How I Stopped Working
Some people love working, I gather. Or perhaps they just say that to make people like me feel inadequate at parties.
But work and I have never quite clicked. Yes, I suppose there are some fun bits, stimulating bits and even satisfying bits. The money is helpful, of course; people can be interesting; there may even be some status involved. But for me this was all washed away by a sour cocktail of necessity, bureaucracy, responsibility, pressure and, crucially, loss of time.
Full-time work is simply too many hours, over too many days, over too many weeks, months and years. My doctor summed it up for me recently when he pointed out that while a pint of beer may shorten your life by one minute, a day’s work shortens it by eight hours. God, I love that man.
And then of course there is the daily persecution by mornings.
I have never once been happy about getting out of bed. It’s always a downer. Life’s too long for mornings, in my view. My colleague, Dirty South, points out that without them, how would you get to lunch? Which is commendable forward thinking but doesn’t prevent the grogginess, nausea and nagging dread of all those things you put off from yesterday.
I’ve felt like this about mornings for as long as I can remember.
‘Are you still in your wank-pit?’ my father would enquire of the teenage me, most weekend mornings.
‘Papa, you know full well that if I don’t get 10 hours sleep, I’m a basket case. Tea in an hour would be appreciated.’ And he would shout up something in response that I’d pretend not to hear.
But for me, that has all changed. Now, mindful of my good fortune (or recklessness), I am able to give thanks that I don’t have to get up and go to work each morning when I awake. At about half past 10.
I remember Deserter consort, Roxy, once announcing that she had given up on green peppers.
‘I’ve given them a good shot,’ she said. ‘But they’re too overbearing. So who am I kidding? They’re not for me. I have eradicated the little fuckers from my life.’
Perhaps I had this kind of momentous life-changing drama somewhere in the back of my mind when I inadvertently holed my career below the waterline some years later. Having played my part in the sale of the company of which I was a director, my line in the P&L was a little too rich for the new owners and I was asked, not unpleasantly, to piss off out of it. Armed with a payoff I found myself, one sunny day at the beginning of August, out of work for the first time in 14 years and I determined to enjoy myself sharpish before returning to the start line of the rat race.
One of my younger daughter’s life ambitions, aged eight or so, was to ride the 37 bus all the way to its westerly destination, Putney Heath. She’d seen it advertised on the front of the double deckers that rumbled past her bedroom window and thought of it as an impossibly exotic faraway land. So, while she languished at school, on my first day of freedom I put on sunglasses and an absurd hat I found in the hall, got a seat up top at the front and rode that mofo to the end of the line, whereupon I bought a can of cold beer, sat on a bench and fired up a Blue Peter.
As is the way when you settle down to enjoy yourself, almost immediately my phone rang. It was a friendly headhunter, attempting to tether me to the real world.
‘What are you up to?’ she asked. ‘You in town?’
‘No, I’m sitting on Putney Heath with a spliff and a tinnie.’
‘Haha! Aren’t we all!’ she said, confusingly.
That afternoon, as I wandered round Putney, I considered making an offer on a derelict toilet block, won a tenner on trap two at the Crayford BAGS, bought a leather jacket from a charity shop and treated myself to Pukka Pie and chips back on my bench. God, not working’s brilliant, I thought to myself.
It was then I had my own green pepper moment. Fuck it, I’d given it a good go, and I simply didn’t like it enough. It was time to eradicate work from my life.
Desperate needs require desperate measures so as soon as I got home I spent a muddle-headed hour careering about in a spreadsheet in order to detail the household’s exact monthly incomings and outgoings. I stopped direct debits for unloved subscriptions and unused memberships, I downgraded my phone, I got rid of Sky Movies, I turned down the heating one degree.
‘Turn that light off,’ I said to the children, ‘Daddy’s gone rogue.’
When the dust had settled, and taking into account low mortgage rates and the returns on the savings and investments I had made with one eye on this glorious day, I calculated that in order to live more or less in the manner to which we had become accustomed we would be looking at a funding gap of £1000 a month.
‘12 grand a year,’ I said aloud to myself, having calculated it in my head.
This was simultaneously comforting and worrying. Comforting in that in the great scheme of things, it didn’t sound that much. I figured the house we’d bought (back when the term ‘affordable’ actually meant something) was earning more than that for just sitting there, the dumb fuck. The concerning bit was that, however much it was, we wouldn’t actually have it coming in.
Balls. My dream of riding every single London bus to its destination was fading fast. Not to mention all the daytime drinking I was excitedly planning. If only the Deserter Universal Basic Income had been available, but we wouldn’t invent that for another three years. And even then it doesn’t actually exist.
I felt sad. Then angry.
‘I can’t believe you came without a dowry!’ I railed at Mrs Raider, thrashing at the computer keys and spoiling the spreadsheet.
We made love that night. And in the morning feasted on toast and Marmite and tea. We walked the dog in the park and visited the Wetherspoon where, using the CAMRA membership I had just cancelled, I had a pint of the most delicious ale for £1.75.
Tea? Toast? Putney Heath? ’Spoons? Greyhounds? Loving? Beer?
I couldn’t give up on the work-free dream. I just had to accept that it would come garnished with bitter reality, like green pepper in Roxy’s Chinese takeaway. If I was going to eradicate full-time work I was going to have to replace it with some of the part-time variety: A little bit of this and, hopefully, even less of that.
There was a card in my local off-licence window offering part-time work. How hard can that be, I thought. Just standing there with a can of beer open under the counter, watching yourself go bald on CCTV.
‘Do you have any retail experience?’ the manager asked.
‘Plenty,’ I said, ‘I love shopping.’
‘They are long shifts, up to 10 hours.’
‘No problem. There’s all this booze,’ I said, looking around. The manager gave me a narrow-eyed smile.
‘I’m afraid you can’t drink it.’
‘What? You expect me to stand here amongst all this for 10 hours and not drink any of it?
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Forget it!’ I cried, adding more gently, ‘I’ll take a bottle of Gordon’s, six tins of tonic and a family packet of cashews.’
I signed up with an extra agency and sent them a long form and some photos. I was surprised to hear from them within the week.
‘Actually we’ve got something that might be suitable,’ said a young man on the phone. ‘Just a quick question about your application.’
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘You ticked the boxes for Archery and Swordplay.’
‘That’s correct,’ I said.
‘Is that basic, intermediate or advanced?’
‘Advanced,’ I said, firmly, pretty sure they weren’t going to make me demonstrate anything on the end of a phone, wearing a towel.
‘And from where did you gain your qualifications?’
‘No, where from?’
‘Oh, er, Camberwell.’
‘Yuh. Camberwell College of… Fighting?’
I never heard back from them.
I had more success as a guest lecturer at City University, success in that I at least completed one lecture.
‘That went well, I thought,’ said the course leader. ‘Perhaps you’d consider doing some more sessions.’
Given that my one hour lecture had taken three days to prepare, I felt obliged to decline. That’s the thing about teaching. Too hard.
Impressed by the discounting power of a friend’s NHS card, which amongst other things, gets him 60% off Dulwich Hamlet home games, I decided to visit King’s College Hospital and enquire about voluntary work.
After some consideration I offered them two full hours a week as a porter.
‘I’m afraid that falls short of our minimum time requirement,’ I was informed. What do they want, I thought to myself, blood?
Turns out yes, they could use that as well, and plenty of it. I left a pint lighter but with no chance of an NHS card.
‘How did you get on with the voluntary work?’ asked the friend at the next game.
‘No go. They wanted too much of me, mate.’
‘Do you want me to put in a word for you at the morgue?’ he said. ‘Bit chilly but lovely and quiet.’
Meanwhile, during these cursory attempts to find a bit of extra money, I was noticing all the benefits of not working. I was taking day trips in my own city. I was at home when the kids got in from school. I was cooking, reading and walking. I’d even started humming. On the downside, I no longer required daytime naps, which was novel.
In the end I elected to just spunk my savings on the monthly deficit. Let the me of five years’ time sort out the mess, I thought, I’m busy. Perhaps my father was right all along: I am a lazy twat. A happy, lazy twat.
Join the mailing list to receive our weekly email digest
Like our Deserter Facebook page to receive Deserter updates to your timeline