Thursday, September 24, 2020

Views like this on my doorstep have made working at home a welcome alternative to the office grind.

I’M at an age now where I can reflect on my back catalogue of successes and failures. At the same time, I’ve also reached a stage where I’m considering the ways in which I can become a better person and get as much out of life as I can.

And let’s face it, I can’t be alone in thinking in such terms since the world was turned upside down in mid-March.

There’s a lot I still intend to do, both professionally or personally and there are some things that I’ve either not got around to yet or haven’t yet done well enough to my own satisfaction. Goals are good, but they shouldn’t have to be back breaking either.

Since the start of the month, with herself (of Social Distance Diary fame!) back at work, I’ve had my first decent chunk of alone time since the pandemic arrived – not the worst situation in the world for a reporter and stand-in columnist.

As someone who has enjoyed solitary pursuits since childhood (drawing, walking a dog, running etc) and having also lived largely alone for over five years during my 30s, I’m entirely comfortable away from similar carbon-based units.

I guess the key to my being fine with this owes a lot to not being inside my own head as much aged 41 as I was at 14, 25 or 31. “Don’t be a worrier like me,” my Granny Keyes intoned more than once to me in my mid-teens when we chatted before she settled down for the night.

Those were words which were never forgotten. Granted, it took over two decades thereafter before that advice really hit home but boy am I glad it finally did. As the song put it, what’s the use of worrying? What positive outcome was ever elicited from stressing?

A schoolmate of mine gave me John Wooden’s book a few years back. It’s become one of my most treasured reference points.

As legendary American basketball coach John Wooden put it: “The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.”

In the midst of all this upheaval, with all of our lives fundamentally altered in a manner none of us could have foreseen while enjoying last Christmas with our loved ones, I’ve made the best of a testing time.

That the solitary nature of much of my work has made my day-to-day schedule entirely tolerable is something I’m grateful for but I’ve not allowed my job to consume me either. Clear demarcation lines between the working day and home time has never mattered more, especially when you’re in work mode upstairs and ready for TV, tea and chat downstairs.

Truth be told, as much as I have missed the company and good humour of my colleagues in our Gladstone Street office, I don’t miss the physical space at all, having spent my entire working life predominantly office-based until mid-March. It’s a hamster wheel I’m relieved I’m no longer occupying.

Nowadays, I quite like wandering downstairs around 1pm, clicking on the kettle, reading through a few news pieces on my iPad before bringing the dogs for a quick walk.

I even went for a run at lunchtime last Monday, which may well have been the first time I’ve ever taken off like that during what has traditionally been the busiest day of my working week for the guts of a decade.

But since my change of employment and all the more so due to Covid indirectly bringing the deadline for certain news pages considerably forward, Mondays now no longer feel like the Mondays that used to wear me out. And that’s no bad thing at all as far as I’m concerned.

For example, Tuesdays are no longer recovery days for me. I’ve been re-introduced to a slab of time I’d lost sight of for far too long.

Being switched on from morning ‘til night and embracing a state of permanent ‘busy-ness’ is not a good thing. It’s a life inhibitor and in many cases puts people on cholesterol medication, anti-depressants and sometimes both.

“The world has gone bonkers now in terms of judging people,” ‘Gavin & Stacey’ star Ruth Jones told the ‘Financial Times’.“Because everybody is on show all the time, if you put one foot wrong, people come down on you like a ton of bricks.”

Why give a stranger dishing it out to you on Facebook or Twitter any time beyond reading their critical comment of you? Even worse, why let it pollute a conversation with the human beings you share a home with; people who, just like you and I, have their own stuff to deal and cope with right now?

The very last line of John Wooden’s book of wisdom, given to me by an old school friend for whom I’ll remain forever grateful, tells the reader: “Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” For me, that remains a happy work in progress.

Writing, sketching and copious mugs of tea have occupied most of my time since mid-March.

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