Thursday, 20 July 2023

Not working

Now I'm an oldie, as I sit flicking rat poison to the pigeons from my park bench. Between surreptitiously supping from that embarrassingly large litre bottle of extremely cheap whisky. I think back to the before times. When I was young rather than everyone else.

Leaving school with impressively mediocre A-levels, my wise choice of a wildly unpopular subject meant I got in anyway. Chinese. At the time, totally fucking useless in the job market. Explaining why they let me in.

Getting back to the theme. I'd best explain what my goals as a furry-faced school leaver were:

1. Not working
2. Becoming a writer.

I know, possibly contradictory aims. (I was going to say, well, writing is never work for me. But it has been. I've written things purely for the money. Might have had a bit of fun.)

While not working as a student, I got to play with writing in the Leeds Student magazine. Purely because my mate Pete was arts editor. Me, Tim and Matt all got to write pretentious reviews.

I had zero idea how to take this writing further.

Not working, however, wasn't just my attempt to be a writer. I saw it as a lifestyle. After a few early setbacks, I'm delighted how well it's succeeded.

In a time of high unemployment, try as I might, work kept coming my way. For a workshy git like me, a total disaster.

Then the jobs stop involving, er, work.

My record for sitting idle on my arse: 21 months. A nightmare really. In pre-internet days. What do you do? I wrote programs that might have been useful, without being asked. Just to make that clock tick a little faster.

So many other contracts with little or nothing to do. I wrote whole applications just to stop going crazy.

Then, to kill the boredom in a job with no work and no internet access, I wrote "Beer Ale and Malt Liquor". My rambling, incomplete manuscript on the history of UK beer 1700-1973. I did publish one chapter in what I think might be the longest post ever. The quarter of a million words. I've been using to remind of all the stuff I've forgotten.

How did my writing progress? A webpage and a blog. Thanks internet! 

And thanks not working. For making me fulfill goal number two: becoming a writer.*

Can I stop now I've achieved all my goals? Maybe I should ask the kids.


* If you count one obscure commissioned book and a raft of amateurish, self-published word fests, withe more tables than the first class dining room of the Titanic


Matt said...

"Then the jobs stop involving, er, work."

In 2005, I was working at Stockport social security office when it shut and the work and the rest of the staff on my section moved elsewhere. As I was a lower grade, I had restricted mobility, which meant I couldn't be moved as easily as them. I offered to go if they paid me for travelling time, but my manager refused so I was left behind, ostensibly to tidy up a few filing cabinets which took me a couple of hours.

On my first day on the empty floor of the office, the guy from the floor below who was officially now my supervisor came up to see me. I thought he'd have a list of rubbish jobs for me to do, but he just said to call him if I needed anything and disappeared, never to be seen again, so it became a daily routine of clocking in, brewing up, reading the paper, browsing the internet, going out for dinner, more of the same in the afternoon, then clock out and go home. It didn't drag as much as you'd think. After a month, they backed down and agreed to pay me travelling time to the new office, which was OK too as I spent half my working day being paid to read the paper on buses rather than in an empty office.

There's a bit in George Orwell's Coming Up for Air where the main character recalls being put in charge of a stores dump in the West Country towards the end of WWI and then left on his own and forgotten for the rest of the war. In between writing and sending in fictitious reports that are never acknowledged or questioned, he spends the time reading all the books he never got round to before.

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