THIS column is dedicated to the patron saint of anyone who works from home - Associate Professor Robert Kelly from Pusan National University in South Korea.
His credentials are impressive – a PhD in international relations and political theory, with a dissertation on The Impact of Non-Governmental Organisations on the Bretton Woods Institutions (and you can imagine Hollywood producers lining up to make a film of that one, no doubt starring Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lawrence frolicking in the woods, with cameos by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and possibly Helen Mirren as a spy).
His published works are well-researched, well-regarded and scarily titled. My personal favourites are Using Analytical Eclecticism for Improved Policy Relevance: Is There a Case for South Korean Support of Abenomics?; The Optimism of Classical Realism: Thucydides, Clausewitz, Morgenthau and his stand-out work – at least from the point of view of understanding what the hell he’s talking about – is his January, 2015 piece, Why Invading North Korea is a Really Bad Idea.
He’s a serious, talented man, in other words, who’s invited by respected media outlets like the BBC to make very earnest comments about North and South Korea and why we’re more than a touch concerned by them both at the moment.
So there he was the other day, speaking in an authoritative way to the BBC about turmoil in South Korea after a constitutional court removed president Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal, while sitting in what appeared to be an office with a map of the world on one wall, and a bookshelf on another.
And then the door opened behind him.
I’ve worked from home for years, including decades ago when my three sons were young.
There are really good things about working from home – you can start very early in the morning before anyone is up; send off emails at 5am to get your day going; put your dinner on; get the washing off the line if it starts to rain; wear your pyjamas and socks all day if it’s cold, and nobody knows. These are all wonderful advantages when it comes to the working from home/going to the office debate.
And then there’s those other times, when work and home collides and you end up being a YouTube, Twitter and social media sensation, and media outlets from around the world call to speak to you - not because you’re an earnest scholar, but because your children have completely upstaged you on live television.
And then there’s those other times, when work and home collides and you end up being a YouTube, Twitter and social media sensation, and media outlets from around the world call to speak to you - not because you’re an earnest scholar who knows a lot about the two Koreas, but because your children have completely upstaged you on live television.
That’s what happened to Associate Professor Kelly last week, and why I love him, his children Marion, 4, and James, 8 months, and particularly his wife, Kim Jung-a, who not only managed the most spectacular entry to an earnest BBC live broadcast the world has ever seen, but also the most spectacular exit as she slid/crawled to pull the door shut after extracting the children.
It was Marion who opened the door into Kelly’s carefully constructed professional world first, doing a sweet little dance before pulling up beside her Dad, who was trying to answer a question about whether turmoil in South Korea was going to have ramifications in the region, or give North Korean leader Kim Jong-un another excuse to act as crazy as a fruit bat.
Kelly put an arm out in an attempt to 1. block her from doing something even more embarrassing or 2. pretend she didn’t exist, just for a minute or two. Marion didn’t take the move personally but, like any self-respecting 4-year-old, lounged back on the bed and entertained herself with her glasses and some kind of toy.
Then James came into view. He’s only eight months old, but already James has worked out that with a set of wheels you can really make a cool entrance, particularly if it’s a confined space, there’s millions of people watching, and noone is paying the slightest attention to the earnest things Dad is trying to say about the political ramifications of an historic event, because all eyes are on the baby in the walker and what he could get up to.
By the time Kim Jung-a made her dramatic slide entrance wearing socks, and desperately, and initially unsuccessfully, tried to drag the children out, all thought of Korea and politics was gone. Kelly was apologetic. But even after the door was finally closed Marion and James let us know – with loud and outraged cries – that they wanted to be back with Dad.
And around the world there were cries as well, of laughter, and from people wanting Marion, James and Kim Jung-a to return for an encore. The last time I checked the “Associate Professor Robert Kelly upstaged by his children” film had been viewed 84 million times. I’ve seen it about a dozen times and it still makes me laugh.
Anyone who has had to do something official at home for work – like a teleconference or interview – knows the terror that a couple of lurking children, or pets, can inspire.
I remember watching in horror years ago as my three sons – then aged about 6, 4 and 3 – played happily in a sandpit in the backyard while I interviewed someone on a landline inside the house about 10-15 metres away, and my middle son decided it would be a great idea to do something murderous to his younger brother.
I dropped the phone, smashed through a sliding screen door and leapt from a deck to sandpit level before too much blood was spilt. The poor person on the end of the phone line that day still remembers the screams.