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Workin' awa

Out and about I saw a youngster sitting with dad in the cab of one of these big modern tractors. Rather like me as a doctor's son. Mother could get some relief from the, presumed, incessant demands of her firstborn by dumping me into father's care. I sat with him as he made his rural calls on patients.

Apparently, I had the habit of dropping a shoe out of the car window. So I imagine it may not have the cheapest option to get a bit of peace. For my part, I have no recollection of the shoe disposal.

I resumed travelling around with my father when I reached seventeen. While I had been driving cars for some years, mostly but not exclusively on private land, it was time to become familiar with the highway and all its signs.

Father sat beside me, not to teach me to drive, but to meet the legal requirement for supervision of an "L-plated" driver. I had read all the books, especially the Highway Code, and needed no input from himself. Or so I thought.

My first test demonstrated that my confidence exceeded my ability. Ability to pass the test that is. I was, of course, an excellent driver with full mastery of the car. But limited mastery of what I needed to do to pass the test. Having previous sailed through my motorcycle test, I "knew it all".

It may have been a mistake to be driving mother's car. It was brand new, new that very day indeed. I had never driven it before. And it had these funny sliding windows that a Mini had in the early 1960s.

The test was going well. I was invited to demonstrate my mastery of hand signals. The test had not yet caught up with the fact that most cars had electric indicators. My opening the window indicated some unfamiliarity on my part with the car's sliding glass. And changing gear with my left hand while my right was dangling out the window to make a signal coupled with a knee keeping the steering wheel pointing in the correct direction caused an audible gasp from the examiner sitting beside me. Prior to my test, I had never used hand signals.

A few weeks later, further study and some practice, brought me a successful outcome to the re-sit.

While I had not gained any useful driving skills by being out on his rounds with my father, I did have useful insights into what his job entailed. Coupled with a procession of patients attending surgery in our front room ten times a week, it meant one knew enough of the hard work and responsibility that came with being a country GP.

A young lad on a farm is probably similarly exposed to the practical side of the world of work. When I visit one of our many rural primary schools, my standard "ice-breaker" question is to ask all those who have driven a tractor to put their hands up. It will be a majority. And generally a larger share of the girls than of the boys. It is suggested to me that a nine-year-old girl will generally be bigger and stronger than a male contemporary and that accounts for the difference. Perhaps.

The question that seeing the young chap sitting beside his father in the tractor put in my mind was not about rural youngsters.

The pandemic has brought work into many homes. And what have the younger members of the household seen? Certainly not any hard manual labour that might still be part of modern farming. Not that carrying of the medical bag, and its well-known contents, into a house of the sick or dying. Nor anything more than mum or dad sitting at the kitchen table "playing with their computer" and gossiping via video with their office pals.

I have had secondary school students come on placement with me for a week. And they get real tasks to undertake. So if you are a 14 or 15-year-old with me in Parliament, you can expect to have to write a speech for me to use in a Member's debate. And use it I actually will. So being close to an office worker like me can provide meaningful insight into the world of work.

For a primary school pupil, I guess the exposure to a parent working at home will have been much less useful. The school student has been "liberated" from the trained oversight, and a keen eye for inattention, of the teacher. And seen instead, a parent who can give them much less time while they engage in, what the youngster may view as, apparently meaningless activity.

We are likely to be seeing much more home-working in future. For my part, it's something I have been doing for many years. I try to meet my constituents where it suits them rather than have them travel to my office.

A round trip from one corner of my constituency to the other could be three hours in a car. Using public transport to get from Buckie to Peterhead would, according to Traveline Scotland, be a minimum of three and a half hours and more generally an hour longer. So we have been using software that helps us work away from my constituency office in Peterhead for a number of years.

Cutting travel from our working day has created more time for actual work. But neither I nor my staff have had school-age children in our houses. So I am watching how others are affected.

One news story today may tell us something about our being away from the office. In various countries around the world, there has been a dramatic fall in very premature births. Some reports give a 90% drop.

There will be so many things, not just direct health issues, to look at once we have this virus under control. And indeed early reports of this kind will need to be checked very carefully for validity.

But for sure, workin' awa is here to stay.

For many of us.

Maybe not all.

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