I am staring at a phone. It’s less of a phone; more of a dashboard, in fact. The kind of dashboard that would be more at home gracing the flight deck of a NASA space-shuttle, except it’s currently bleeping and flashing on the reception desk at which I’m sitting. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to use it. It rings. With deep suspicion, I pick it up.
‘Good morning…‘ I begin, and freeze. I have absolutely no idea where I am. This is not the alcohol-induced amnesia of last night’s carousing, nor (I hope) incipient Alzheimer’s. I simply have no idea where I am, because I’ve temped at so many different City companies; I can remember the name of the first one, but none thereafter. I look frantically around the reception area for clues. The windows are frosted with a futuristic logo that could represent anything, or nothing; the low hum of chatter from the office itself concerns money, how to get more of it, and where a chap called Darren lost it. And then I remember: I am working in re-insurance.
I know this because yesterday I asked what re-insurance actually was.
‘We insure the insurance companies,’ my supervisor said, as if talking to a child.
‘Who insures you?’ I asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, if you re-insure the insurance companies, who re-re-insures you? Are there re-re-re-insurers for the re-re-insurers? And re-re-re-re-insurers for the re-re-re-insurers?’
‘Have you been using the safety button on the espresso machine?’ my supervisor interrupted. ‘Because there’s coffee everywhere.’
I turn back to the phone. ‘Good morning Insidia Reinsurance how may I help?’ I say. The person on the end of the phone asks to be put through to Carl. They do not seem to notice that the company name I gave was an inspired fiction.
This incident set me thinking about the ways that people who work in the arts juggle career and the business of living. Actors, writers and film-makers of my acquaintance work, among many other sometimes bizarre, often soul-destroying, and, just occasionally, wildly enviable jobs, as dog-walkers, chaperones to the children of Russian oligarchs, carers for the elderly, summer camp leaders, purveyors of home-made soup, copy-writers for sex toy companies, secretaries, journalists and supply teachers.
Then, of course, there are the perennial nannies, bar-workers, waiters and private tutors, to whose number I also belong. How do you balance working to make money with working to work? How long is it feasible to tread the frayed tightrope – which you scrimped from Freecycle – between working to live and living to work? And what combination of jobs allows you to do this most effectively?
Leave us a comment with the weird and wonderful jobs you do to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, back to breaking the enigma code otherwise known as the Office Telephone…