Out it all comes. Stream of consciousness, your every waking thought, over-rehearsed gags, stuff and nonsense, a desperate attempt to cram 15 conversations into one, not quite knowing when you’ll next have the opportunity. The other day in the local park the victim was Gary.
“Hello,” he said, to which I replied: “What about that container ship stuck in the Suez Canal? What’s it doing being so big, anyway? Not all progress is good; some technological advances take us backwards. Golf clubs, for instance. They’re so super-powered now that you can be on the green on one of the world’s greatest courses in a single shot. Not that I play golf. Good walk spoiled and all that … ”
Which must have been Gary’s feelings at that moment. There was more: was he hoping to get home to Ireland soon? What did he think of the latest Celtic Crossing proposals? Did he like me find himself suffering from latent claustrophobia so there was no bloody way he was getting in a tunnel, never mind one under the sea 25 miles long?
I’m sure that Gary’s first thought was: “Give me a spade, I’ll start digging it right here.” Quickly followed by his second thought: “This is someone who needs to get back to the office pretty darn quick.”
For the purposes of re-socialisation, yes. Learning again how to converse with people other than your own family without boring the pants off them, workmates being the group you encounter the most after your nearest and dearest. But in the past year of being holed up in my study, I deeply resent Boris Johnson’s snide inference that I’ve been skiving.
Responding to suggestions for a special bank holiday when the pandemic subsides, the Prime Minister said the population should be thinking about getting back to work rather than having more time off. “The general view is that people have had quite a few days off,” he said, “and it wouldn’t be a bad thing for them to see their way round to making a passing stab at getting back into the office.”
See their way round? Passing stab? Johnson uses words amusingly, no doubt about that, but it’s tough taking a lecture on the need for noses to be back in their usual place, hard up against the grindstone, from a PM with such a carefree attitude to graft.
This is a leader who, as the world was beginning to darken, missed five Cobra meetings on the coronavirus threat. Who at a critical moment absented himself for a “working holiday” to sort out a messy divorce. Who’s not good on detail because he won’t read big briefing papers or even medium-sized ones. Who doesn’t have to strap-hang, face lodged in a honking armpit, his place of work being located just down a flight of stairs.
Boris may not have a commute but I’ve just admitted to a study. In my defence it’s not a bespoke, high-end shepherd’s hut at the bottom of the garden similar to the one where David Cameron, amid the Farrow & Ball tones “Entitlement Jowl” and “Pass the Hellmann’s”, penned his memoirs. But in the time of Covid it has offered some seclusion, at least until the kids have required feeding or split up from battering each other or helped with maths.
Colleagues without the same space and quiet haven’t been so fortunate. No one said homeworking would be fair; none of us knew what it would be like. Have I enjoyed it? Yes, hugely. Has my waistline enjoyed it? Yes, hugely. Has my mental health enjoyed it? So what do you think about this tunnel idea? …
According to a recent survey, the number of people working from home who want to go back to spending the majority of their time in the office when restrictions lift is less than one in ten. Thirty-seven percent, though, admit that their physical health has worsened in a year of enforced absence while the figure who feel their mental health has suffered is 40 percent.
Homeworking isn’t for everyone. But if so many want to keep doing it they must be confident they’ll get better at it, visit the fridge less and detect signs of madness earlier. They should know that if the country moves en masse to “hybrid working” - part-office, part-home - then management will be monitoring.
Even if you’ve been able to keep your job, being stuck at home has provided a slightly chilling insight into what it must be like to be part of the gig economy. In the future homeworkers could be required to adopt new titles - freelancers. And that piece of software newly installed in your laptop - it’s called StaffCop and it’s checking how many episodes of Schitt’s Creek you’re knocking off during your “afternoon break”.
But it would be nice if Johnson, instead of wielding the big stick, acknowledged that the vast majority have made a “passing stab” at turning their homes into workplaces and getting on with the job while some - not me, I’ve had it relatively easy - have been positively heroic.
Still, I’m intrigued about what returning to the office might be like. I could tell you that I’ve missed my colleagues like I have the gonks sat atop my computer - that is, if I actually collected the miniature mad-haired dolls. I miss the oracles and also the idiots (who’ll say the same about me). The banalities and the banter (wasn’t that a good result for Brora Rangers the other night?). And, hang on, has anyone been watering the plants? Gary, and probably my kids as well, are desperate for me to go and find out.