Last year – forgive me, you’ve heard it all before – working from home in a lockdown meant the perpetual shuffling and reshuffling of the family hierarchy, like being a croupier in a casino of the mundane. Who deserved the best Zoom background, the person meeting the NHS mental health commissioners, or the one interviewing a well-loved face from daytime TV? Who should stack the dishwasher, the person who tessellated the best, or the person who didn’t do it the last four times?
It boiled down to whose work was the most important, and it is surprising just how much variety you can work up around that single argument. The pinnacle was wifi, and that was pretty simple: if you had proper work, you deserved it, and if you were trying to keep a pig alive in Minecraft, you could be kicked off as the situation demanded.
Never have I been bitten so hard by one of my own rules. Remote learning has taken a wild turn. The school is doing live lessons all day long, and you can’t walk past anyone’s door without hearing something you didn’t know about Descartes (everything, in truth) or the gentle patience of a maths teacher wondering out loud whether everyone’s finished. Even the two children who are both in the same year have different timetables, and even if they’re not WhatsApping their friends, which they always are, the bandwidth is straining its seams. Mr Z can still make a solid case for his internet usage, as he is solving the mental health crisis all day long, and such work can only be undertaken in partnership with everyone else who wants to solve it.
The weak link here is me. Everyone wonders why I need to be online. One of the 13 year-olds asked yesterday why I couldn’t do it all longhand and type it up later. Did I even really need a computer? I felt like King Lear. O reason not the need! Allow not nature more Twitter-hours than nature needs, man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s!