It’s common knowledge by now that being a university-educated 23-year-old, in the UK in 2013, is no picnic. (And if you’re the aspiring-writer girlfriend of an aspiring musician, you should probably face facts and admit that you’re totally fucked, really.) Someone – not me – really needs to remind my mother of this; part 436 of the “why haven’t you got a proper job yet?” conversation happened the other day, and ran thus:
Me: “[insert girl’s name] has just got a job with Easyjet- she didn’t get onto the course she wanted to do, so she’s going to work for them for a year.”
Mum: “Oh that’s good. [Pause.] Why don’t you try and get in with an airline for a bit? Just for a while, so that you have a proper job?”
I’d like to say I bit back the exasperated, “because about the very last thing I need right now is another job I don’t want to do and that doesn’t even have anything to do with what I’m good at”, but because I’m a mouthy little shit
all of the times at times, I didn’t.
In a previous post (the ranty Iain Duncan Smith one), I mentioned that a Times columnist had written a light-hearted piece about all the menial, brain-meltingly dull and unfulfilling jobs he’d had in his time, and what they’d taught him. During a particularly long and boring afternoon at work the other day, I started compiling my own list.
My first job, aged 14, was a complete gift, and really brought me out of my shell. I worked here (you’ll know it if you’re from Sussex), and most of the time it was an absolute joy. Running round after animals and children all day? Nice work if you can get it. I shovelled a lot of shit, chased a lot of goats, looked after, rode and fell off some beautiful but sometimes temperamental horses and ponies. I got chased by a belligerent turkey, chased the odd cow through the car park, failed to get alpacas to go where they needed to go, had to shovel up sheep placenta during lambing season (ewww, that was grim) and judged a lot of people on their parenting skills. I worked almost every weekend and school/college holiday for four years, and then worked one last summer after my first year at uni.
I made some great friends, admired some hot boys from afar, and learned to drink at the staff summer parties (which tended to be when the admiration of hot boys could happen at much closer quarters). And all that shit-shovelling gives you a seriously flat stomach. Even if, when combined with falling off a horse, it also results in being frogmarched to an osteopath, who doesn’t believe you’re only 17 because “your back is awfully… um, how to put this… stressed. You’re going to have to sort this out before you have children.” Yeah, but I had abs of steel, who needs a correctly-aligned spine?
Next up was a summer behind the bar at a village pub. Which terrified me initially, as I don’t love being the centre of attention (…much…) and when you’re serving, you’re on display all the time. And when you’re not serving, you’re probably passing through the kitchen, being shouted at by a chef. (I used to be overly nice to him whenever I saw him outside of work, mainly to kind of disarm him/weird him out. I don’t think it worked.) I’m not what you’d call a natural at waitressing, so in my first week I think the only thing I said was “Sorry!” and every time my boss walked past me, he’d say “Kirsten, you look worried.”
“No, Alex, that’s just my face.”
University had me doing the odd strange thing for money. There was the two days I spent sticking address labels on the alumni newspaper, for which I was paid about £100. I’m not kidding; I can’t have done more than six hours’ work. And they say universities don’t have money to burn…
I worked in a university office for a few months – the QUB School of History and Anthropology. That was ok, until the last few weeks, when all the staff began taking their summer holidays and I was pretty much on my own in the History office. Which would have been fine had it not been the end-of-exams and pre-graduation bit of the year, so we were getting a lot of students calling up in a panic about resits and registering for graduation, and all they were getting on the other end of the phone was me. Who didn’t have the first idea of what to tell them, because no-one had told me anything. I just used to say, “Erm, yes, I think the best person to speak to would be Frances, as she’s the school manager”, put them through and carry on faffing about on the internet. And then Frances would come in and I’d have to pretend to be doing something other than going through every comic on this website.
Sometimes I’d be over in the Anthropology office, which was smaller and quieter, perhaps because it was populated by men – one of whom did stand-up comedy in his spare time, which was pretty cool, especially as he’d sometimes leave his gig notes on his desk. While working there, I was having a bit of a trying-to-break-up-with-someone problem, while almost getting together with someone else, via a third person. No, I’m not proud of it. “You should have your own show,” said the non-comedian guy once, after I’d given him the full run-down of my romantic situation(s). Well, he asked.
I also worked briefly as a Kumon assistant – I pretty much nicked the job off my flatmate – and I can’t think of anything remarkable about that, except having to sneak off to the loo to text the Boy whenever a kid asked me to explain something Maths-related. An actual message I sent him was: “I’ve forgotten how to do long multiplication. Help!” Luckily for me, he obliged.
Which brings us to proofreading, and tanning-salon-minding. (Oh, the thrilling life I lead…) I remember being jobless and bored out of my skull once I’d come back to Horsham in the post-graduation comedown of summer 2011. I was just getting desperate and staring down the barrel of having to do something waitressy when I got an e-mail inviting me to Uckfield, which I’d vaguely heard of, to do a proof test. I had no recollection of applying for the job, but off I went. And found eleven mistakes on a ten-mistake document, much to the amusement of my friends when I proudly relayed that fact to them later on. “Can you start tomorrow?” said my interviewer.
And I’m still there, when I’m not at the salon. (Except on Sundays, when I refuse to un-cling myself from the Boy, because it’s the only day we’re both off.) I’m still proofing guide dog obituaries and insurance policies, and overhearing conversations that both amuse and appal me. It’s not news, but boys aged between 18 and 21 are disgusting, hilarious creatures.
You get a lot of weird and wonderful characters in a tanning salon – a real cross-section of people. Loads more men than I expected, and what’s more, loads more straight men. I’ve had the line “so, can a man and a woman fit on a sunbed together?” used on me more than once, which is nice, and the creams that we sell to prolong/enhance your tan have names you wouldn’t believe if I told you. I’ve had to try and explain Morris dancing to our lovely Hungarian nail technician, and have acquired an admirer with the most beautiful Scottish accent I’ve ever heard. As Fran says in that episode of Black Books: “It just… does things to me.”
I really need to stop now, this is far longer than planned. I was going to include something about the new Thea Gilmore album, “Regardless”, as it’s the only thing I’ve been listening to all week, but I’ll be straying into e-book territory if I type any more words, and none of us need that.
Have this. The Boy keeps playing it, and as a result it keeps getting stuck in my head.