Friday 18 September 2009

Happy Friday! Now what?

It is the end of the working week, offices have emptied, relieved young workers are in pubs the length and breadth of the land, and older workers are perhaps at home renewing acquaintance with their families. I never used to go out on Fridays, I always went straight home. Generally Mrs L & I would open a bottle of something nice, eat some extravagant food, and moan about work. I don't have any of that any more, so my contribution to the weekly "God what a shit week I had at work" conversation is pretty minimal. Instead I listen and nod, or switch off and think about birds instead.

"blah blah blah blah....and it will probably be a major comment, which won't go down well. What do you think I should do?" asks Mrs L, Audit Queen.

"The Arctic Warbler showed well", I say, brightly.

But I know exactly where she is coming from, it is virtually impossible to switch off from work entirely. Although I was pretty good at mostly forgetting all about it, it was always there in the background. Even on holiday, you don't really start to wind down until it is almost time to go back. Mind you, I don't think I can remember a holiday where the office didn't call me, no matter where I was or what I was doing. They called during all my paternity breaks as well; you are always available, they own you.
Now that I can look back at it rationally, I realise that none of it was of any importance whatsoever, yet it consumed my life for a decade. I remember being so pleased about making Vice President, it meant I was finally 'somebody'. I ordered 500 business cards with this valedictory title emblazoned below my name, and used about 10. These days we use them for shopping lists.

I was reminded about that period of my life twice today. Firstly, a guy over the road still works at the same place. He is on paternity leave, so I saw him today for the first time in ages. He looked shattered, unsurprisingly. We had a bit of chat, and naturally it turned to the office. He said it was mental, still, and that the whole place was crippled by a fear of screwing up, creating an odd atmosphere of frantic inertia. He is a Vice President too, or rather he is a Vice President, and I am not. I should invent a title for myself to use in the house. Standing there, talking about the daily grind, I was glad I wasn't there any more.

Later on, a good friend from the office called. How was I, and had I started looking for a job yet? He too described a manic environment of deadlines, bullshit, and fear. I remember it being a difficult place to work, and being highly stressful, but did I moan about it as plaintively? [yes - Ed.] Perhaps they are both being nice to me, exaggerating the horribleness of it to make me feel better for having been made redundant. I doubt it though, it was pretty nasty back in Feb, and probably hasn't changed much. But back to the job hunt question - a mum in the playground today also asked me if I was looking yet. Do I look like that much of a bum? Why is it expected that I should be looking to get back into a bank? Do people just look at the colour of my arms and think "Lazy bastard, he should be at work"? I'm quite happy at the moment thank you very much, I am very much enjoying being with the kids and not being in a highly-charged office. I also have extraordinary flexibility which allows me to twitch Bee-eaters and so on. Win win.

But I do have a constant nagging feeling, which is this: What am I going to do next? Looking after the kids is lovely. Being at home is lovely. Being outdoors and birding a lot is lovely. Right now, it works, but it is not exactly a long term solution. What am I going to do? How am I going to satisfy my intellectual curiosity? I have a number of ideas, and this is the big problem. I don't know which idea is best, or indeed if any of them are "right". And being 34 now, it has to be "right". I think it would be problematic to embark on one of these ideas only to find out a few years down the line I had made the wrong choice and that at roughly 40 I needed a third career. My favourite job of all time was driving a van round London one summer, delivering wine to rich people, but it paid something like £3.24 an hour, and seems a waste of my intellect. I am aware that that sounds (and is) highly pretentious, but I can't get away from the fact that I feel I would be wasting myself by doing something where I learn nothing and contribute nothing. But at the same time I don't want to learn any more about derivatives, equities, yield-curves, and theta-gamma. I'm all done on those things. It needs to be something new. At the moment - and you must understand that I have always been fickle, moving from one interest to another, but always most wholeheartedly - I am interested in birds, both in Wanstead and sometimes further afield. But actually it isn't just birds - being out and about looking for them brings me into close contact with many aspects of the natural world, and thinking back, this has been an undercurrent of my entire life, an interest in nature. As a child the books I enjoyed the most were the ones about natural history, be it real like Gerald Durrell and James Herriott, or fictional like Willard Price. I drew birds, I always remember drawing them, and I was a member of the YOC. When I lived in France as a kid I spent most of my time trying to catch lizards. My favourite TV programmes were the David Attenborough ones, and still are. As an adult my two main interests are birds and plants. I have devoured E. O. Wilson and Barry Lopez, I subscribed to National Geographic as soon as I had an address, and although my knowledge of many aspects of science is somewhat rudimentary, as each day passes I find myself wanting to know more about the world around me. I just find it all very very interesting. Maybe this happens to all thirty-somethings and there is a whole science devoted to it. Maybe I'm unique, I don't know. Whatever, can I make a second career out of it? I don't know. And this is the real problem, I just don't know. It is not a crime to not know what you want to do, I am sure many people don't know. But why on earth I took a degree in French, waffling about Picasso, Delaunay and Braque, and then spent ten years in an investment bank basically doing numbers all day long is anyone's guess. I suppose that when you make the initial choice of direction, you're 16 and clueless. You start applying for your first job aged about 20, and you're still clueless. When you think about it, the whole system is highly unfair on young people. I'm not young any more, but I still have to admit to being stumped, if not clueness like I was then. Mind you, listen to this song, also cleverly embedded below, a Wanstead Birder first. In fact, listen to it several times over, it is brilliant. Specifically take note for twelve seconds starting from 2:11. The song is 7 minutes of truth. You listen to it, and you nod, and you realise that every word applies to you one hundred percent. It should be on the national curriculum. Also, Bradders and other year-listers, listen out from 1:41 to 1:53 :-)

So, a serious and largely non-flippant post. Unusual. It has taken an hour to write. The frivolous ones are far quicker, and easier. I was hoping that by writing it down, it might help me work out THE PLAN, but it hasn't. Though perhaps it may allow the people who ask me "started looking yet?" to realise that one of the reasons that I haven't is because I don't know what to look for. All I know is what not to look for, which is a start of course, but hardly conclusive.


  1. I can relate to this post completely, although at least I think I know what I want to do. Having set a target of trying to carve out a living from birds in some way, shape or related form. So far small progress, two unpaid articles on birdguides, a Calendar hopefully coming out in a few months time using local snappers and some otehr ideas.

  2. Have you started looking yet?

    Anon (Scotsman who likes TOI curry)