Wednesday, 18 September 2013

9 to 5, part one.

Nobody really aspires to be working an average 9 to 5 job at the age of 20; most of my 20 year old friends barely make it out of bed before early afternoon and the thought of missing the lunchtime special at Whetherspoons fills them with a dread I don't even want to get my head around. In fact, regardless of age, does anybody really aspire to be working a 9 to 5? Dolly Parton may have convinced everybody that she understands what it's like to have to down two large espressos before 10am, just to function, but I'm pretty sure she's able to pick and choose her own working hours...she is Dolly Parton, after all.

Never, in my entire life, have I ever been seduced by the idea of working from 9am to 5pm. From the age of seven, I wanted to be a writer and in my head, that meant writing at 3am because it's the only time to find some peace and spending a lot of time networking with other writers, complaining about writer's block and lack of inspiration - two things which automatically mean a holiday needs to be booked ASAP. I had visions of myself sat at a desk, working from home on my state of the art laptop, writing 500 words every hour, stopping for spontaneous (but often) coffee, cake and cigarette breaks and finishing work whenever the nearest pub began Happy Hour. Now I'm older and a little bit more realistic, I cannot begin to tell you what a shock to the system it was to discover I didn't get to re-enact all of the above the minute I had a few A-Levels under my belt.

Instead, a lifetime of hard work is mapped out. If I want Happy Hour drinks, I have to earn the money to buy them. A state of the art laptop? Well, they don't grow on trees...
So I've taken up an office job, whereby I start at 9am and finish at 5:30pm. I'm usually late and if I'm not late, I'm sometimes hungover, tired or moody. The latter is a firm favourite of mine.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't struggle with the same routine everyday but luckily, my day to day to-do list varies.

The job is based at a debt collection agency; when I first started, I was an admin assistant who spent most of the day looking at the clock, urging the hands to move faster. Nine months later, I switched roles (I guess I was promoted really) and now I'm a complete Sales and Marketing tosser. I use phrases like "I hope you're well?" in e-mails, arrange client visits and make connections via LinkedIn. Friday afternoons and Monday mornings are dedicated to running reports and creating a Pivot Table in Excel excites me more than it should.
The company itself has a lot of potential to be something amazing. It's innovative, forward thinking and is in the process of finally catching up with the 21st century. Thank God.
I get on ridiculously well with my Manager (she's actually more of an annoying older sister than a pushy boss) and after a busy day at work, it's quite normal to find us sat outside a pub in Clapham, finally tasting those Happy Hour drinks I've been banging on about.
I work with my brother, which is a challenge in itself but entertaining nevertheless. Plus, it means I'm always guaranteed a lunch buddy.
In actual fact, the idea of working a 9 to 5 would be too much to bear if I was working anywhere other then the company I work for now.

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to visit clients across the country. I escape London every once in a while, braving Euston Station at 9am and travel to places like Havant, Coventry,'s not glamorous, but it beats staring at the same four walls five days a week.
So, today, I found myself in the office of a warehouse, dressed like an estate agent and sat next to my Manager. We had just finished a four hour long drive to Stoke after a horrendous 5am wake-up call and life could not have been anymore surreal unless a flying pig flew past.
"Who wants to be sat in a warehouse that distributes collectible plates featuring the Royal Family's faces? Oh, and at Christmas, they include Santa hats on the plates..." 
And the answer to that question is: nobody. Nobody really wants to be sat in this specific office, discussing how the placement of a Christmas hat would effect the Queen's hair on a plate that's going to take pride of place on somebody's wall unit.

But it got me thinking: 13 years ago, when I first decided I wanted to write for a living, I would never have imagined that spending time in a plate distributing warehouse would ever have factored into the hard graft I've got to put in. Not only just spending time in said warehouse, but some of the activities that take place at work either...I'm pretty sure I didn't sign up for "awful atmosphere, bitchy comments" when I made a pledge to create a career out of my words but still...they're entertaining stories when swapped over a few drinks in a beer garden.

My office consists of a range of people: University graduates, working Mums, angry young adults and hard-working career heads.
I sit with my manager, slap bang in the middle of an open plan office; we're between the Call Centre and Client Services, so eavesdropping means conversation topics vary. One day, it could be about cruise ships dedicated to amateur tango dancers, and the next, it could be about politics and the voting system.
There's a variety of characters who accompany these stories, starting with the right-wing-Daily-Mail-reading 67 year old who works in Client Services, the outrageously-gay-but-in-the-closet guy who works in Correspondence and ending with the over-protective-of-stationary Finance Ledger.

I'm not sure if it's because we favour Prosecco over £6 wine (no complaints though but when you've got a choice...) or because we separate work from our home life, but nobody really talks to my Manager and I. Oh, hold your sympathy, surprisingly the silence is actually a good thing. It keeps us out of drama and allows us to laugh at the ridiculous situations that unfold from the sidelines.
For example, when one member of Correspondence fell out with the outrageously-gay-but-in-the-closet guy who also works in Correspondence, this suddenly meant the team had to take sides. Cigarette breaks were staggered, teas and coffees were made separately and there was an awkward atmosphere hanging over the section like somebody had seen somebody else naked.
It provided a fair bit of entertainment on boring Tuesday afternoons and it was always a mystery as to who would be speaking to who every morning.

Bitching like that occurs frequently and it is really the people, not the situations, that bring the entertainment factor to the table. One woman is obsessed with the new coffee machine we've just had installed in our kitchen and it's become a bit of a running joke how mad she gets when it runs out of beans. Another woman drinks so much of a lunchtime, it's become a bit of a competition to guess how much sense she'll make when she stumbles back into the office. One guy pulls so many sickies, we're actually shocked when he turns up in the morning.
Although I understand the importance of caffeine when working such straight hours, I'm also starting to understand how important it is to fill everyday with as much laughter as possible. I wouldn't be privy to such ridiculous situations, conversations and people if I was sat at home with only my laptop to keep me company.

Sure, I'd have plenty of videos of funny cats on YouTube to watch but I don't think that interests me as much as knowing how my Manager's step class went, whether a specific Call Centre Agent pulled during his beloved Foxtrot lessons and what every single member of the Client Services team had for dinner.
I don't care how sad that makes me, I can't help but thank John Lennon's spirit that all of what I wished for mentioned above doesn't come so easily because if it had, I wouldn't have met some of the funniest people I know. So as much as I want to write for a living, right now I'm quite grateful that I'm gaining experience in a field I didn't even know existed up until 18 months ago. Even if it does mean I have to sit in a warehouse that distributes collectible plates sometimes...