Terry Prone: I’m trying every trick in the book to get through life in the lockdown
I realise that if I had the money to buy shares right now, I’d buy into companies that make plexiglass.
A motorbike comes speeding down my driveway, which puts me on high alert. I stand at the door as the biker, menacing in black without any logo indicative of a plan to officially deliver anything, dismounts and kicks the stand into place. He raises a black glove in greeting. I do not respond. He advances towards me and places something on the ground so that it is equidistant between us. It is a jam jar with one of those red imitation gingham lids. I do a ratty ‘why are you littering my garden, you threatening stranger?’ gesture and the biker pulls off his helmet and turns into my son. “I made you mayonnaise,” he says.
I recalibrate towards civility and lift up the jam pot, while he retreats. He and the postman are protecting me, I know, but every time they do this exaggerated avoidance movement, I’m briefly convinced I must have developed rabid halitosis.
The jam pot is covered in warnings, hand-written, telling when its best-before date is and that it (here it lapses into capital letters) MUST NOT BE EATEN AFTER THAT DATE. I would mock this punctilio, were it not for the fact that, many years ago, I poisoned my son’s two best pals with three-year-old beer, convinced that once it was in a can it was grand. He knows me to be a bit sketchy on best-before dates.
He’s about to put his helmet back on when a thought strikes him. “Have you thrown out the remains of the last pot?” “No. The internet says I can use it for polishing wooden floors.” This boggles him into a stunned stasis so profound it takes me a minute to realise he’s astonished, not at the possibility of using mayonnaise for such a purpose, but at the very idea of me polishing a floor.
One of the problems about Zoom is the infinitely seductive set of pictures of the people to whom you are speaking. I keep telling clients to put sticky page flags on their tablet screen, pointing to where the camera is, and rehearse repeatedly, so as to override the urge to speak to the pictures rather than the camera, which gets their eyeline all wrong at the receiving end. They all agree. This is no use. Intellectual acquiescence to an idea may add up to enlightenment, but it does not alter behaviour. They will still be on Zoom tomorrow looking pie-eyed.
I’ve read 111 books so far this year, which lets me confirm that: A) any thriller with the words ‘snow’ or ‘girl’ in the title is a dud; B) Erik Larson is always entertaining; C) David Sedaris used to be, but his diaries would give you mange, they’re so tedious; and D) I’ve read 66 of Robert B Parker’s novels and don’t know how I’ll space out reading the last four. I discovered Parker in 2015, when he was five years dead. This guy was a professor of English who left academia, saying he had met worse people there than when he’d served in the infantry in Korea, and began to write the novels that made him the doyen of crime writing: Witty, current, and so evocative of his native city that the popular tours of ‘Parker’s Boston’ are guaranteed to resume after the lockdown.
Parker, who was also a boxer, was married for 40 years to a fellow professor — a woman on whom one of his recurring female characters was based. Interestingly, though, the Parkers’ marriage depended on social distancing long before the term achieved currency. The couple separated for a while, before realising that although they couldn’t live with each other, they could not live without each other either. What they did, on coming back together, was buy a three-storey house: She lived on the top floor, he on the bottom, and they met in the middle to eat his gourmet cooking.
When he didn’t appear with dinner one night, she went down to his floor and found him at his desk, head resting on the pages he had completed of the latest novel before a massive heart attack had killed him.
I do a webinar about communication for the Executive Institute and halfway through am asked something about companies getting messages out to their employees during this difficult time. After a reasonably helpful answer, I do a free-form rant about ‘messages’. No company should ever talk about getting messages to its staff or employees. ‘Messages’ assume a docile, not to say dopey, passivity on the part of the recipients. The very idea of transmitting messages is so insulting. It never happens in this country; other countries maybe.
Unless you’re An Post. If you’re An Post, delivering messages is your business. Anywhere else, when you’re in a management or leadership role, you can set out to create understanding, respond to questions, eliminate misunderstanding, trim back the grapevine, interest and motivate people, celebrate success, and commiserate with misery. But not send messages.
I’m here to warn you against 2using mayonnaise as polish for wooden floors. Never mind those headbangers on social media recommending you use it for that purpose. Yes, it shines up the boards. But when you then walk across them in your Uggs, the soles leave such raucous footprints it looks like a discount edition of CSI. It also causes the boots to stain every other floor you walk on, and is slippery enough to make you wary of ending up in the emergency department with a broken hip, trying to explain why you were gratuitously skating on stale mayonnaise when you should have been cocooning quietly like a decent person.
I think about turfing the Uggs, which are a couple of years old and pretty manky all over anyway through lack of maintenance, but feel too guilty towards the friend who gave them to me, not that she’d know if I abandoned them. Instead, in a mad rush of blood to the head, I toss them into the washing machine. End result, after a hairdryer is applied to the inside? Good as new.
Even the most durable haircut cannot last 10 weeks and so, except when freshly out of the shower, I now look like Albert Einstein, recently electrocuted. So I beseech Jane Brennan, the pharmacist, to send her strongest hair gel. Literally doesn’t begin to describe how she takes me.
I sculpt an orderly coif, which, once it dries, develops the soft sensuousness of barbed wire in no man’s land.
If a burglar gets into my home, all I’ll have to do is headbutt him and he’ll bleed to death from 1,000 tiny cuts.