life before real job
The alarm goes on your partner’s mobile phone. It’s 7am. You both groan and comment on how early it is and how you wish you could stay in bed. Your partner gets up and heads toward the shower. You roll over to catch a little more sleep if you can, or at least enjoy fifteen minutes of lingering warmth from your partners side of the bed. You rise before your partner exists the shower. It’s bad form to stay in bed when she is obliged to perform the daily work ritual.
Within an hour she has left for work. You rise from the table and reboil the kettle. Still in pajamas but with fresh coffee alongside you double click your Microsoft Word folder, reread the last few paragraphs of your previous days work, take a sip of coffee and begin typing the next sentence of your book.
life after real job
Your mobile phone alarm goes. It’s 6am. Your partner groans and rolls over. She doesn’t get up this early. You lie there for 5 minutes thinking back to how things were a year previous; the casual awakening, the unhurried morning preparation, how you got the house to yourself for the next 8 hours and how what you did with your time was entirely your choice. Not anymore.
You’re up at 6:05 am and into the bathroom to shave and shower. At 6:45 am you’re sitting down to coffee and toast, quickly catching up with your Facebook feed and any news that’s happened overnight.
It’s 7:30am and you’re out the door, bundled up in jacket, scarf, hat and gloves in order to keep out the minus 2 degree winter chill. You sidestep icy puddles and scattered rubbish bins on your way to the railway station. At the station you take yourself to the end of the platform, knowing that’s the carriage to be on to make a quick exit when you reach your destination.
You look up at the electronic board and see the words; “1st: Luton 7:45am – Cancelled – due to shortage of train staff”. It takes a few moments to sink in. You look back at the sign for the next service. It’s 20 minutes away. Many others have arrived on the platform and everyone is looking at the electronic boards, hoping that perhaps the message is wrong and that everything is running to schedule. You resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to freeze on the platform for a while and that the next train to arrive will be so full it’ll be near impossible to get aboard.
In a previous post I talked about how, in January 2016, the realisation hit me that I was going to have to find a job again. Since arriving in the UK we had traveled up and down the country, living cheaply off our housesitting gigs. Not paying for accommodation was a real treat. However, the UK is still an expensive place to live and we found that, even without paying for accommodation, we had spent a rather large chunk of our savings.
Fortuitously I had a job within a month of sending off my first batch of CV’s and cover letters. I was amazed and a little stunned. I wasn’t quite sure if I was actually ready to be woken up and forced to leave the house at 7:30am again, catch a train, the daily grind.
Working in London takes a certain resolve. For a start you’re dealing with 4 million other people who are also trying to get to their respective jobs. That’s a lot of people to stuff onto the trains and buses and stuffing is literally what happens most mornings on the busiest of routes.
Stuffing yourself onto trains involves the peculiar but effective methodology:
a) Arriving at a station and glancing at the departures board on your way to a platform. Don’t actually stop to look at the board, unless you want to be possibly trampled but definitely barged and abused for holding people up.
b) Joining a queue at the platform for a train carriage door. This isn’t an orderly queue because no one knows quite for sure where the train will stop exactly. If you’re very, very lucky you’ll be standing in precisely the spot that lines up with a carriage door. This calls for a small celebration, perhaps a little wiggle or bounce on the toes. Nothing too over the top though. Remember, you’re in England where overt emotions are frowned upon.
c) The pressure and demand for a seat on a train has reached such epic proportions in London that you now get what I call, ‘tiered queuing’. This is when you join the queue but your train isn’t the next one that’s due. Your train is actually 10 minutes away. But if you get in the queue now those in front of you will hopefully board the next train and you’ll be at the front of the queue when your train arrives. There’s a kind of disorderly shuffle and usually a few “sorry, excuse mes” from people behind you if they want to get on that first train. You’re blocking their way on, but hey, that’s tiered queuing for you and it’s the trick if you want to get a seat!
Perhaps the next biggest challenge for me, during these first 12 months of working here, was learning to drive in London. My work as a property surveyor invariably involves some driving. Even if London has an efficient public transport system there’s places that you just can’t get to in any reasonable time, without a car.
I happily admit to being terrified the first time I took the company car out. Actually I’m still mildly frightened, bordering terrified venturing onto the streets here. Navigationally I’m solely in the hands of Google. God help me if we ever have a satellite meltdown and Google maps stops working. After 12 months I just might be able to find my way back to the office, but they’d be no guarantees.
The sheer number of other users makes London a simply mad place to get around by car. You need to be assertive, even mildly aggressive to make sure that you don’t end up waiting forever to get somewhere. This is particularly important when driving and trying to feed into a busy street. If you wait for both directions of traffic to be clear you’ll be sitting at the intersection for a very long time. The London way is to wait until the lane closest to you is clear, and then head across and nudge yourself into the flow you want to join. Don’t worry, someone will slow down and let you in. They’ve been through the same thing. It’s the London way!
By the way don’t try this in New Zealand – you’ll be tooted at and, potentially, rammed by another driver.
Finally, in this wee run down of working life, I should say something about working with other people. This might seem the norm for you but my previous 10 years of working life had been spent self-employed and much of that time working from home. So it’s quite a change to be back in an office environment, surrounded by other people.
It took some adjusting to. Naturally a shy person I don’t jump at the opportunity to chat with others. I’m fine when people ask me something and bring me into a conversation but I do find it a challenge just to do small-talk. My years spent working from home involved listening to the radio, no small talk required.
I was quickly reminded that the office and workplace of the real world (i.e not writing a book at home in your pajamas) is full of personalities, some of whom you won’t naturally click with.
And that kind of neatly sums up a few thoughts on my first year living and working in London. There are days you love it and days you loath it, but it always presents a challenge and an assault on the senses, with 8 million others to keep you company.