No disrespect to those who spend their life shuffling goods around while working in a warehouse, but I had spent six years at university with the specific intention of earning more than my current wage of £3.50 an hour. With a few months savings stashed away in my wardrobe shirt pocket I resigned from my warehouse job and once again entered the job market in the search for accounting work.
Within a couple of weeks I was working as an office assistant for a Funds Management company shuffling paper around for £5.50 an hour. This was my first experience of working in an office environment. Unfortunately the experience lasted a little over a week.
Things started off smoothly enough. Everyone on the office floor appeared friendly and relaxed. My increased pay even meant I was beginning to feel at ease with the world; the chip on my shoulders slowly been brushed aside. I was on such a level plateau it did not occur to me rules must be abided if one is to fit into an office cultural regime.
All I did was engage in a couple of friendly chats with the person sitting beside me. Never mind I was leaning back with my feet rested upon the desk at the time. I should have learned the lesson that impressions in an office environment are everything. However I was not going to get the immediate opportunity. The only opportunity I was given the one to use my feet to find the door, with the excuse there was not enough work at the Funds Management firm to keep me occupied.
I spent the next couple of weeks walking around London, visiting accounting agencies and showing them my much improved curriculum vitae. However as the days went past without success, the wad of cash in my wardrobe shirt pocket was becoming thinner and thinner. I had worked many a long hour to accumulate these meagre savings. It was heart breaking to watch this hard work slowly disappear.
It was not long before I was back working in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately my previous role, counting returned stock, had been taken. I was now landed with the most mundane occupations of a day that could be imagined. A day could be spent pushing a trolley around in a circle collecting assigned goods, throwing cardboard boxes into a shredder or listening to the personal conversations of my Eastern European co-workers plotting the next communist revolution.
It was a revolution I wanted no part of. I was too busy trying to occupy my mind; trying to save my sanity from the dreamer who lives in a world where his immediate prospects are paper thin.
It was the middle of a dark, gloomy English winter. I needed escape. I resigned once more from the entertainment industry, dipped into my wardrobe shirt pocket and spent a month travelling around Western Europe.
When I arrived back in London, the employment agency sent me to work as a casual labourer on a large building site close to Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square. I was sub-contracted to a flooring company. Without getting technical, my role involved lifting up metal floor plates in the morning and reinstalling these plates into their proper position in the evening.
Why was my role necessary?
The building’s wiring was placed under the floor plates. As physical activity was not part of the electricians’ contracts, lifting the floor plates became my task, requiring 30 minutes of soft labour a day.
As apparently happens reasonably often on these large building sites, work was already a year behind schedule. You therefore might think people would be in a sweat to complete the building sometime before the new millennium. Fortunately they were not. The work was a steady pay cheque and most of the workers felt they were accountable to no-one but themselves. Fortunately they did not set themselves very high standards in accountability or timeliness.
I say this was fortunate because the attitude of the builders coincided with my own. A general malaise floated about the place and it took less than a few hours for this productive illness to filter its way into my daily routine.
The secret was to be latent; existing but not active. Slackness was a joke to be laughed at rather than frowned upon. There was no incentive to break out a sweat and perform any labour which involved physicality. For me the title of labourer took on new meaning.
It was time for me to balance the ledger with bureaucratic Britain. Time for me to receive a pay comparable to the one I had earned in the entertainment industry but without the previous association with slave labour.
If I was not going to spend much time working, the problem then became how I was going to fill in time during my non-working day. This required creativity and became a task within itself.
General options included:
Phil could usually be found in his office, head hunched over his desk, scratching an excessive purchase of lottery tickets. If he wasn’t trying to earn this fortune then he could usually be found with his gathered cohorts telling tales.
One of these tales involved Phil’s passion for the racing of pigeons. Listening to the conversation I discovered pigeon racing was a big business in England, a country where a well bred racing pigeon could be worth a small fortune.
Phil, with some regret in his voice, was telling the tale of the time he came close to this small fortune. It was the time of his life when two of his pigeons were consistently winning their races. This attracted the attention of a breeder who subsequently offered Phil some big money for the right to own and breed his pigeons.
However the money wasn’t big enough and Phil wanted more. An esteemed pigeon race was to be held in a couple of weeks and Phil thought if his pigeons won that race then his bargaining position would be increased even further.
It was a risk which initially proved well worth a pay off when his two prized pigeons won their respective races. The breeder subsequently increased his offer. But it was not signed, sealed and delivered.
As the pile of lottery tickets could attest, Phil was not a lucky guy; before the breeder handed the over the money the hearts of both his pigeons exploded. Obviously they were not in a fit state for delivery and the deal was called off.
With tears forming in his eyes, Phil went on to tell us he had become too greedy; that he had injected double the usual dose of steroids into his pigeons. This had ensured they won their races but had also led to their hearts exploding soon after.
It was a sombre tale. It was time for the group to leave him alone, head down, scratching his lottery tickets.
There is a lesson in there somewhere.