Mud On the Road

we're about to go shopping in Salisbury...

Danger: Working From Home

    The London  2012 Olympics are upon us.  I feel giddy and light-headed. With each passing hour my anxiety levels are mounting, crazily.

     It’s not because I'm competing. I'm not. Nor, as far as I know, has there been any suggestion of putting ground-to-air missiles on the Stockbridge rooftops. I'm not worried about the G4S saga either.  A giant global party with all those beautiful, lithe athletes and not a bouncer in sight? That could be fun.

     No, what's fraying my nerves  is the tragic fate awaiting those hapless employees who, for the duration of the games, have been commanded to Work From Home.

     We're not talking pathologists, pilots or dentists: professionals who can't work from home in any event because a) it would be impractical and probably unhygienic and  b) are vocation presumably live for work.

     My concern is for real people with real jobs: London's business women and men, the administrative staff,  the sales personnel, human resources bods, book keepers, civil servants: people who, if they won the lottery, would give up the day job in a breath; workers who,  through no fault of their own, rely solely on the twin tools of telephone and computer and that means they are sitting ducks for working from home.

     If they're rubbing their hands with glee today, it's because they’re oblivious  of the  perils they  face tomorrow.   And I don't just mean that urgent call from the boss when you're midway between bikini wax and full body depilation.

     They probably think working from home is a doddle. Like the Summer hols, Enid Blyton style: lie-ins, kettle chirpily boiling, fridge laden with treats, dog snoozing at your feet, children rushing to recount their day, then stealing away to let you work on, in peace; your other half contentedly shouldering his or her allocation of the domestic duties as if it were any normal working day.

     But Working From Home is not a postcard from the 1950's. The home as workplace is a war zone inside a jungle. And we embattled survivors have the scars to prove it. In that jungle the home worker is isolated, alone and often deeply afraid, like the wounded combat soldier, fatally separated from the camaraderie of his platoon.

     The gung-ho rookies swelling our ranks this week, have been conditioned to the safe confines of  the workplace. Sure, they're not  complete greenhorns: they  contend daily with packed commuter trains, with the tyranny of flattened hierarchies, Friday afternoon meetings,  the caged arenas of the open plan office. But these skills will not equip them for what is coming.

     The first enemy they will encounter is time. At the office, time is predictable, expanding and slow. At home time is a fiendish, trap-laying trickster, who toys with you,  lulls you into a false sense of security, then without warning folds in upon itself and disappears completely.

     Mornings pass with sickening speed, sucked dry by non-work related minutiae which continuously reproduce themselves, gobbling up entire afternoons and leaving only the bare husk of an evening in which to finish work you haven't yet begun.

     Imagine it's your first day working from home. You get up a teensy weensy bit later. You have a novelty bath, a proper  breakfast. Suddenly it's 9 am. Hey, relax, you reassure yourself; you'd only just be at the office by now.

     You go to put the dishwasher on and discover the salt is low. You look for the salt in the cupboard under the sink but, oh dear, whaddya know, something's dripping, everything's wet. You can't just ignore it.

     You empty the cupboard, find the source. It's a pipe. You call the plumber. He's out, you leave a message. You dry  the cupboard, find a plastic box  to catch the drip, put everything back. You still haven't found the salt so you don't put the dishwasher on. You go to your new desk: the kitchen table. (Because it's 2012 and we're all open plan now).

     The plumber calls. He can come at midday. You start work.

     The phone rings again. It's your mother. Well, she knows you're working from home dear,  ordinarily she doesn't like to disturb you at the office, but, seeing as how you're working from home.

     Suddenly, it's midday. The plumber turns up. You take everything out of the cupboard. You make him a cup of tea. He turns the water off so you can't make any lunch or wash up until he's gone. He talks to you while he works. He talks a lot. The bill is £75.

     'There's a call out charge, see?' Then he says, 'I'll knock a tenner off  for cash.'

     You haven't got enough cash so you have to go the cash point.  A five minute fast trot.  The cash point's out of order. You go into the shop, buy the first thing you see, a crusty fresh loaf, (£3.40), get cash back instead. While you're sucking your teeth and jiggling in the queue, your boss rings.

     Have you sent that email to the client yet? Could you copy him in when you do?

     You sprint home. You pay the plumber. You put everything back in the cupboard.

     Now it's 2 pm. You’re starving.  At the office you usually pop out for a coffee and a salad and a chat with a colleague, but you're working from home, so you ladle jam and butter onto a doorstep of bread and swallow that while writing the email. There’s cheese in the fridge.  You eat that too. The dishwasher's still full so you wash up.

     3 pm. The phone rings, it's your husband. As you're at home today, could you be a darling and pick up that parcel before the post office closes.

     You emit a snarling, hissing noise, but you agree.

     The dog is regarding you mournfully – he hasn't been out yet. His dog walker would have taken him out twice by now but it was silly to pay her when you're working from home.

     You take the dog with you to the post office and, because it's on the way, you take  the bottles to the bottle bank. Except, at the bottle bank the dog treads on broken glass and begins to bleed prolifically.

     You can't have the dog bleed to death outside the post office, so you  forgo the parcel collection and run home instead, half-carrying, half dragging the poor bleeding dog.

     You're beginning to feel weirdly tired, a bit depressed. You tear at the loaf of bread in a distracted manner and phone the vet.

     The vet says she'll see you immediately if you step on it. Her car park is closed for repairs so you park on the street. The dog has five stitches, antibiotics and a lamp-shade on his head to stop him licking the wound. £78. Back on the street you've got a parking ticket: £35.

     By the time you get home it's 4.30 p.m. You have done no work. Your clothes are covered in blood. Your reflection in the mirror looks wild and agitated. Your mother rings to find out how your very first working-from-home day is going.

     You shout at your mother who says it's not her fault you have no time management skills and then begins to cry.

     While you’re attempting to pacify your mother, the children come running in with kind Mrs Harris, who has kept them after school. When they see the poor dog all bandaged up with a lampshade on his head they begin to weep and scream.

     Then kind Mrs Harris slips  on the dog's blood, which is still all over  the kitchen floor and now Mrs Harris is sprawled across  the kitchen floor, also covered with blood. The children are still screaming and weeping and your mother is on the phone, crying gently.

     The cup of tea followed by the two glasses of sherry make Mrs Harris feel better. She agrees to send you her dry cleaning bill.

     There's still no salt for the dishwasher. You wash the tea things and then the sherry glasses and then you decant  the dirty stuff from the  dishwasher and wash that up too.

     It's 5.45pm. Too early really for sherry. So you fix a big gin and tonic and drink that instead. It’s time to think about making supper. After all, you reason, you’re working from home tomorrow and the day after that. So you can catch up then.

     No, working from home is not for amateurs.  It is an adrenalin sport demanding nerves of steel. There are no rules, there is no safety gear, no risk assessment. It is fraught with dangers  which range from afternoon TV addiction to obesity, relationship breakdown, alcoholism, and, last but by no means least, unemployment.

     Which is why I am worrying terribly about those thousands of people working from home for the duration and why I feel quite unable, as a result, to do any work.

Getting ready for the big day
That's my megaphone

The Meeting Place; bronze sculpture by Paul Day
Olympian sized love

Olympic flags in London's West End
Everybody who's anybody is here
The Serpentine Bridge decked out for the games
Rings around the Serpentine

'No Stella did not design our tracksuits'; photo by Ben e c
Thank you yes, we like them too

Brazilian fans at the London Olympics, 2012; photo by Ben e c
We support Brazil by the way

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