. He found Bridget tied to a chair, but loosely, almost as if she’d done it herself.

“What the -?” he said.

Bridget stared at him defiantly.

“He’s gone,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lonesome Pine

Five year old Danny looked around his bedroom, and sighed in boredom.

He had played with his dinosaurs. He had coloured in his colouring book. He had built a spaceship with his Lego, played Super Mario on his Nintendo, watched Spongebob on his TV. He had done all of these things for absolutely ages.

It was 11.09 on the first morning of the school closures.

Danny realised, to his surprise, that he missed school. On most weekday mornings he would have to be dragged from bed at eight (in contrast to Saturdays, when he would get up at six, brightly demanding Coco Pops), would argue vehemently about wanting to wear his Spiderman outfit rather than his uniform, and would be driven to and deposited heartlessly at the school gate, despite his lurid descriptions of the sore throat, or stomach pain, or toothache in his big toe, that would render any learning impossible.

But this week they had been learning about St Patrick. They had made rocket-cone shaped cardboard hats, and croziers from cling-film cores, and snakes from play-dough, and today they had been going to play at being St Patrick himself, and vanish the snakes from Ireland (Miss Buckley had said “banish”, but Danny was pretty sure she’d got that wrong).

That was before the Kanoravirus made them close all the schools.

Danny had heard a lot about the Kanoravirus, on TV and on radio and in urgent conversations that would stop when he walked into the room. What he had heard worried him. He had heard that it came from china, which is what cups are made of. He had heard that the Premier League had been postponed, which told him that you could get it from footballs. He had heard that the shops had run out of toilet paper, which told him that it made you poo. A lot.

He had heard that old people could die. This worried him most of all, because Mum was thirty-eight.

Mum was downstairs in the kitchen now, sitting at her laptop and yelling at their broadband. Danny gathered that she had been told to work from home. This concept worried him too, as he couldn’t see it being adapted to any of the careers he had decided upon for himself when he grew up. Train drivers do not work from home. Firefighters do not work from home. Power Rangers do not work from home.

He had been downstairs to see Mum twice, the first time to ask her what time it was, and the second time to ask her what time it was. The first time she had answered him shortly. The second time he had come into the kitchen just as she was saying “stupid shitty spreadsheet” and she had looked wildly up at him and shouted at him to go to his room.

He had run to his room, sat on his bed and adopted his annoyed pose, arms tightly folded and lower lip stuck out, until it had occurred to him that, like a tree in a forest, the pose is wasted if there are no adults there to see it.

Now he looked around his room, and sighed again.

He wondered what time it was.

He climbed off his bed and went downstairs to the kitchen. He opened the door, then screamed.

Mum rushed to him, arms embracing, hugging him tightly as he burst into terrified sobs. “Danny, what’s wrong?” she asked frantically.

“It’s the Konoravirus!” wailed Danny, pointing.

Mum looked at where he was pointing, under her chair, then laughed, relieved.

Image by me, and not staged, this has been under that chair for ages

“Oh, Sweetie,” she said. “That’s a stress ball.” She picked it up and squeezed it. “See, it’s rubber. Want to try it?”

She held it out but he backed away. She hugged him again until his sobs subsided. She pulled gently away from him then, a move that left a trail of snot along her sleeve. She left it there.

“Come on,” she said. She took him into the sitting room, put on the TV and started Toy Story. She watched it with him for fifteen minutes, then stood.

“Mummy has to go back to work now,” she said softly.

Danny nodded and Mum went back to the kitchen.

Buzz and Woody bickered on the screen but Danny wasn’t listening. He was thinking, imagining how tense Mum must have been to have coughed up a ball of stress that big.

He got up, went to the hall to his schoolbag, and took out his little maths book. Mum looked up, frowning, as he walked into the kitchen.

“I’m going to do homework with you,” he said.

He climbed onto the chair next to her and opened his book. She looked down at him and smiled, fighting back tears, but happy tears, tears of boundless love.

Their two heads bent together over their work.

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary

If Samuel Pepys were alive today…

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Samuel Pepys

February 1st: Up, and to the television, for news of the new Coronavirus plague. The Minister did tell us that we should wash our hands. I was troubled at the notion that people had not been doing so anyway.

February 4th: To the Orchard Inn, my local hostelry. I fell into conversation with the landlord, who did tell me that sales of Corona beer have fallen since the outbreak. Most curious, since people do still eat Spam, which causes one’s mind to fill with advertisements for fake Viagra.

February 13th: The name of the affliction hath been changed to Covid-19, because it is perceived to sound less horrid. Methinks they should change the name of the particles themselves to Angel’s Breath.

March 2nd: Officials this day did warn us of false advice upon the internet. I was not well in agreement with their argument, finding instead much common sense in the advisements arrayed upon that most respected source of information. By way of instance, eating only garlic will undoubtedly assist in avoiding close contact or kissing, whilst gargling with bleach will assuredly preclude perishing from Coronavirus, in the same way as would shooting oneself in the head.

March 7th: Up, and to the Ireland versus Italy rugby contest, to find that it had been cancelled. Though this vexed me, I am aware that the officials do forbid close contact, and I assume that a rugby maul is as close as one can get. So to the pubs of Temple Bar instead, where I am disabused of this assumption, as they are filled with disappointed supporters from both nations, in conditions far more cramped than a rugby maul.

March 9th: Up, and to Tesco, to find all supplies of toilet roll exhausted. I home instead with the Daily Mail.

March 10th: The Health Minister did give order that all St Patrick’s Day parades are to be cancelled. Since these are held in the open air the risk is not apparent to me. Cheltenham will go ahead today, though, because that is where the money is, and because nothing is more conducive to rude health than to stand in the rain, walk in manure and occasionally slap a horse’s rump with one’s bare hand.