Book review: Unspeakable

Dilys Rose‘s Unspeakable was published back in 2017 by Freight Books, whose subsequent (and apparently controversial) liquidation may mean that this is now a little hard to find in print. Sold alongside Graeme Macrae Burnett’s work as, in the words of the Scottish Review of Books reviewer, ‘her bloody project‘, this might well fall into a genre that we might well call ‘Scottish murder ballads’, for the book is a fictional novel conveying the story of the Kirk-sanctioned murder of Thomas Aikenhead, the last man to be hanged in Britain for blasphemy (in 1697).

The novel is set in the late seventeenth century, amidst a tumultuous time in Scottish religious and political history. Covenanters, whose convictions about the Reformation had been sustained throughout a long period of repression under the Stuarts by the zeal with which they maintained them, engaged first in a period of bloody battles with opponents which became known as the ‘killing time’. Then, following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 in which – in Scotland – James VII (the last Stuart monarch; James II of England) was held to have forfeited the crown by his actions, there was a period of internal blood-letting as Kirk ministers and those in other positions of authority, including in education, who were deemed to have remaining sympathies for ‘the King abroad’ were purged as the Covenanters, in full political cry, consolidated their stranglehold on the Kirk and, consequently, on Scottish society. (I’ve used four Wikipedia entries in this para, starting from the general one on the history of Scotland.)

Thomas is a rather precocious and acutely sensitive child prone from the outset to a persistent questioning of the world around him. The family is better off than many, but he experiences increasing poverty and destitution and he and his sisters – one much older, one younger – are eventually taken to live with a rich guardian who grudgingly maintains them, in young Thomas’s case apparently up until the point of maturity, and no farther. Thomas’s appetite for learning and for questioning the world around him – in those pre-enlightenment years – as well as his naive appetite for surrounding himself with unsuitable friends and for ignoring institutional power, see his downfall and murder following the inevitable betrayal.

Given that we know the end before we start the novel, there is not too much in the way of plot spoilers to cover up. The novel tells well of the poverty and the filth of the streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town as well as the contrasting riches enjoyed by those who are well-to-do. For the poor, life is cheap and death is everywhere, debts owed to rapacious landlords are a fact of life, and cruelty and abuse are rife; for the others, there is plenty, and harvest failures mean little interruption in the dedication of the rich to consumption. This also comes across in how Rose uses language – dialect for when Thomas is conversing with his peers; high society language in the letters he exchanges with his sisters while studying, as well as in those from his mother to her brother, a representative of the Kirk, desperately seeking alms. The effect is to drive home the clear breach in society between the haves and the have nots, with the Aikenheads straddling both but falling inevitably among the latter in what might be a reflection of what we have come these days to call the ‘hollowed-out middle’. Other than that, the Kirk’s prying prudishness plays an ever-present, and evermore costly, role in the lives of ordinary people and is indeed a character of the novel in its own right, albeit one that rather ghosts around the pages in a series of vignettes than one that actively inhabits them.

There are perhaps two functions of a historical novel: one being to re-interpret and tell a story around actual historical events in the context of their own times; the other being to use that to hold up the mirror of reflection to history, the better to understand our own times. It’s possible to see elements of both in Rose’s work here: in the latter case, a society riven in two by a major, and fractious, public debate between two sides one of which was marked by a zealous (and ultimately successful) pursuit of its aims, accompanied by subsequent purges of the other from public life, and taking place amidst poverty and worsening inequality, bears more than a passing resemblance to the post-Brexit United Kingdom. As, indeed, do events only this weekend in which police forces warned of capacity being overrun by people dialling 999 to inform on their neighbours – a nation of inveterate curtain-twitchers, us – to say nothing of essential public health contracts in these times being given to Tory donors and Brexiteer mates.

An understanding of Scottish history of the time is somewhat critical since Rose takes much for granted. In some ways, she is right to do so as Aikenhead, twenty at the time of his murder, was a child for much of them and, since the novel is told from his own perspective, they take place at a level way over his head. Partly, this helps to cast ordinary people as in the grip of substantial and despotic institutions whose workings they could never hope to influence. Nevertheless, broader references to some of the key events of the time would have helped the reader grasp a little more of the struggle going on. The lack of contextual detail makes it a little hard, from a modern perspective, to comprehend the intensity of the struggle being waged or the grip on society of a Kirk itself beset by the internal furies which it had unleashed.

While this was certainly the last execution for blasphemy in Britain, it remained a capital offence in Scotland until 1825. Aikenhead’s murder may well not have been the last Kirk-sanctioned killing in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries, but it would have been beneficial for Rose to have engaged in some form of reflection of why this turned out to be the last such case. It seems, from these pages, unlikely that this reflects public horror at the killing, despite the comments of some at the time; and nor therefore does it seem particularly likely that the Kirk had hereby achieved its aim of a ‘vigorous execution [to curb] the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land,’ not least since the extent of this had been only recently thought sufficient to prompt a tightening of the offence on the statute book. Perhaps it was the arrival of the Enlightenment, although this would have to wait another twenty years, or perhaps it was the – perhaps unintended – work of the pamphleteers of the time.

Furthermore, the tone of many of the exchanges between Aikenhead and his peers frequently take on what to a modern ear would be ‘banter’ – jokiness and joshing between people with little wider import (and frequently influenced by alcohol). Some leavening by the author of the seriousness of these exchanges would have been helpful, as well as in helping us understand the reasons for the betrayal; these are hinted at, and briefly, but, in both cases, they are absolutely hindered by Rose’s focus on Aikenhead to the almost total exclusion of the character development of his peers.

Consequently, the motives behind Thomas’s betrayal are undeveloped and what we are left with is the story of a naive young man, perhaps with some autistic traits, unable to learn the lessons of what he sees around him and, it would seem, rather missing forms of developmental guidance. Without a clear understanding of the motives of those involved, or a perspective on the context of the events they find themselves in, the other purpose of the historical novel – to review historical events in the context of their own times – is rather lost. Rose’s historical novel thus falls rather between two stools and, despite the wealth of research undertaken for the novel, it is what of this that ended up in her drafts folder that marks this out to be, rather sadly, an opportunity missed.

Just add water… and a bit of time

Well, who knows what will happen when this thing is all over, but I reckon that an ability to brew beer is going to be a much sought after skill in the new world. So, ahead of some planned new investment in, er, plant and some raw materials to facilitate a bit of expansion, here I am dipping my toes back in the water with another stovetop brewing kit.

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Yep – brewing beer at home is as straight-forward (though not simple) as beer ought to be: malt (at the back), hops (in the four (count ’em!) foil packets), yeast and water. When brew day comes – which might well be tomorrow in the continued absence of Saturday football to distract me for the whole afternoon – I’ll be brewing 4.5 litres (just shy of 8 pints) of a black IPA: a dark beer packing a mind-bendingly confusing hoppy punch.

Just as with the earlier efforts, this is an all-grain brew, with the addition this time of some Irish Moss to clear the protein haze and a hydrometer which will both test when fermentation is complete as well as tell me (in time) the strength of my brew. But, otherwise, things pretty much remain the same, including the equipment used the last times. With the single exception that there’s a bit of dry hopping involved with this one: so, a new skill, too.

I was tempted to dive back into brewing when I was up in Shetland back in January. Here, I bought James Morton’s 2016 book Brew, followed not long after by a walk in the misty rain of a Lerwick morning up to Lerwick Brewery where John, the Head Brewer, and Kathryn, the Marketing Manager, were kind enough firstly to give me a tour and answer my questions about the process as well sample a few of their beers. Indeed, my choice of kit this time around was, perhaps unconsciously, informed by their Blindside – a lovely example of a black IPA (sampled for the first time on a visit to Lewick last summer). Morton – now a junior doctor but, more famously, also a baker and a contestant on Bake Off, if you’re recognising the name or otherwise remembering the knitted jumpers – is a controversial character, both in terms of Shetland’s fishing industry and culture and in terms of Scottish politics, as well as a self-confessed dilettante (a relaunched blog with just two posts and nothing since last July). Nevertheless, he’s written a wonderful book on brewing beer at home with exactly the right mix of photographs, information, Heath Robinson and enthusiasm to de-mystify the process and be encouraging to brewers across a range of skills, knowledge and experience. And, indeed, palates.

My black IPA kit came from brewuk, based in Shewsbury and predominantly mail order seller of all things brewing, started back in 2008 by a husband and wife team the first of whom, coincidentally, authored the book on home brew beer which piqued my interest. It seems it’s not just me looking to use the time during this crisis to develop brewing skills, as a little note on the front page of the website this morning reads ‘Due to the unprecedented increase in orders over the past few days, we have suspended taking any orders until we can clear the current backlog.’ So I’d better get cracking then, to get in a good position before the MAC adds ‘brewmaster’ to the current range of UK shortage skills.

Singing as I go, perhaps under my breath, some recent lines from Jeffrey Lewis’s ode to the crisis ‘Keep It Chill! (in the East Vill)’:

Maybe a wide alliance will respect more science
in every nation and each state
We’ll take total warning about global warming
and when the virus soon blows out
we’ll have a full-on call for healthcare for all
and better safety nets rolled out
With old ways on freeze and new priorities,
this could be just what sees us
set things more at ease.

Plus a better regard for the jobs, and the pay levels, and the status, of those who really are the key workers in this country.

One thing is clear that, once this is all over – nothing can be the same as before: this virus will (and should) change everything about our understanding of what is important and what is the value of the structures and systems and shibboleths we have invested with so much truth and we simply can’t, afterwards, go back to doing what we always did.

Until then, Slàinte Mhath.

Change your mindset – not your handset

Here’s my winter 2019 column for Stage, Screen & Radio – the quarterly magazine for members of BECTU, the media and entertainment union and a sector of Prospect, which organises managers and professionals right across the UK. This was my fourth column for the union and, as always, the full column is available only to members – you can join right here and indeed so you should.

In it, I look at the sustainability of mobile handsets within the context of the industry’s two-year, contract-based replacement cycle and the environmental arguments behind why this should be extended. Note that I have slightly updated this with a couple more links.

The frequency with which we replace our mobile handsets – what the industry calls ‘handset replacement cycles’ – continues to lengthen.

Evidence suggests that consumers are seeing value in keeping their devices beyond the two-year timeframe which the industry has seen as standard in recent years.

Forecaster Gartner recently predicted that worldwide sales of smartphones will drop by 3.2% in 2019 – apparently the largest decline in shipments ever experienced.

If this is true, it will come as news to Huawei, which shipped 200 million smartphones in 2019 some 64 days earlier than it did in 2018.

And Apple has just increased production of its new iPhone 11 models by up to 8m units (about 10%). However, the company’s initial conservatism over production levels means that the increase takes it ahead of 2018 production levels by a much smaller amount.

5G to the rescue

5G is expected to rescue manufacturers in 2020 and will bring a return to growth in the market. This is one reason why the industry is continuing to talk up 5G technology as ‘transformational’.

But it does seem that 5G will facilitate some genuine breakthroughs, including:

  • much faster access speeds
  • extremely low levels of latency – the delay between sending and receiving information; this will encourage the development of connected self-driving cars
  • extremely low power consumption
  • greater connectivity, which will be required if the internet of things – the ability of your fridge to engage with your grocer of choice – is to take off.

Low power consumption, albeit within an energy market that will still grow as a result of new uses, has to be a good thing.

But, returning to mobile handsets, the question is ‘How often do we need to replace our handsets?’

Climate cost of short lifespan products

The European Environmental Bureau – a network of environmental citizens’ organisations in Europe – recently released a report on the climate impact of short-lifespan consumer products, including smartphones, and drew attention to the benefits of making such products more durable.

The study said that the average lifespan of a smartphone, whose production has the largest climate impact of all the consumer products studied, is just three years. Extending this to four years would save more than 2 million tonnes of emissions (CO2eq).

EEB argues that the study is ‘further proof’ that Europe’s climate obligations cannot be met without addressing our production and consumption patterns, which are based on the disposability mindset of the wider consumer electronics industry.

EEB says smartphones need to have longer lifespans and be more easily repaired when they break in order to minimise the climate impact of the production of new handsets.

The study concludes that it is hard to assess if manufacturers build obsolescence into their products. But the number of consumers who are replacing, rather than repairing, defective products is growing.

Right to repair law won’t cover mobile handsets

A new EU law on ecodesign, seeking to facilitate a right to repair and part of a much broader approach to sustainability and the circular economy, will help here although unfortunately it does not extend to mobile handsets (Edit: though this may be changing both for mobile handsets as well as for other electronic devices).

So, the next time your two-year mobile phone contract comes up, ask yourself whether you really need a new handset or whether you can make do with the old one for a bit longer (and save yourself some money in the process).

Rebelling against the disposability of mobile handsets might be but a small act on behalf of the planet – but it is an act.

Book Review: How Democracies Die

I picked up this slim volume last year in the midst of political crisis in the UK with an increasingly minority government sacking large numbers of ministers and MPs from its own party ranks, and thereby stymied on the main issue of the day – itself, of course, emblematic of a democracy that had been hijacked. It was, of course, eventually (and inexplicably) released from the pegs on which it was so expertly hanging itself and the rest is now history. Vote in haste; repent at leisure, we might think, not least when confronted with a government of all the talents featuring Matt ‘Telegraph’ Hancock in charge of health and Chris ‘ferries’ Grayling in charge of the, er, Commons Intelligence Committee.

My purchase was to try and come to some form of understanding of the threats to a mature democracy and, perhaps, the myriad links between them. This book – for all its scholarly nature (one-quarter of it is endnotes) – really isn’t the tool for this since, for all the generic nature of the title, the authors’ concern is not democracy in general but democracy in the US: the book’s focus is the US constitution and party system and the checks and balances these offer (or not) against the slide into authoritarianism. Particularly, therefore, the authors – both Harvard professors – are concerned with whether US democracy can survive Donald Trump; the authors are not certain that it can and, indeed, wisely observe that it is vulnerable to the same pathologies that have killed democracy elsewhere. When demagogues are in charge, how could it not be?

Now, ‘The fate of the great United States/ [Might well be] entwined in the fate of us all’ but, not being a particular expert on the US political system, I’m not that well placed to comment on the detail of the authors’ policy prescription given that this is substantially concerned with the US political system. (I do know a man who is, though.)

Given events in the UK, I was, however, attracted by the thought that polarisation is the main problem in the US and that, unless leaders find a way of addressing that issue, ‘democracy will die’ (p. 222). The drivers of polarisation in the US – religious and racial realignment and economic inequality – might be different to those in the UK (although clearly economic inequality needs to be tackled here, too) but we do of course have a highly polarised society in the wake of Brexit. Just how much this continues to affect UK democracy is as yet unknown but, given that Brexit is driving fresh support for the independence movement in Scotland, while the position of Northern Ireland remains uncertain given the government’s apparent lack of scruple over playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement, it is likely to do so for some time to come. A government whose response to crisis is to go absent and, otherwise, to give every sign of making it up as it goes along is singularly ill-equipped to undertake the ‘healing’ that a polarised society requires.

Brexit and Trump are, of course, inextricably linked in terms of rationales which explain the respective votes, the connections between Trump and Farage, and the financing of Brexit promoters in the UK and of Donald Trump by the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer. Brexit and Trump are, in both cases, the illegitimate offspring of climate change denialists and, for all that the ‘Russia Report’ does need to be released, the main failing of democracy in respect of Brexit is the extent to which Leave campaigns were funded by foreign interests. Further, there are parallels between the Tea Party in the US and the Brexit Party in the UK – and their implications for hollowed-out party organisation of the Republican Party, detailed by Levitsky and Ziblatt, and of the Conservative Party in Britain.

The main concern for Levitsky and Ziblatt is party organisation and the health and vitality of US political parties and the party political process. The authors do incorporate the issue of right-wing and partisan media and they also look at the impact of non-party campaigns, such as Americans for Tax Freedom and Americans for Prosperity (Koch vehicles, both) – and there are parallels in the UK here, too – but the focus is the potential for the takeover of moribund party organisations by extremists.

But, of course, democracies are more than just about political parties. Democracies also die when people no longer feel that their voices are being heard (and that’s as true where mass, peaceful street protests, from the Iraq War to anti-Brexit in the UK’s recent history, have little discernible impact on the political process) and where people’s democratic participation becomes limited to doing no more than casting a vote in a ballot box every so often. Citizens’ assemblies, currently one of the demands of Extinction Rebellion, have some things to offer here. Levitsky and Ziblatt don’t deal with this particular threat and neither do they include in their analysis the threat posed, in a global world, to nation state democracies by internationally-led campaigns of misinformation whose aim is to distort the political process – back, coincidentally, in the news today – and the pervasive, intrusive power of Facebook (made all the more threatening by its apparently neutral, ‘technical’ face). If democracy is all about ‘government by the people’ – and clearly it quite literally is – then international interests funding the operations of domestic campaigns and providing misinformation and misdirection represents a clear threat to those democracies and, therefore, a clear potential source of democratic death.

The absence of Lincoln’s famous quote from a book dealing with the crisis in US democracy is curious but, more than that, a book focused on the issue of failing democracies needs to address threats more broadly than the simple failure of party organisation to prevent the rise to power, within the democratic system, of an authoritarian demagogue.

#ReleaseTheRussiaReport

The Immigration (Health) Surcharge: another subscription to populism

One of the, perhaps, lesser items in this week’s budget was the 56% hike in the annual Immigration (Health) Surcharge, from £400 to £624. The new amount is curiously precise. Its (currently) stated purpose is to ensure that migrants pay the ‘full cost of use’, although the government stated this only last October as being £480. The only reference to a figure of the order to which the IHS will rise is, curiously*, an article in the Mail on Sunday quoting £625. I don’t want to drive traffic there, so here’s the Full Fact briefing on the issue which also cites it.

The somewhat unchristian origin of this particular IHS is the 2015 Coalition Government’s moves to ensure that ‘temporary’ (note carefully, with regard to the hostile environment) migrants ‘make a proper financial contribution to the cost of their NHS care’. As the accompanying Press Release went on to document, the surcharge was part of the 2014 Immigration Act whose aim was to deliver an immigration system that ‘works in the national interest’ specifically, amongst others, as regards ‘reducing the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK for the wrong reasons’ – i.e. ‘health tourism’. Given the dates, we can see this very much as part of clumsy official government rhetoric which turned out only to feed the 2016 referendum vote – and which, of course, still continues.

Now, according to the government itself, ‘health tourism’ costs the UK c. £100-£300m/year – an interesting figure in the light of the Budget’s estimates of a gain of £335m/year from the measure (although this is presumably additional to the sums already being raised) – but pretty small beer, really, in the light of the annual NHS budget. And against which we should also offset the costs of the health tourism engaged in by UK citizens ourselves – it being cheaper to have your teeth sorted by Lithuanian dentists, for example, was one of the major areas of interest in Tom Chesshyre’s look at budget airlines in How Low Can You Go?

But the surcharge of course has only a tangential relevance to the NHS. In a hospital, if you encounter people from other countries, they’re far more likely to be treating you than sat waiting in the queue with you: as regards the ‘consumption’ of health services by people from the European Economic Area, it’s worthwhile recalling at length the exhaustive work of the government’s own Migration Advisory Commission into this issue (para 22):

EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services. EEA workers are an increasing share of the health and social care workforces though these sectors employ greater numbers of non-EEA migrants. There is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare.

The NHS is of course funded out of taxes, also paid by migrants – who, we should remember, don’t get to vote in general elections on how their taxes are spent. When all new migrants – including those coming to work in the NHS – have to pay both the Immigration Surcharge and taxes, this is really taxation without representation (x2).

The Surcharge is paid, as part of the process of applying for a visa, into the Treasury from which it goes to any number of spending projects. The sum is paid, up front, and for the full length of the visa, by all those seeking a visa and regardless of whether or not they use the NHS during their stay or even, critically, if they have private medical insurance anyway, thus meaning that – outside of the arrangements between private medical insurers and the NHS – they would have no call on the NHS during their stay in the UK. It is most emphatically not, therefore, a ‘charge on people using the NHS’. Though that is, of course, the shorthand which the government would like people, including the commentariat, to use. The citation of the NHS in its context is simply to use the NHS as a political tool against immigration, to play on people’s fears as part of the hostile environment and to turn us against each other.

Furthermore, it’s not paid by those in the UK on visitor visas or in the country for less than six months – so it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t actually even do the main job required of it to ‘stop people abusing the system’.

The Immigration (Health) Surcharge is instead, essentially a tax on people coming to the UK to work – and one which, according to the Institute for Government, makes the UK already a more expensive destination than any of Australia, France, Germany or Canada. For a single person, a three-year visa, including all fees, now costs some £5,250 before you even step into the country. On top of the unwelcoming, anti-migrant nature of much of our political discourse, and over an extended period now, the stated aim of the new immigration policy to attract the ‘brightest and best’ seems likely to stand simply instead for welcoming ‘those who can afford to come’. And there is, perhaps, not necessarily any link between being able to afford to come and ‘brightest and best’.

And, more seriously, given pay rates in the public sector, neither is there any link between skills and ‘brightest and best’. Any sort of rise in tax on people coming to the UK to work will, inevitably, lead to staff shortages in critical services. The universality of the English language, at a time when the UK is becoming less welcoming, is, in this context, quite clearly our enemy. And ‘the brightest and best’ who could come here will, most likely, choose instead to go to Canada, or Australia.

None of this should surprise about a bystander government whose budget aims to inoculate the UK economy, but not its people, against the effects of coronavirus and whose aims – in respect of the virus itself – seem to be to let it ravage through and take the hindmost, according to Peston, or in the words of the Telegraph, that it might even be ‘mildly beneficial in the long-term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents’ (sic). Neither should that be a surprise given Johnson’s kite flying on the issue while sat on the GMB sofas last Thursday morning. The Cabinet has clearly seen papers floating this very approach and the source of those, even post-Sabisky, is quite clear. And unelected.

Who was it who once warned people not to fall ill, or grow old, under a Tory government?

Working from home: the gloss and the reality

Concerns over the spread of the corona virus, especially in view of the up to one in five workers who government estimates could be compelled to stay at home if the virus reaches the next stage, have revitalised a bit of interest in the potential of people working from home.

There are indeed rising numbers of people who are working from home, and 1.72m regularly did so in 2018, some 6% of the workforce, even if the rise is a little slower than advocates of flexible working policies would have hoped. The trend is certainly less than might have been expected from the scale of some major experiments taking place among large hi-tech employers in the 1990s, although a backlash was, sadly, clearly visible in some equally large hi-tech workplaces in the early part of this decade.

I was a homeworker between 2003 and 2016 and, aided by a supportive trade union employer, I hope I was a successful one. Currently, I’m a freelance writer and editor, and this post was written while sat at my desk, located in the office in my home.

As part of my work while in full-time employment, I used to edit a regular newsletter for the union’s homeworking members in which I regularly invited readers to contribute entries to our own ‘hall of infamy’ as regards the sorts of pictures which media organisations use to illustrate stories about homeworking. Frequently, these tended to feature young people slouching over a laptop, soft furnishings or kitchen counters in full view, adopting in the process a variety of unsuitable and unhealthy postures; or which portrayed them somehow balancing laptop and baby, sometimes with a mobile phone thrown in for good measure. There was always quite a haul. This is evidently not ‘homeworking’ – the clue is in the name; and, while homeworking might allow people better to juggle work responsibilities and domestic caring ones, the two – as in traditional workplaces – ought only rarely/never to come into contact with each other. Dedicated facilities are required, in both cases.

Consequently, it was a little disappointing to see BBC Scotland illustrate its story on Tuesday this week, on whether working from home would become the new normal, with a customary image drawn straight from the hall of infamy:

I’m not quite sure what this young woman is doing but, if it’s work, well, she won’t be doing it for long sat like that.

The trouble is, as all homeworkers know, this sort of image just feeds the prejudices – that homeworkers are not really doing a lot other than respond to phone calls as they come in and, strategically, a few e-mails now and again. In short, that working from home is a skive, and an unhealthy one, frequently carried out by people in their PJs (and often in bed or, otherwise, sat cross-legged on the sofa), punctured by regular trips to the fridge, to the washing machine, to the TV or, once dressed (presumably), to the shops.

The reality, of course, is that homeworkers are usually more productive – there is nothing necessarily efficient about office working, where distractions are also ever-present and frequent; while there is of course an ‘observed worker’ effect in which people who are in the eye of their managers, so to speak, need frequently to show their effectiveness. And this very well describes the position that homeworkers are in. Typically also, the output of a modern day is infinitely measurable and there is nothing less in this respect about work being done at home compared to in an office. After all, work is what you do, not where you do it.

The jury might remain out on the environmental benefits of homeworking – some assessments showing a positive impact are now a little out of date; while other important ones are apparently lost to website changes (even if the press release is still available). Coincidentally, just a couple of weeks before the BBC Scotland story, elsewhere on the BBC, on its ‘Worklife’ project, there was a lengthy blog pointing to the nuances of the debate in which, with energy supply, including for transport, coming from increasingly renewable sources, there is a potential undermining of some of the argument for the sustainability of homeworking in the long-term. Even so, there remain clear pointers – and ones that are academically sustained – in favour of homeworking in terms of the reduction of network congestion and vehicular emissions in which there is an immediately positive return to health and to sustainability.

Working from home doesn’t suit everyone – and nor is everyone’s home necessarily suitable for homeworking. You do need to be possessed of a certain sort of temperament as an individual – ideally, the type not to need a lot of human interaction to sustain interest – and your home does need to be suitable for adaptation into an office environment: not necessarily a room set aside as an office, although that is the ideal, but otherwise a committed space in which you can go to work, undisturbed and which, equally importantly, doesn’t impinge on the rest of your home life once you’ve wrapped up for the day. It is for sound reasons that all homeworking must be a voluntary initiative – on both sides; and, if it is not – as always – see your trade union.

As is frequently the case, there is a calculation to be made, and a balance to be struck, about the benefits of homeworking and the suitability of homeworking solutions to domestic problems, or even to mass outbreaks of contagious and life-threatening illnesses.

Just no more the balance of I’ve-got-my-laptop-on-knee-while-I’m-sat-on-my-floor-but-I-am-working, please.