The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
January 7, 2021

Day 87 

On Christmas Day, a friend puts her four-year-old son on the phone to thank me for a gift. He does his duty and she comes back on. “How come he sounds like Louis Armstrong?” I ask. That, she tells me, is thanks to my present. He played with nothing else and wore his voice out. She adds that, for once, he didn’t annoy his younger sister trying to nick her stuff, so the offering seems to be a success.

Back in November, I snatched a handful of these yokes at the toy shop cash register without looking at them. They are called Yellies! If you put one on the floor (it’s the size of a child’s fist and looks like a psychedelic square spider) and yell at it, it runs around. 

I have a spare (because you never know the day or the hour when you’re going to need a Yellie!) so I try it and find you don’t even have to yell that loud. One of the cats meows at it and gets the whiskers scared off it when the Yellie! takes a run at it. 

This is the best invention ever. Especially for lockdown. Any time you need to bellow out of frustration, all you have to do is roar at your Yellie!

Day 88 

When the history of this pandemic is written, one of the sharpest contrasts will be the visual presentation of Covid-19 on two sides of the Atlantic. On this side, the overwhelming visual interpretation is of the inanimate: the crusted ball of the virus, the syringes indicative of treatment or vaccine. Early on, every paper and TV programme ran shots of wrinkled hands clutching walking sticks (to indicate old people get it) and cars driving into testing centres — the same testing centres, day after day.

In the US, the pictures have been of patients. Patients being manhandled by plastic-garbed medics, none of them looking at the patient, all of them looking at the screens showing the patient’s vital signs. The shots of patients face down in ICU beds also come from the US.

Is the difference caused by data protection legislation on this side of the Atlantic? And which version of the story will be found, in time to come, to be more truthful? I’m betting on the American one.

Day 89 

The Government asking department stores not to have January sales reminds me of the reason why, in more than 50 years, I have never, ever, gone near such a sale and why even the mention of them causes me to gag.

My mother was a strong believer in the January sales. She saw them largely as female combat: may the best woman win. 

Keep moving, she would order, a firm index finger in my back. Implicit was that I was good and sturdy and shouldn’t come over all fragile at the sight of a few shoppers. Or even a few thousand shoppers.Shoppers love a bargain in the sales but it’s all different this year.

The year that changed everything started, as it always did, with Arnotts, queuing outside in the cold, then disgorged into the store like beads splurging off a broken necklace. 

We headed first to the shoe department, where tables were laden with neatly arrayed boxes, which within minutes would be chaotic with people waving one shoe overhead and asking if anyone had the left 5 of this style. People getting shirty with each other: “Do you MIND?” Women patting their own handbags interrogatively to guard against a thieving hand. 

And, then, no rhyme or reason to it, the sound of liquid pouring on to the hard floor. I searched, then realised the woman in front of me, the woman beside my mother, was peeing freely. She never glanced at anybody else, just did it while fighting for the shoes she wanted. 

My mother, about three seconds later than me, spotted what was going on, tossed the shoes she had chosen back on the table over the heads of the others and grabbed my hand, pulling me away and out of the shop in complete silence. 

Now, my mother was a woman with condemnatory words at will: “trivial”, “novelettish”, “vulgar”. But what we had just witnessed exceeded her vocabulary. She was so silently furious, I felt a little scorched, as if partly responsible.

Normally, when we got home from anywhere, we would launch into funny stories about what we’d seen or experienced. This time, we were silent, right down to my mother’s speechless shrug when my sister asked why the bags were all from Roches Stores rather than Arnotts. 

It was never mentioned, thereafter. But the sight of January sale posters, to this day, sickens me. So if the sales don’t happen this year, I cannot be other than glad. Minority of one, I appreciate. But with cause. 

More importantly, the fact that this one incident, lasting perhaps 30 seconds at most, still carries such an emotional impact for me all these decades later, makes me wonder how people with actual serious abuse in their childhood ever survive.

Day 90

Last year, my new year’s resolution was to give up the F word. Except in private. I did pretty well, too. This year, I want other people to step up to the plate in 10 ways: 

2) By not claiming to be “humbled” by some appointment or honour. Come ON. You can’t be humbled unless you were proud and vain to start with. Just say thanks, OK? 

3) By never saying “I commend you”  — in any circumstances. 

4) By eschewing the unrelated “so” at the top of a sentence. 

5) By not quoting yourself. If ever you hear yourself claim “I always say…” take a long, cold shower. 

6) By never saying “this is not a complaint” when it SO is. 

7) If you’re a politician forced to resign, by not claiming you don’t want to serve as a distraction from the good work the government is doing. 

8) If you’re a hack, by not describing someone as “comfortable in their own skin”. Who the hell else’s skin would they get to wear? And who is ever going to be comfortable OUTSIDE their own skin? 

9) If you’re a sub-editor, by removing references to people “passing”. They die. 

10) If you’re a novelist, by never having a character “wash down a meal with a good wine”. What an emetic description.

Day 91 

Not enough boxes for the decorations, so one wreath heads into 2021 storage wearing a Louis Copeland bag. All of the other decorations will laugh and call him names… 

Day 92 — new diary 

Did anything other than a wedding ever offer such conviction of future happiness?

Day 93 

The bells of Christchurch — that marvellous chaotic cacophony welcoming the New Year — fail to peal for the first time in history, as lockdown resumes.

Appropriate, somehow, that silent witness to the arrival of a fearful future.