This week we crawled our way to another lockdown in Northern Ireland. Thankfully past experience has delivered invaluable lessons on how to cope...
When it comes to anything beyond the tribal politics of Orange and Green, the Northern Ireland Executive has proved itself unfit for purpose. Faced with real questions of life and death our leaders have shown a grim determination to stay resolutely behind the curve.
Even this week when the PM metaphorically hit the big red button marked PANIC, our politicians couldn't get their act together. While the rest of the UK went into immediate lockdown, complete with pictures of deserted "ghost" city and town centres, our lot dillied and dallied, dallied and dillied, lost the plot and just allowed people to roam... as if hoping that if they talked long enough it would just go away.
GCSEs and A levels were on, then off, BTecs are still up in the air. But it was the transfer test fiasco that truly exposed Stormont for what it is - a sectarian basket-case. Our lot turned the pressing issue of how to save as many lives as possible into a debate about the merits of academic selection - traditionally fought bitterly on Green and Orange lines.
Sinn Fein, which scrapped the 11-Plus, saw an opportunity to finish it off once and for all. The key issue should have been about finding the best way forward for those parents who want their child to have the opportunity of a grammar school education, not about winding up unionists.
After all many people here of whatever political hue are already wound up enough. They've witnessed the breath-taking arrogance of SF's rule-flouters at the Bobby Storey funeral - including a Deputy First Minister who without a blush continues to lecture others on how to behave - and have seen the DUP emerge as a natural home for Covid macho men.
Barely a day passes without Sammy Wilson being accused of flouting rules. After travelling to the House of Commons our Alpha Male told us: "I'm more in danger of being killed on my motorbike than I am of being affected by this virus." Maybe he should go into the recording studio for his own version of the Van Morrison classic Sammy Wilson Said. This week 80 people died from Covid in NI but we are still waiting on that minute's silence for them at Stormont.
This time around avoid these people, if you'll pardon the pun, like the plague. They go to bed at night with a print-out of the latest NI Regulations and a highlighter. You know the type - often to be heard saying things like "you know, if you have a skin condition you don't have to wear a mask" or "you know, if a wet bar sold a Scotch egg that could make it a restaurant".
Every time there's a new lockdown they have a long list of - quite literally - Get Out clauses before the ink is barely dried. We all know what we are meant to do to help each other through this - starting with ignoring these people.
Talking of which, one of the pluses of the pandemic has been people discovering the mute button on their social media feeds. If you truly can take no more of the conspiracy theories and the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, well the good news you don't have to.
Those people you originally befriended because you worked in the same type of job or shared a love of cats and who now bombard your timeline with their weird and angry political views? As if you care what they think... Just mute them. Simple. And they won't even know you've done it. God bless technology.
Nearly one year on, it's no secret many people are struggling - and that awareness is a good thing because it proves we're better at talking about it. Northern Ireland has always been a reserved society so one benefit from all this (and yes there have been a few) is that some people have felt able to lower the emotional drawbridge. For the first time they have talked about how they really feel - and perhaps also noticed if a friend is under pressure.
Covid has forced us to live differently - perhaps juggling competing pressures of working at home/home-schooling/caring for relatives - and that's meant finding coping strategies too. Planting a few bulbs, taking the dog for a walk, marvelling at the serene wisdom of the cat, reading a novel... sure, none of this is going to be life-changing but it can provide some valuable headspace.
Switching off the Stormont drip-feed of information can help too. You'll find out eventually - and it will still seem half-hearted and be quickly undermined.
By this stage, we should have nailed this - home deliveries for whoever requires them and as safe an environment as possible for those who have to go to supermarkets. Sadly, it's still a battleground with a variety of "enemies" trying to take you out either wilfully or through ignorance and/or selfishness.
Yes, we all know there are some who can't wear masks for medical reasons, but there aren't that many of them folks and they sure don't all happen to be in this superstore right now - but there they are, those who just refuse to do so to make a point.
Even that, however, is not enough. So many people have discovered they have magnetic personalities as strangers flock to their side. These people push up beside you, often coughing to signify their presence.
Then there are young couples, family outings, groups of friends who blithely sail past the 'only one person per household' signs to dander round the aisles. We all get it now - you're not worried about Covid, you don't think it exists, you couldn't be a***d. It's just your utter contempt for other people that continues to gall. Still, there's plenty of space emerging on the shelves... no post-Brexit Irish Sea border eh? Frankly, in the middle of a pandemic, it's all getting too dystopian-looking for my liking...
Still all in this together
We used to have many dividing lines - men or women, Green or Orange, Tory or Labour, worker or boss, BBC NI or UTV, Nolan or Frank... But now it's much more complex, so many competing needs, voices and views on absolutely everything.
Of course, there are very real concerns for those awaiting surgery - in some cases life-saving - whose operations have been cancelled due to Covid and who need urgent treatment. Those unable to work who need financial help. Businessowners perplexed that a multi-national can sell clothes to shoppers while they can't operate a click and collect service from their small independent store.
It's easy to understand why so many people feel increasingly on their own in all of this, especially when Stormont is so dysfunctional. In one sense we are all in this together, in another, possibly more than at any time in our history, even during the Troubles, because Covid has divided people even within usually monocultural communities, it does feel like it's everyone for themselves now.
But I have to say very quietly that this isn't so. Away from the shouting online and in real life, away from the anger and even the hurt, we all still are part of a strong community of resilient people; and we all know we have our small platoons of support, in family maybe, for some it'll be those next door, or in the next street, or the local pastor or the postie, for others it will be faith and for others it will be their own stoic Ulster stubbornness and thran personalities.
We draw on all of this to be who we are. So I say, hold your nerve. Sit your ground. Keep going. Choose whichever one of those suits you best and stick to it.
This is still a community of good people doing their very best.