"You have won the game. Time, 8.43."
Fine. Twelfth game of Spider Solitaire. Now what?
We have builders.
Working from home is a hard-won prize to be jealously guarded, the fruit of decades of strategic life choices, grown in the compost of determined simplicity: small budget, low income, few possessions, sparse schedule, and no social circle whatsoever — just a sketchy outline of friendship almost too faint to make out.
But, though working from home is a privilege to which I tightly cling, it does have its drawbacks. And one of them is that, from the perspective of those who are not yourself but everyone else, you are clearly completely unoccupied. You are the obvious sentinel, gofer (I had to check how to spell that; a gopher is something else) and companion of those who are at a loose end.
When the household schedules building works, its members then leave the premises, all except for Guess Who.
It is a blessing that these days builders have no wish to speak to me. Well — only if they need to. Like yesterday morning — BANG BANG BANG on my door.
"Yes? Can I help?"
"Can you come and look at this. You got lead."
"Ah yes. So I see."
"Only, we don't do lead. It's split. Musta been like that for years. And we don't do lead. We don't carry lead."
"Oh, dear. What should we do?"
"Well, if you get the lead, we can put it in, but, see, we don't do lead. We don't carry lead."
You get the drift? You have absorbed the point? They don't do lead.
Happily, yesterday, my best beloved had also fallen into the trap of working from home, and was willing to go up to Travis Perkins building supplies merchant for 6 metres of lead. Though what the hell we shall do with the surplus two metres I have no idea. Freegle it, I guess.
Other than when such emergencies arise, though, I am grateful to be entirely see-through to builders nowadays. I have hair like mouldy hay, a midriff like a Sherman tank and features like Les Dawson.
In parenthesis, in case you have never heard of Les Dawson, a northern-English comedian:
But years ago when I was young and lithe with long blonde hair, and even then worked from home, they were more inclined to chat.
The opening gambit never varied:
"Day off, is it?"
I have always been more than a little Aspergery, but even I know the correct response to such an enquiry is not (however mellow one's tone):
"No, you moron. I am here because you are."
At the age I am now, I would just say, "Yes."
I mean — why go to the bother?
But as a young woman, chronically worried about seeming lazy or under-productive or insufficiently hard-working or in any way unsatisfactory, I would start to explain that, well, no, I work from home, I am a writer, I . . . No one is ever listening. Or was even then.
It's so much easier now. I am clearly just the old biddy who keeps house for the Ones Who Have Jobs, and are therefore elsewhere. Because the whole working world is elsewhere, right?
Last Sunday, a complete stranger made the error of getting into conversation with me while I stood by our car with the door open. The other half of me-and-him was getting eggs from the garden gate next to our chapel (rescue hens and eggs at £2 a dozen, where the supermarket ones are £2.15 for six). So this lady plus small dog paused to chat on her way home with her own eggs. We talked (as you do) about her dog — how sweet, how pretty, etc. I do have a few social skills, and it was, in all fairness, a nice dog.
She told me how the dog had come into her life. What had happened was that her son Gary had woken up in the night a few months ago, asking himself why his wife Ruth didn't work. I'm not sure in what sense she didn't work. Like a defunct washing machine perhaps, or a clogged vacuum cleaner. Who knows? But evidently Gary felt dissatisfied with this arrangement. He pointed out to Ruth that she hadn't worked ("at all", as his mother put it) for twelve years and now it was time she did. Ruth conceded that their three children could be left to fend for themselves and their house remain uncleaned. They could eat freezer food and take-away pizzas (I am making this up, the dog lady left out that part), but who would look after the dog? A dog needs a companion. So Gary said they'd give the dog to his mother: and so they did.
I listened to this.
"Gary should be careful," I eventually replied. "He might find, once Ruth is financially independent, she may discover she doesn't need Gary at all."
Swifter than an ostrich on speed, "Oh, no!" responded the dog lady: "No, no, no! No. Gary's very good."
At what, I wondered, but thought it might seem indelicate to enquire.
But Ruth was quite right. The spiritual power of dogs is that they help us to understand the virtue of companionship.
And in the evening of the day I met Dog Woman, I went to a concert (our Rosie was playing trombone) where a friend wanted to tell me how lonely she was. What she hated, in particular, was coming home to an empty house. Let's hope Gary doesn't mind, eh? And let's hope he has a liking for Indian takeaways, because I don't think anywhere delivers roast dinners at eight o'clock in the evening. And I wonder what he'll do if they need to have builders in?
But maybe I sound sour and should shut up now. Or someone's eye may fall on the spine of To Kill A Mocking Bird and mistake it for a word from the Lord.
I want to write about the Four Accessibilities and also about Politics, Nutrition, Money and Religion — but that will have to wait until Thursday when these drills and sanders and rivet guns (and that whatever it is that shakes the house like a volcano and an avalanche competing for top spot) have gone their merry way.
Uh-oh. Heavy boots in the passage. Bye now.
Then I'm going to play a thirteenth game of solitaire and have a cup of tea.
And what about you? Why are you here, reading this? Day off, is it?