Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Day One of Living like a Normal Person

And I like it so much. There's a part of me that cries with relief.

Imagine that you go to your first office job in almost two years. In that time, you've taken a working class, manual outdoor job as a council contractors' gardener working only one rung up the social ladder from your neighbourhood street sweeper. You've broken up with your lover of nine years, because he just didn't have the vision to give you a life, or the understanding to put himself in yours shoes. And your dad has advancing prostate cancer.

Then you're scared shitless by the low self-esteem and the futureless conditions that today's minority who do low-paid working class jobs have to endure. But you're not even aware of it yet. And you give up on that job, because physically, you can't cope with the winter conditions and the physical exertion that leaves you with nothing at the weekend, because you just weren't born with athletic stamina. And then your Dad starts dying, slowly, and your family and siblings are little more grown up than yourself to be able to cope with it. And all this time, the hope that carried you from childhood, that Love would come to the rescue, proves itself feeble and useless. And you wonder if you're ever going to be allowed to earn a living again, and how?

There was a rude awakening by the alarm, and despite the significance of the day, my love of sleep almost won. But forced to face external discipline, I had to wake. Which allowed me to remember my dream, one so much more extravagant and imaginative than I expected. In a modern tall palace set high in the hills, I was staying as a guest with someone who looked like Ruth's sister. Life was easy, carefree, and privileged. She decided to go "skiing" down to the village, but it was not on snow. The hills were covered in white paper, and she went sliding down on it all the way to the picturesque buildings. (How sickeningly Freudian, on contemplation during editing this!).

Off to the train, and as in olden times forced to chase time, I am only just able to jump on my train as the doors are closing. Going out of London there is plenty of seating spare, but with enough diverse passengers to offer interest. Even seeing the Roding Valley golf course seems a pleasure. Passing Ilford, I become aware of the vast industrial site along the railway line, that is the Bombardier Train Workshop. So this is the site from which they will lose 600 jobs, presumably resulting in total closure of the facility. Another manufacturing industry departs from London, leaving this city to become nothing more than a parasitic vessel of consumerism. But in the global economy, its host is not so much the rest of Britain, as it is China and South East Asia.

Leaving Romford, I am surprised at how Harold Wood sprawls into the green belt, with housing that is mostly Thirties, Forties and Fifties. London's suburban sprawl was completed even before I was born.

At Brentwood, strolling up Rose Valley, I get one of those Life Coincidences that verifies my life is moving. I bump into OJ, whom I haven't seen for over 5 years. He used to be a lodger at East Ham when I was happily partnered there, a long time ago. He looks amazing for his age, still very attractive although his nose is more hooked than before. He always radiated sexual animalism, and it never was more apparent than back in the time when he had a Spanish boyfriend. The sounds coming from their bedroom used to stir my envy, and made me know that I had sexual horizons that were not being fulfilled. Today, he still fires my imagination and desire.

What a coincidence, my first day on the job, in a town I barely know, and he happens to be not yet at work because of a dental appointment. And he has moved home only recently, to Brentwood. Quite apart from the fact that I always found him very sexually attractive, there is nothing so reassuring as meeting someone from your past, when you are new to a place.

The office has Asbestos Warning signs here, there, and everywhere! On some ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and even on the window sills. Damned government buildings. Mine must have been a doctor's office, because a panel over the door has two alert lamps, labelled Surgery 1 and Surgery 2.

The day soon slips into my familiar experience. How many strange offices have I entered into and accommodated. It is just another. The people are moderate, reasonable, and amicably civilized.

At last I come across a Windows 2000 Pro workstation. So what was the big deal, when it was just NT5? Why did the entire industry make such a fuss over MCSE certification, for something that was just one step up from NT4? And the wastefully expensive and mindless Nineties fashion for outsourcing I.T., means that BT Syntegra looks after everything. Happily for their fat cat executives, I'm sure. If there is one type of entity that mows down the humanity of life, it is again proven to be the Corporation.

On the way home, relieved at the thought of having at last earned a day's pay, I stop in Romford to treat myself. Such a luxury, to be able to act spontaneously on a whim. I spot a noodle bar, called Coco. On South Street, not far from the train station. There are so many noodle bars in London these days, (not counting the proper Chinese restaurants in Chinatown), that they seem easier to find than a good chip shop. The prawn ramen is ok, a score of 6 or maybe 7 out of 10. It's 25% too salty, though, and the noodles seem to be of neither Chinese nor Japanese quality. Why are the waiting staff so hopeless at English?! They barely understand anything, yet this is not an "ethnic experience" restaurant: it's a Wagamama's-style Californian mutation. Even the dishwashers in the roughest restaurants in Chinatown can understand more English. So the servers are young, and they look clean and smart, but is that the only qualification necessary? This bunch don't even seem to be on Student Visas, because Lord knows that foreign students need a modicum of English in order to warrant the cost of an education here. Once again, you have to wonder why they're allowed to have these jobs, legally or otherwise, when outside, the street-sweepers working are 50-something year old guys who have no other choice in the employment market. This country tolerates cheap labour the same way it tolerates hunger and genocide in Africa.

So oh Yes, oh Yes, even an unglamorous temp job can be better than sex or love, when you haven't got anywhere else to go, and you still have to fund a lot of living years before you are too old to care about any excitement at all. Really, sex and love are luxuries and extravagances, and if you can't afford them, you could fool yourself that you have them by enjoying them on Credit, but one day, you'll see a mountain of Debt. And the Debt isn't just necessarily in Money. It can be in any of the currencies of human expense.

Oh Dancers, from the Dance, who ignore prophets, and scorn profits. Entertain losses, and you may be lost.


Astolath said...

It's funny isn't it?

I've had two spells out of work in the last ten years, one through voluntary and one through forced redundancy. On both occassions I felt like I'd been relegated from the human race. None of us really want to work, it's a means to an end, but once we're out of the workforce, we suddenly become directionless. A strange paradox.

Let me reiterate my long standing admiration of your blog old bean! It's like having a new chapter from an Iain Sinclair book to read - you move 'literally' through culture and through urban spaces in a similar way to him. The personal dimension you bring to it all, is always interesting.

loveandthecity said...

Gosh, what a fine compliment: Now I feel obliged to find out who Ian Sinclair is, and read at least one of his books. Then at least I might not feel that I'm the only person in the world that sees it this way!

Astolath said...

Try 'London Orbital' - I think it's out in paperback now. It's a hefty tome, but rewarding.