Monthly Archives: March 2020

Science fiction?

Candice: ‘The camera pans an empty street, the roads are clear, a piece of litter rolls in the wind.  From a distance, the noise of an Ambulance siren can be heard.  A lone runner crosses the screen, bright in a day-glow orange top.  She pounds the streets, head phones on, fiercely concentrating on putting one foot in front of another. Suddenly a dog walker appears in her path, they look at each other as the pavement is only wide enough for them in usual circumstances.  She veers to the right, crossing the grass and on to the road to get away from her foe.  The walker is it out of her way and now it is back to car-free silence.’

For the last week I have been watching our world change in a way that none of us would have ever have thought of, even in the last month.

I was due to be going away in the first week of Easter.  I keep having flashing backs of a conversation with friends in January about booking a trip to the south coast, and then next thing I knew they were coming on our trip too.  Yet four weeks ago I was telling my daughter how much I was looking forward to a week away, she would get to play with her friends, us ladies had booked a spa treatment day.

And now I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel, or its a dream and someone is going to wake me up tomorrow.  What I have written above is not fiction, its fact.  We no longer have to imagine the life portrayed in these sci-fi pieces, it’s happening to us all.  And that is another thing I can not comprehend, it’s not just the UK it’s the world.  We are all in lockdown and we are all experiencing this.

There will be many novels, plays, films and history books written about this event.  And at some point in the future we will all say “Do you remember when it hit, what we did” but for now I think we are shell shocked.

I for one, am trying to record it all, because, like the birth of a child or your wedding day, you think you will remember it but you won’t.  Having my daughter at home means we are creating a daily diary of events so that I and she can look back and remember what it was like.  She doesn’t really understand what is happening.  Tonight she wanted to know if we can go to the shops tomorrow and I had to say no.  I’ve promised new toys instead as I don’t see them as an indulgence but a necessity.  She asked when we could go to the shops and I said hopefully four weeks but to her, that is ages (and to me too, to be honest).

With my writing hat on I’m already wondering if this will ever become part of one of our books.  The BBC are looking for scripts about it, perhaps Phil and I can come up with one?

For those who are locked in, now is the time to write about your fears and also your plans.  Keep positive and we’ll all have a big party when this is over.

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13 home working tips for newbies

Phil: It seems that thanks to a virus named after a fizzy drink from my childhood, everyone who can is being advised to work from home. As someone who has been doing this for several years, perhaps I can offer some advice.

Everyone at home thinks you aren’t working.

If you share your home with other people, they will be utterly incapable of understanding that you are working, not just messing around on the computer. Requests to help, chats, suggestions of nipping out to a pub/garden centre/shop will be pretty much continuous and when turned down, resulting in a bit of a huff. After all, you’re at home, not work aren’t you?

Set up an office.

Pick a space and mark it out like a tomcat peeing on its territory. I know the adverts show people casually using a laptop while sitting on some stone steps in the middle of a busy city but that’s basically b****ks. Those steps are hard and cold. Get a proper chair or a sore backside and piles.

You’re going to generate paperwork and stuff. The same stuff that appears on your desk at work. The paperless office is a myth. Anyway, we all need our favourite pen pot handy. At least you don’t need to write your name on your stapler to stop it being nicked by a colleague.

Become task focussed, not time focussed.

The only way to work is to have a list of jobs. Write a to-do list. I have 3 – long-term, medium-term and short-term. I like crossing things out. I also like keeping them handy for non-work time so I can add stuff and then forget about it until work time.

When do you work best?

I used to think I was a morning person. I’m not. It takes me ages to get going, but after lunch and into the evening, I’m at most productive. If you are task-based, you can work when work works best for you. If that’s 3 o’clock in the morning, go for it. You are weird, but go for it anyway.

Take some breaks

One of the great benefits of home working, you can do other things at the same time. Want to put some washing on? No problem, it only takes a few minutes and provides a handy screen break.

Talking of breaks, all the trades, and most of the home workers top for Radio 2’s Popmaster quiz at 10:30. We all need a bit of a mental workout and what better than trying to name 3 Lloyd Cole hits in 10 seconds while making a cup of tea? Colleagues will probably try to organise conference calls at this time. Refuse those invites, they can take place anytime. It’s only work.

Turn the radio on. Turn the telly off.

I can’t work in silence, I need the radio. Generally Radio 2 (Candice prefers something rockier) but never at lunchtime when radio clickbait host Jeremy Vine fills the air with a phone in full of people that make you despise your fellow humans.

iPods for real concentration.

There is science to say that if you really need to concentrate, listen to music that you’ve heard many times before. It allows your brain to keep focus but lubricates your mental processes. Both members of team NolanParker find iPods ideal if we really need to get things done.

Avoid the news.

At the moment, the media are competing to be more apocalyptic than each other. Forget it. The temptation to dwell for hours on the BBC News website is strong, but it will only make you miserable. If you must look, try to keep it to once an hour.

Social media can be work.

Seriously, some of us have to use social media in our jobs. It’s not ideal as distractions are always present, but it’s part of the job. Maybe do friends stuff on your phone and work stuff on the computer. Or just get some willpower, something harder to find than hand sanitiser at the moment.

Get on the phone.

Working from home can be terribly isolating. Try to arrange phone calls with colleagues. This isn’t wasted time, you’d chat in the office, let yourself spend time doing the same remotely. We have the technology for video conferences and all sorts of ways to stay in touch too. Use it.

Mind you, most people e-mail each other in the office, so things aren’t that different…

Use local shops.

Getting out and about is important. Get to know your local shops so you have a purpose going for a stroll. Since you can’t carry a ton of stuff, there is an excuse to get out several days a week. Who knows, you might even get to meet the rest of the local community!

Set solitaire to easy.

The most popular computer game in the world is Microsoft Solitaire. It’s on your computer and perfect for procrastination or messing around with while on a less than a riveting phone call. Hard-core workers will delete it. The rest of us will play until we win a game – so set the level to “Idiot” so you win nearly every time. Try a harder level and hours will be lost as you decide “One more until I win”.

Bargain Hunt will become a fixture in your day.

Daytime telly. Just don’t. No-one needs the sort of show where Caprice is wheeled out as an expert on the spread of a virus. However, Bargain Hunt is perfectly situated at 12:15, about a quarter of an hour past the point you’ll decide it’s acceptable to eat your lunch.

The trick is to remember that the good stuff happens in the last 20 minutes. You can make something to eat while the contestants are arguing over ugly bits of china and then nosh while they discover how worthless the stuff is at auction.

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Middle England – These aren’t my people

A comedy for our times – The Guardian

Phil: I’m middle-class. I work in magazine publishing. The only manual labour I do involves making model trains. I have been down coal mines, but only at museums. Years ago, I could even follow the plot of The Archers.

It seems I’m not the right sort of middle class though.

Proper middle-class people earn mahoosive amounts of money doing jobs even more pointless than mine. They then spend their lives spending money without any visible means of financial support. Ideally, they will have made a killing in the London property market, sold up and bought a rather nice converted mill to live in somewhere less fashionable. They drink posh wine and eat the sort of nibbles that I’ve read about but would probably ignore in preference to sausage on a stick.

I really wanted to like Middle England. It’s set in the Midlands for a start. There are mentions of places I know like central Birmingham (the library is being built) and Solihull.

Sadly, the characters might occupy the same geography as me, but they live in another world.

Look, our book is set partly in central Solihull. All the characters have jobs. Jobs they do to earn money. We set it there because we didn’t want to set it in London and Solihull is a nice place. Nice enough for Kate anyway. She doesn’t want to jump into the pool that is London. Better be a big fish in a smaller pond than just another in the capital’s shoal. Besides, when she needs to go to the big city, there’s a perfectly good train service with at-seat coffee and WiFi, so she can have the best of both worlds.

Maybe the author lives in a rarified world of London journalists and politicians and so struggles to connect with the rest of us plebs. I’ve long been a fan of the idea that our capital needs to be hived off as a city-state, leaving the rest of us to do things our own way. It’s not that I don’t like London, far from it. It’s just that I know it’s very different from elsewhere, something the inhabitants don’t grasp much of the time.

Anyway, Middle England is supposed to be a satire on the newly formed coalition government (something we also satirise) but it’s not very subtle. A government adviser pops up every so often as a caricature who keeps changing his story without bothering about facts or the truth. I should be right in tune with all of this, yet I didn’t get it.

Talking of story – I couldn’t actually find a plot. There are lots of words, the pages seem slightly more densely printed than normal, but nothing actually happens. I didn’t get the feeling that we were on a journey anywhere. Mind you, I gave up 1/3rd of the way through. Even reading on a train, normally something that gets me into any book didn’t help. All I was left with were characters I didn’t care about.

A pertinent, entertaining study of a nation in crisis – Financial Times

Middle England is the novel about Brexit we need – Daily Telegraph

Insufferably smug – Phil Parker

 

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World Book Day … or is it?

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Candice: I’ve been derelict in my duty this week.  I promised to write a blog about World Book Day and then failed miserably to do it for the day or the day after.

Phil was the instigator of the idea, obviously thinking that there would be loads of child outfit picking fodder in the concept.  However, due to the fact my daughter’s school just asks you to bring a book along I get out of all that faff.  To let you know this year’s choice was ‘The Little Mermaid’ – as it has been for about the last four years. #easy

I don’t know if it was the topic or the time this week (I’ve been busy and quite tired, I’ve not made it through any 9pm programme) but I just wasn’t feeling it.  Coronavirus has also taken up my thinking time, to holiday or not to holiday.

He’s even politely hassled me about it.  And I’ve still failed miserably.

But to get my own back I have managed to top up Book 3 with an extra 1000 words.  So nur to you Phil.  I suppose that was where my inspiration lay and last night at 10pm I was finishing off something from earlier in the week in the book, not writing this blog.

I have to say we’ve both struggled to get into Book 3. That’s not to say it’s not a good book, when I opened it up the other day I was again excited by the story, but we’ve got some good set pieces we just don’t know how to bring them together.

However, a break, and avoiding writing about World Book Day seems to have done the trick and I’m off to add a few hundred more this afternoon.

Inspiration = Found

 

 

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