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You lucky, lucky bastard
In a flipside follow-up to his previous blog, Slarek takes a look at a few of the positive things he will take from the current enforced lockdown and makes note of a few things he genuinely has to be grateful for.
24 May 2020

A couple of weekends ago I posted a blog whose honest intention was to outline why the site has been dragging its heels in recent weeks, but I ended up complaining about just about everything, from government lies and incompetence to my seemingly always problematic health. By way of a flipside follow-up, I thought I’d reflect on a few of the more positive things I will take from this period enforced self-isolation, as well as some aspects of my life that I have to be currently grateful for.


1. I HAVE MY OWN PLACE

I gave up a lot to get the old and broken-down excuse for a house that I currently reside in and at one point was even cautioned by friends for electing to throw everything I had into buying it at the expense of all else, including a sensible food budget. Over the years, the age of the building and a series of comically half-arsed modifications made by the previous owner (a former builder apparently –  I have a feeling that new houses were rendered a tad safer by his retirement) led to me having to take on a second job to pay for the cost of putting some of the more serious issues right. An electrician I consulted stifled a scream when he saw the terrifying state of the seemingly improvised wiring, some of which had by then been rendered useless by mice that had chewed through it in search of electric food. Somewhat more comical was the flat roof that dripped water directly into the toilet bowl, though this did mean you had to wear a hat or open an umbrella if you wanted to keep your head dry when you took a dump.

But at least take comfort from the knowledge that even if I lose my job as a result of the shutdown or the pandemic has a second wave or Brexit is every bit as damaging to the country as leaked government reports suggest it will be, I’m not going to have to do battle with some empathy-free landlord threatening to toss me out on my arse. And a prudent approach to my finances was a crucial factor here, I know absolutely that much was down to good luck and fortunate timing. For a start, I bought years ago before house prices went through the roof, initially with a friend who shared the mortgage and the bills and who did me a really good deal on his half when he went off to get married. The building society representative I then threw myself pathetically at the feet of also busted a gut to sort me a solo mortgage that I could just about afford if I was prepared to make a few sacrifices. Just a few years later this option would simply not have been available to someone on my income. Yes, I’m getting on a bit now and people my age are supposed to have their own place, but for anyone making less than the average wage who is looking to buy today, that’s just not a viable option. I genuinely don’t know how any regular working stiff is able to afford to buy in the current over-inflated housing market, or indeed pay the extortionate rents charged by those capitalistic bastards whose buying up of properties for investments is pushing up the prices of houses in the first place. Sorry, I was trying to be positive, wasn’t I.

 
2. I LIVE ALONE

OK, I will admit that there are two sides to this one. I’ve lived alone for many years and far prefer it to sharing living space with a second person (I’ve done this several times and it’s rarely gone well), so am able to cope with this new solitude far easier than those who crave the company of others. But there is a significant difference between solo living and solitary confinement with breaks to visit the commissary and spend a little time in the exercise yard. I particular miss seeing my girlfriend, who also lives alone, and even though I only meet up with friends occasionally (despite our long-standing friendship, Camus and I only see each other every two or three years), now I can’t do it at all it feels oddly isolating. But the fact that I do live alone also means I avoid the cabin-fever horrors that often evolve from sharing a confined space with someone whose every word and action ends up driving you to commit some sort of horrible act against them with oddly shaped kitchen implements that seem to have no other obvious reason for existence. Oh, and don’t get me started on how eternally grateful I am that I don’t have any kids. It may sometimes feel isolated here but it’s also largely peaceful, and the only one who gets to decide what I do or say and when I do it during my down time is me and me alone. Never will I take that for granted again.

 
3. I HAVE A JOB AND AM ABLE TO WORK FROM HOME

On this score I really am one of the lucky ones, as while sitting down at the moment may launch a nuclear attack on my sciatic nerve and my work largely requires me to be plonked in front of a computer screen, in a connected world it’s not something that needs me to be at a specific location. I’ve thus been able to continue working almost as usual but from the discomfort of my living room instead. Many, many people are not so fortunate, having to go to often poorly paid work or being furloughed on reduced wages or even made redundant as a result of the lockdown. Now, thanks to some deliberately confusing and contradictory messaging from a government that would do well to put as much effort into dealing with the pandemic as it does in attempting to cover its incompetent arse (sorry, off again), even more people are being forced back into workplaces that could put the health and even lives of themselves, their families and their co-workers at risk. As it happens, I genuinely would like to get back into work for reasons stated in a previous blog, but should I not feel it was safe to do so I would still be able to continue doing most of my work from home base.


4. I HAVE A BIKE AND AM STILL ABLE TO CYCLE

Despite not being able to walk far without crutches, I am, a little perversely, still able to cycle, primarily because the nerve damage that stops me walking far is in the ball, arch and toes of my left foot (hey, film reference!) and I’m able to turn pedals on a cycle using the so-far unaffected left heel. I’ve been cycling since my teenage years and have never owned a car (too expensive), and being able to cycle does mean that I can get an hour of brisk exercise each day and go shopping for myself and my house-confined sister. This second task has been aided by the cycle trailer I recently purchased, one whose suspiciously low price was very likely the reason that one of the wheels fell off on its second journey out. Three wheels on my wagon…


5. THE WEATHER’S BEEN NICE

Save for a few days, it’s been bright and sunny since the lockdown began and is currently really warm as well. While this is a cause of frustration for those who want to be out and about and the very thing that is driving so many dimwits to ignore the social distancing guidelines just to sit on a patch of grass or sand and do absolutely nothing (except maybe catch or pass on a dangerous infection), I’d still argue that this is preferable to the alternative. We may be trapped in our homes for much of the time, but think how much nicer it is to have the sun streaming in and have the windows open and the air circulating than it would be to be living under a constant gloomy pall of cloud, wind and rain. And that walk or cycle ride or run you take for exercise each day is surely more enjoyable to do in the sunshine than it would be in the midst of a raging thunderstorm. Which links nicely to…

 
6. IT’S SPRING AND SUMMER IS ON THE WAY

Although what I said above about the frustration factor also goes for this one, the time of year that this has occurred is still in some ways fortuitous. I don’t know about you, but being home each day with a constantly active computer with multiple hard drives, taking breaks to make coffee and even cook some lunch, my electricity usage has already taken a leap and is making a bigger dent then usual on my weekly finances. Imagine the increase in living costs had this occurred at the start of winter instead, when it gets dark at 4pm and the temperature gets low enough to require central heating that you’d normally leave off until you got home from work to be on for a good part of the day as well. My house is old with cavity walls that have no insulation, which in summer means it tends to remain pleasantly cool but in the winter is bloody freezing and takes an age to heat up. A feared second wave could see us locked down again in the winter, and I have a feeling I’ll then be either working at the computer in a thick coat, gloves and a woolly hat or begging my employer – should I still have a job then – to be let back into a workplace, where the required heating, lighting and other electricity costs are taken care of.


7. I HAVE A PLAYSTATION 4

Not everyone enjoys playing video games, especially those who’ve never played one but who somehow know they’d hate them anyway. Maybe they’re right. I couldn’t care. I’ve been playing them since the very first cabinets appeared in arcades and pubs, though for some reason never bought any of the very early games consoles by Atari and the like (I had Spectrum, Amstrad and Commodore Amiga computers instead) and didn’t get one until the release of Sony’s original PlayStation, which I quickly fell in love with. It’s probably out of an unconscious sense of brand loyalty that I stuck with the PlayStation over the next three generations right up to my current PlayStation 4 Pro. Others have Xbox One consoles, Nintendo Switches or prefer to do their gaming on PCs and that’s fine, this is just how it’s worked out for me.

Had I any gaming device I’d feel lucky now (they’re apparently in high demand at the moment, which has led to some major shortages, including in Japan where many of them are made), as it’s a great way to unwind when you have to stay indoors. Yet for me the principal advantage of owning this particular console is that all of my friends who play video games have the same one. This means that for one or two evenings a week (it was one, but the longer this has gone on, the more we all seem to need it) we meet up for a session of online gaming, distance drinking and social interaction in what has become a highlight of all of our weeks and is the only time I currently get to hang out with other people. What makes it work as well as it does is the audio quality of the chat function on the PlayStation Network, which with a good pair of gaming headphones makes it sound almost as if your friends are in the room with you rather than a couple of hundred miles away.

 
8. I’M BALD

Well, not completely, but I long ago lost enough hair to regard what remains as more of a skin blemish than something to make style choices about. And for those of you who fear losing their hair when they get older, I can assure you that there are some real upsides to doing so. While friends and acquaintances were splashing out increasingly high sums for hairdressers, shampoo and conditioner and doing what they could to disguise the inevitable arrival of grey hairs, for instance, I simply bought an adjustable beard trimmer and spent the money on home repairs and holidays instead. Thus while those with thick heads of hair who find it amusing to mock those whose hairlines have receded to the back of their necks are now worrying about their increasingly out-of-control hairstyles and counting the days until they can revisit their favourite barber or hairdresser, I’m just giving myself a grade 1 with the trimmer every couple of weeks. Who’s laughing now, fuzzball?


9. I’M EATING BETTER AND BECOMING MORE ECONOMICAL WITH FOOD

I hate shopping at the best of times, but right now it’s my least favourite part of the week by a considerable margin. These days I’m continually experimenting to find the least busy part of the day to visit any of the locally located supermarkets (on a cycle ride yesterday I counted almost 200 people queuing around the block to get into Tesco), then have to queue up on crutches and lean on a trolley once I get inside, where I have to constantly dodge the increasingly large number of people who are ignoring the social distancing guidelines and can’t be arsed to cover their unpleasant and quite possibly infected faces. Then when I’m done there’s a sometimes equally long queue to get to the checkout and pay for the small amount of goods that my bike and its wobbly trolley can carry.

Due to all this I’ve started buying far more from local independent fishmongers, butchers and greengrocers (the food’s better anyway) and have attempted to reduce the number of items I collect on my weekly supermarket sweep. I’ve also stopped making single meals or grabbing whatever is in the fridge or cupboard after getting home from work late and have begun making more wholesome dishes in large enough quantities to freeze the portions down for later consumption, meals I am more frequently complimenting with side salads and veg than I used to. For many (probably most) this is probably standard practice, but I’ve always been a disorganised and slovenly bugger and am thus quietly pleased that I’ve finally been forced into planning and preparing meals more effectively.

 
10. I’VE DONE WORK ON THE HOUSE THAT HAS BEEN PENDING FOR YEARS

My house is old and in a hell of a state. It’s part of the reason I was was able to afford it in the first place, but despite constructing a few odds and sods and carrying out a some repairs, I’m a little cack-handed and have thus never been much of a DIY demon, and as I’ve got older and creakier I’ve been given increasingly good cause to wish I had the money to pay professionals to come in and put things right, but I just don’t. I’ve thus learned to live with the wall whose century-old plaster has collapsed onto the floor and a bag of my girlfriend’s old VHS tapes (why does she keep these, and why at my house?), the awkwardly located hole in the floorboards torn out by a cowboy plumber who refused to make good, the doors that don’t close properly on misshapen frames and the space-hugging empty shell of an airing cupboard in which the hot water tank used to sit until I had a combination boiler fitted after the old one nearly exploded. And that’s just a sampling of the inside issues. Outside I have rickety guttering that pours rainwater down the walls, a garage with an asbestos sheet roof that’s let in enough water to start rotting the roof beams, and a main drain that’s partially blocked but is located under ten feet of solid chalk.

Well I can’t swim at the moment and can’t walk far and so am always looking for other things to keep me active, and since I did once build and plumb a shower cubicle (rather pleased with that one) and re-floor the bathroom (erm…), I figured I might as well have a stab at a couple of these outstanding jobs. I started by jury-rigging a repair for the floorboard hole, and followed this with a shelf to subdivide and make better use of the pan cupboard under the cooker (a cooker that broke down at the start of the lockdown, of course) and a couple of shelves to turn the former water tank enclosure into a cupboard for towels and clothing. The latest was that plinth that raises my desk to a height where I am able to work on my iPad standing up (see previous blog). Baby steps, perhaps, but after years of doing nothing along these lines, I think I’m getting a taste for it again.


11. I’VE REVISITED SOME FAVOURITE FILMS AND SERIES

I like it when its peaceful but sometimes when I’m working at the computer it’s just a bit too quiet. At work I tend to run podcasts in the background, but having my TV sitting so close to my home workstation is just too much of a temptation. Obviously I’m not going to have something I’ve never seen before running in the background as I work, and frankly there’s something rather comforting about having a film or TV series you’ve watched many times and know almost by heart playing instead. The fact that it also prompts me to intermittently break off from what I’m doing in order to give favourite sequences my undivided attention also helps me to take the recommended breaks from the computer screen, and standing up to do so helps to ease the building sciatica pain a little. This has also prompted me to end each working day with a familiar movie or TV series episode before moving on to something new for possible review, which in turn has helped to justify having so many discs sitting on shelves in three separate rooms of the house.

 
12. MY HANDS ARE CLEANER THAN THEY’VE EVER BEEN BEFORE

I’ve been a bit of a stickler for handwashing since I saw a demonstration on just how easily germs can spread from person to person via nothing more than a handshake, but since this all began I’ve been scrubbing them meticulously for longer than I’d previously been aware that I should. I’ll admit that it was some time ago that I first heard about the trick of singing the Happy Birthday song twice while you’re washing (in your head, preferably – can you imagine the musical cacophony that would be constantly taking place in public washrooms otherwise?) to ensure that you wash for the appropriate length of time, but nobody thought to specify how fast you should sing it. Turns out I can get through it twice in ten seconds. When guidance started being dispensed about how to better protect yourself in the face of this pandemic, doctors were more precise. Wash for twenty seconds minimum – that’s twenty full seconds, not the sort you’d spit out hurriedly when you’re late for a date – and wash every part of both hands, including fingertips, nails and between each finger. There’s nothing like the fear of possibly lethal infection to make sure you do it right. Now I wash my hands before and after everything. Crucially, I’ve now been doing it long enough now for it to become standard operational practice, and thus will continue to do so when things return to some kind of new normal. Which is a good thing, right?


13. I’VE GOT EVEN MORE RESPECT FOR JAPANESE CULTURE THAN I HAD BEFORE

OK, this one may need some clarification but it’s actually quite simple. Yes, I’ve been a Japanophile for many, many years. I’m enthralled by every aspect of the country’s culture, adore its food and drink, and always feel completely at home when I visit, so hold the country and its people in high regard anyway. But the arrival of this pandemic has made me even more aware of a couple of relevant things that the Japanese seem to have got right a long time ago. First of all, face masks. Suddenly, all those of us who actually give a crap about not spreading a virus that we might be unaware we even have are covering our faces to restrict the spread of dangerous germs, but this is something that the Japanese have been doing as a matter of course since I first visited the country. On my last trip, at least ten per cent of the people I saw on an average day in central Osaka would be wearing face masks. This is not, it should be noted, because the Japanese are germaphobes by nature and is done primarily out of consideration for others. Yes, they are worn more in the spring to offer some protection for those with hay fever, but if you catch a cold in Japan it’s also considered the socially responsible thing to do two wear a face mask when in crowded areas (and there are a lot of those) in order to restrict the chance of passing it on to others. Sound familiar?

And then we have handshaking. I’m not going to lie, I dislike shaking hands and always have. It’s not that I don’t like being touched (having said that, I’m not exactly crazy about it), but a little too often I have had to shake the hands of an ape in human skin who sees this form of greeting as an opportunity demonstrate his manliness by attempting to crush every bone in my hand. On the flipside are the more delicate individuals who don’t so much shake hands as offer one hesitantly up in a way that seems to invite you to gently kiss it rather than attempt some sort of grasp. On top of that, there’s the germ-spreading potential that can come from shaking hands with someone who may have just spent twenty difficult minutes in the toilet and didn’t think that washing his hands was necessary after doing so (and yes the gender selection was intentional there). I refer you back to that above-mentioned scientific demonstration, which showed that shaking hands with such a person, and then doing likewise with someone else and them shaking hands with a fourth individual would see the germs from the first person transferred onto the hands of the last. Think on that as you munch on your burrito. Just recently I saw it suggested by a doctor of some repute (I have a feeling it was the famed Dr. Anthony Fauci) that we may have to completely abandon the ritual of shaking hands in the future. Good thing too. Once again, the Japanese are ahead of the curve on this. They don’t tend to shake hands but bow, a far more hygienic form of greeting that requires no bodily contact and can be successfully executed by a whole group of people whilst remaining the regulation two metres apart from each other. Yes, there are some tricky unspoken rules regarding the angle to which you are supposed to bow being based on the individual social standing of the parties involved, but between friends it’s often reduced to little more than a nod. If we can dump the handshake in favour of the bow, it’ll certainly get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from me.


Well, that’s it for now. I may well up with a few more in the coming weeks, assuming we haven’t all become victims of Dominic Cummings’ second stab at a herd immunity strategy by then (that’s if the arrogant, rule-breaking bastard hasn’t been booted out by the time this is posted), one whose resulting deaths his minions are already gearing up to blame on us lot. Oh come on, you didn’t seriously think I could round this off without having another dig, did you?

In the meantime, stay safe, and don’t be a social distance-busting fuckwit. Please. And try to look on the bright side. A bit.