I am sitting in my office, using a blue inflatable gym ball instead of a chair. This was recommended to me as a cure for certain occupational ailments, including neck pain, back pain and shoulder pain. The first time I reached across my desk for a pencil and ended up on the floor, I thought: this isn’t going to work.
But it does work. My neck has stopped hurting, my shoulders don’t ache and my core is permanently engaged. I rarely fall off the ball any more. After two weeks, I can balance on it with my feet in the air while drinking a cup of coffee.
The only thing I can’t do on the ball is work. The constant, low-level concentration required to stay upright makes it impossible to think about anything else. This, if I’m honest, is the best part.
The office door opens and my wife leans in.
“I’m going to the supermarket,” she says. “Can you think of anything we need?” I turn toward her while allowing the ball to roll backwards, deftly hooking the underside of the desk with a finger to stop myself going too far.
“Cat food,” I say.
“Enjoying your ball?” she says.
“Yes, thank you,” I say. “Although it’s cold in the mornings, so I have to…”
“Text me if you think of anything,” she says, already halfway across the garden. When she is gone I spend 10 minutes bouncing gently on the ball. For a moment I remember that we need milk, but then I forget all about it.
After lunch, I linger in the kitchen. The oldest one, who is working from home all week, is sitting at the far end of the table with his laptop open in front of him.
“I’m getting absolutely nothing done,” I say, “but the core is strong.”
“I have a Zoom meeting in, like, 10 minutes,” he says.
“I’ll be out of your hair,” I say. “I just need to be able to sit for a while without thinking about it.”
Suddenly he stands up, stalks across the room, switches off the radio and sits back down.
“Oh,” I say.
“I hate the radio,” he says.
The youngest one walks in. “Yo,” he says.
“Why do old people have the radio on all the time?” the oldest says.
“It stops them being lonely,” the youngest says. “It’s like company for them.”
“All day long in the background, talking shit,” the oldest says. “How can you concentrate?”
“It’s called multitasking,” I say.
The following evening I find myself back at the kitchen table, feeling low and a little angry. That morning, in spite of my newfound coordination and core strength, I had dropped a big container of milk at the Sainsbury’s self-checkout, and watched it explode at my feet. The episode was so personally humiliating that I have not mentioned it to anyone.
The oldest one is still at the end of the table behind his laptop. The youngest one is cooking and my wife appears to be talking to me.
“What?” I say.
“I was just wondering if you might like to help me unload the dishwasher,” she says.
“Oh,” I say.
“I mean, if your schedule will allow it.”
“Something happened to me in Sainsbury’s today,” I say quietly. The oldest one stands up and turns off the radio.
“I was listening to that!” my wife says.
“No one was listening to that,” he says.
“I can never go back there,” I say.
“It is really annoying,” the youngest one says.
“I learned this yesterday,” I say. “The young people of today hate radio.”
“I don’t care,” my wife says, turning the radio back on.
“They hate it because it doesn’t have any memes on it,” I say.
“That’s right, Grandad,” the youngest says.
“The young people of today communicate almost exclusively through memes,” I say.
“Did you watch a documentary about memes last night or something?” the oldest says.
“No,” I lie. I’m going out to my office, I think. And I won’t come back until I can stand on the ball.