Archive for October, 2020

Week #32 of Shielding from Covid-19

October 20, 2020

I understand that the English government now requires me to think of myself as ‘shielding‘. The term ”Self-Isolation’ is to be deployed only in cases where symptoms of Covid-19 exist. I don’t like the term ‘shielding‘. It conjures up the image of knights in shining armour. Incidentally, when I first heard the hit song ‘Nights in White Satin‘ by The Moody Blues (circa 1967), the image of ‘knights’ in white satin came to mind. Having made this step I was irrevocably drawn to the conclusion that, at a deep level, the song was somehow about contraception. From that moment on, I couldn’t help laughing whenever I heard it or, even worse, heard it playing in my head. Thus folk would stare at me quizzically when, in social situations, my face betrayed amusement; this was especially the case where things were otherwise serious and demanded a certain measure of gravitas.

Be that as it may [and what a handy literarary gobbet that is for bloggers manqué], I shall retain the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) of VSI for what I call Voluntary Self-Isolation. VSI is laden with meaning and has every right to be regarded as a phrase of the highest rank within the pale of the Covid-19 language game (thank you, Mr. Wittgenstein).

I am pissed off with the October update Microsoft recently imposed on Windows 10 users. I am now unable to use my Wacom tablet for my digital graphics drawing either on my desktop PC or on my laptop. Furthermore, I think it is more than a coincidence that my PC now seldom completes its start-up procedure. Sometimes it takes me around 15-20 minutes dancing on the starter button. Occasionally it almost starts, only to freeze at the last moment. I have devined no logical rule to the start presses that will guarantee success.

I am pissed off with Steinberg, the company that makes the CUBASE digital audio workstation software. They did an update about 6 months ago and my program has stopped working properly. I can no longer use the music notation part of the package to compose my song tunes and arrangements. I put in a ticket and all I have got back from them is an email telling me that they have been inundated with queries.

One way or another I have been feeling very fed-up lately. However, it seems to me that being fed up is something that is best kept to oneself in these times of VSI. Other people really do not want to know about it, especially if they are higher in the entitlement to fed-upness rank order. Perhaps one should self apply the hackneyed addage: ‘suck it up, buttercup’. By the way, I believe ‘buttercup’ does bugger-all here, other than to provide a rhyme to the preceding phrase; it is an example of lyrical laziness.

Fed-upness should perhaps be recast as ‘feduppity’. Perhaps one has to possess the right to express feelings of fed-upness. So, this particular emotion should not only be distinguished from that of depression but also admitted to the domain of ethics. Let me proclaim:
Feelings of fed-upness may only be expressed by those possessing the right to such expression, within the given time and place of the situation.

Alone and out of earshot anything can be said, howled or shouted in whatever manner gives satisfaction. Examples of ideal locations abound: alone on a beach (with an off-shore wind prevailing); alone while driving one’s car (with windows shut) on an empty highway; to oneself within the privacy of one’s own mind ~ anywhere you like. Lest the latter example provide the reader with an ideal get out, one must remember that in such situations the individual may become so caught up in the process that his or her caterwauling might inadvertently slip out into public domain. Anyway, my point is that a person in solitude has the right to express fed-upness.

Within small social groups (such as the conventional family or, perhaps, a small platoon in the army), there may be a pecking order in terms of the right to express fed-upness. Particular individuals may collar this right for their own exclusive use. If they do this without good reason they risk the chance that they will be automatically defined as the local moaner in situ. In other words, there is a correlation between one’s rank in the pecking order to express fed-upness and the likelihood of being crowned the King/Queen Moaner in situ. It may be noted that the person occupying Rank #1 in Feduppityness cannot avoid the Moaner crown; it comes with the territory.

Of course, where the members of the small group are dispersed separately across a variety of other groups on a day-to-day basis, the impact of any one of these groups will be diluted in proportion to its general importance. The implications of this for the Covid-19 situation hardly need to be spelled out. Under VSI/Shielding virtually all face-to-face social interaction takes place within the household bubble. My analysis is therefore highly pertinent to those inhabiting bubbles of this nature.

I now move on to say a few words about individuals who might habitually fall to the bottom of the Feduppity rank order. Indeed, they may even collar that position as others may collar Rank #1. Such individuals will automatically be crowned as the bubble’s Saint. One will seldom hear a negative word pass the Saint’s lips. The Saint will arise early and, in a dish-washer-less kitchen, sort out the clumsily stacked mound of dirty dishes precariously balanced atop the washing-up bowl, in unstable equilibrium. Once washed, dried and put away, cups of tea will be brewed on demand and sandwiches made, if requested. The Saint, as domestic servant will serve without complaint. An everlasting smile lies beneath his or her skin to be switched on in a trice. And upon his or her gravestone will be inscribed the epitaph: ‘Never Knowingly Complained‘.

Finally, I should say a little about myself in regard to all this. Although I do have a side that aspires to Sainthood, I have to acknowledge that I can sometimes be moody; some might even say that I am a Grumpy Old Man (as epitomised by the character of Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave, played by the actor Richard Wilson). I would say that I yo-yo up and down the scale in bipolar fashion, falling short of Sainthood by quite some distance.

On this note, I will sign off. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Week 30 of Self-Isolation in Covid-19

October 7, 2020

Blogging Through Covid-19

For one reason or another I have been in Voluntary Self-Isolation (VSI) since the start of the pandemic. In part this is due to my age; I am over 75. Members of my household are also self-isolating (either we all do it or nobody does). I have recently had the feeling that somehow I am becoming different to what I think of as my usual self, although I have found it difficult to articulate precisely how so. Today I recalled some of the books I read, back in the 1970s/80s, I think, written by the Oxford philosopher Rom Harré. Perhaps I should say that I retired from academic life back in 2006 and have not read much psychology or philosophy since then. I may have misremembered this material or otherwise have gotten it wrong, but I shall let my mind wander back to that time to see if that helps me understand what is happening to me now, in my 30th week of VSI.

At one time I think Harré defined the concept of person as the sum total of his or her speech acts. A speech act is something that occurs in the here and now of the present moment and, generally speaking, will have been directed to other persons present. I would roll with that and introduce the notion of Quasi-Speech-Acts (QSA) to include things said on the phone, words written in letters (and latterly emails), and so forth. If the consumption of fictional material is included and if I, the viewer or reader of said material, manage to achieve the suspension of disbelief, it is possible that these speech acts may even count as Wobbly QSAs (if you will forgive my using ‘Wobbly‘ as a highly technical term in this context). In other words, when reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, shades of Sherlock Holmes might glue themselves into my persona, notwithstanding that they do so with the fragility of a gossamer thread. I had better quit before this flight of fancy gets totally out of hand. Let me return to a consideration of my VSI during the past 30 weeks.

The first thing to say is that the range and frequency of person-to-person interactions has been greatly reduced. Actually, the same was true when I retired from university teaching in 2006. Another way of putting this is to say that my world has shrunk. Apart from a few pedestrian interactions, such as paying the milkman when he calls (yes, we still have a milkman to deliver our milk), I have conversations with the two members of my self-isolating household. Many of these conversational moments are mundane: ‘Have you put the recycling bin out for tomorrow’s collection?‘; ‘Can you take your stuff out of the washing machine? I need to do some laundry‘. Occasionally, like ships that pass in the kitchen, there will be a short flurry of deeply meaningful conversation sparkling in the splendour that members of the liberal elite are able to bestow with such eloquent ease.

To pass the time, I have watched a lot of Crap Cable Movies (CCMs). I like stuff that requires the minimum of thought and is well endowed with a pleasant variety of televisual eye-candy, including the scenery as well as the male and female actors. I am not particularly proud of this; in fact I feel too embarrassed to watch this fare if the family are present. I try to record a good supply of worthy political discussion programmes for when others are in the room. Anyway, turning to my persona, if any of this material leaches into my persona as Wobbly QSAs, if feel that the effect will be a dumbing-down. As an antidote to that, I have been reading a stack of Highly Worthy Tomes (HWTs) to fill out my knowledge of relatively recent world history and economics covering the decline of the British Empire and occasionally going back to the 18th century. Regrettably, the effectiveness of the HWTs to stick stuff onto my persona is less, if anything, than that of the Wobbly QSAs from the CCMs.

Let me turn now to Meaningful Telephone Conversations (MTCs). I have endeavoured to maintain three MTCs per week and have regarded this as being important, given that I am no longer having a social life in the real world. One of these is with my brother, and the other two are with too good friends who I have know for many years since moving to the city where I currently live, in the mid-1970s. I would say that these telephone conversations have become increasingly important to me over the weeks of VSI. I have managed to space them through my week: Sunday – Brother; Tuesday – One Friend; Friday – T’other Friend. Sometimes one or other of this trio is unable to do the weekly phone call and I do feel a tad adrift on those weeks.

I come now to another aspect of my persona: I sing, accompanying myself on guitar and piano. I stream one-hour concerts to the Internet and do this in the guise of my Avatar (Fyrm Fouroux), mainly in the virtual community known as Second Life and also in that known as the 3rd Rock Grid. I have streamed just over 1800 one-hour gigs since 2008. Currently, I play two per week (one on Monday and the other on Thursday). So, I have events to look forward to on Monday (gig), Tuesday (phone call), Thursday (gig), Friday (phone call), and Sunday (phone call). In this way I have built a weekly scaffold into the temporal sea that constitutes my Covid-19 VSI.

So, I am experiencing the gradual shrinking of the social space that consitutes the world in which my speech acts take place. My mother (who lived to be 103) told me that she felt alone when she realised that all her friends and relatives (of her generation) had passed on. I am starting to get a glimpse of how that might be. A very old school friend of mine died last summer and a cousin with whom I had a lot of fun when I was younger passed on very recently.

Of course, people do manage in conditions of voluntary or contractual isolation; one only has to think of hermits, monks, nuns and submariners (I set aside the inmates of prisons, who are hardly there out of personal choice). Perhaps I should read about hermits.

With regard to my own situation, I could regard my persona as shifting like a pendulum swinging from the extravert pole in the direction of the introvert pole of the conventional personality dimension of Extroversion-Introversion. Such a journey is not something I signed up for. Rather, it has been imposed upon me partly through the occurrence of the Covid-19 virus and partly through my own progress along the stepping stones of the life span. Whilst I have little control over this I do, however, have some control over how I experience the days, within these existing micro-constraints of what is practically possible. Within these imposed boundaries I believe that there is still enough room for the imagination to leap and bound in moments of extraordinary delight. Glimpsing such moments, from time to time, should not be beyond my ken. Note to self: must try harder!