We homeworkers have been rumbled. Our tribe is under threat | Barbara Ellen

Long-time homeworkers – has coronavirus screwed with our sweet gig? Are people who normally go to workplaces now on to us?

Please know that this piece isn’t about the deathly seriousness of coronavirus. It’s about sloth, furtiveness and very loose clothing. Mine, and possibly yours. It’s about how, as lockdown rumbled on, many people realised they preferred working from home (WFH), for reasons aside from risk factors, and it’s about how I’m a little unnerved by that. True homeworkers, like myself, devote our lives to building highly dysfunctional semi-agoraphobic shadow-work worlds. It’s our space that the new WFH-lot have invaded, with their poxy Zoom meetings, ingenious lunches, and kitchen-yoga.

For many, WFH constituted a major lifestyle change, even a revelation. Sending work emails from sofas. Dumping “real” clothes for comfort. Ditching commutes. People aren’t feeling any urge to return to help Pret A Manger, or other high street businesses. Meanwhile, we seasoned homeworkers (stoic, noble, with years of training in phone fear and muscle degeneration) barely merited a mention. No one asked how we were getting on. Which is fine. We’re used to concentrating on the actual work, but otherwise being overlooked. We prefer it that way.

Of course, not everyone enjoys WFH: it rather depends on the work and the home. People living in cramped conditions don’t find it easy. Others are losing their jobs. Nor has it been a “choice”. When Kirstie Allsopp commented that people should return to workplaces, or companies would realise they didn’t need them, and out-source to cheaper overseas labour,she forgot a major factor: the government. It was the Tories’ job to properly manage the pandemic so that people would trust their advice to return to workplaces.

After months of incompetence, the government is way down people’s Most Trusted/Respected lists. By my reckoning, they trailJoe Wicks, the Deliveroo app, and that Berlin naturist who chased the wild boar to get his laptop back.

Still, spare a thought for homeworkers. For years, we’ve been pitied and scorned for not being in offices, and therefore lacking visibility and status. Which was fine, so long as we could keep our excellent “pottering about in glorified pyjamas” gig all to ourselves. Now that everyone knows WFH is doable, even desirable, it doesn’t feel exclusive anymore. Or safe. When the hordes return to their workplaces, there could be envy and resentment towards homeworkers. Instead of [faux concern] “Aw, aren’t you isolated?”, it will be: [glare] “Nice for some people”.

As for those who feel they thrived during WFH: get over yourselves, amateurs, it’s been mere months. Soon enough, you’ll realise that athleisurewear is just another elasticated waistband. You’ll ditch healthy salads and start licking peanut butter off teaspoons. You’ll quit yoga and lose entire days standing, dazed, by boiling kettles. Eventually, you’ll become true homeworkers; completely “yourself”. Which, believe me, is a problem. If that sounds good, keep going. As for fellow homeworkers, my tribe: I fear the game’s up. Coronavirus smoked us out. Prepare for the haters.

Sorry if I can’t rejoice over Zuckerberg’s wealth


Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg: crossed the $100bn line. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg has joined the centibillionaire club, which means his personal assets have crossed the $100bn mark for the first time. He managed to get over the line when Facebook announced it was going to introduce Instagram Reels to combat TikTok. Now Zuckerberg is up there with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as the only people with centibillionaire status, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. How very exciting for Mark. I’m sure we’re all thrilled to bits for him.

Alternatively, please excuse me while I finish dry heaving into a waste paper bin. Does anyone out there care how ever richer the mega-rich get? The only positive is how furious and envious it must make Elon Musk, who I bet has “become a big-shot centibillionaire” scrawled on his Dear Santa wishlist. For the rest of us, it’s not about the politics of envy but, rather, how far removed we feel from these rarefied worlds, especially right now.

There are issues surrounding such vast fortunes. For a start, the centibillionaires’ front companies have been doing rather well out of coronavirus (see also Apple and Google). Obviously, such companies support charitable causes (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been active since 2000). However, as Bernie Sanders pointed out, perhaps there should be an additional tax on wealth gains during coronavirus. In certain cases, companies deigning to pay the correct amount of existing taxes would be a nice start.

This isn’t about resenting the rich. It’s about how a global pandemic frames immense wealth in a whole new light. It’s about how the triumphalism of the few looks particularly grotesque next to reports of ominous economic downturns. Perhaps becoming a centibillionaire should stop being viewed as the zenith of business achievement and start registering as a sign that this is a world where priorities are upside down.

Don’t apologise, Gwynnie, your conscious uncoupling was a boon


Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in 2014: they were divorced two years later. Photograph: Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP

Gwyneth Paltrow is trying to disown the magnificent “conscious uncoupling” phrase she used when announcing the end of her relationship with Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Paltrow, actress turned Goop lifestyle empire founder, now says she initially disliked the term and found it “painfully progressive and hard to swallow”. She pins the blame on the therapist who counselled her and Martin. Paltrow adds that, while separating, she and Martin had good days but also “days when they couldn’t stand each other”. Such a gritty observation would have improved the syrupy separation announcement. An opportunity missed and all that.

In fact, sorry, Gwynnie, it’s too late generally. You can’t just take things back. You can’t tell people to steam-clean their vaginas, insist that a candle smells of your own vagina or announce that you have consciously uncoupled and then just say: “Oh, wotevs, I’ve changed my mind.” How many lives would you ruin? How many vaginas?

Paltrow shouldn’t be embarrassed anyway. The phrase “conscious uncoupling” was meant well and, unlike all the overpriced Goop tat, was a free gift to the world. One envisages warring couples all over the globe saying: “I feel a bit better now. We might be breaking up, but at least we’re not pretentious A-list hippies.”

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist

The Guardian

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