Joanna Briscoe: At The Sharp End

'Beneath my slacker habits lies an inner spod, horrified if I haven't produced a literary masterpiece in under a year'

Why are we such lazy tossers? I'm sitting here now, torn between watching one of the very final wring-it-till-it's-desiccated I'm a Celebrity post-series catch-ups, and doing a spot of work. I'm not talking A&E night shifts or a Sunday in chambers charging through legal briefs. Oh no. Just a little light columning in my dressing gown. But the prospect of a deadline quite spoilt my weekend, thank you very much, then injected a flavour of surly urgency into the early part of the week.

Though we all have a complex attitude towards work, the freelance approach is screamingly dysfunctional. We long-term self-employed are the perpetual mistresses of the workforce when it comes to our relationship with our computers: vulnerable, self-defeating, accusatory, given to serial resolutions but essentially unable to learn as we partake once again in the daily dance of death with our cursors.

My own latest self-improvement push involves working in the British Library. I do realise that a couple of centuries' worth of novelists before me have come up with this particular wheeze, but hey, it's a revelation to me. You can't talk! You can't e-mail! You're surrounded by dweebs! You have to work!

An institutional atmosphere is the only thing the poor conditioned mind responds to after years of studying: how encouraging the rustling of paper, the ink regulations, the stone courtyards, the lockers and drinking fountains. To put it simply, the conditions of double maths have to be recreated to rev up one's word count, otherwise the temptations of Popbitch are too strong.

The British Library is the soft version of what's really needed. What muscular masterpieces one could fashion if imprisoned, like Gramsci, Wilde, or, er, Jeffrey Archer. How prettily one could produce limpid French accounts of adolescence if, like Colette, one had a husband called Willy to lock one up in one's writing room.

It seems that anyone who tangles with a computer for their living suffers the same tiresome mental paradoxes and procrastination habits. Having just completed my own telephone survey, I offer you some common office-work avoidance techniques. Spurious stationery cupboard forays for Sellotape ("office retail therapy"). Visits to the post room for extra Jiffy bags. Tea-making. Foraging trips for things to eat ("especially visits to marketing in hope of the Slovenian liqueur chocolates they had last week"). Discreet online supermarket shopping, and browsing of the Topshop website and cheap city breaks.

Freelance techniques are well known: washing machine, tea, e-mails, chocolate, e-mails, coffee, tea, e-mails, tea, banana, milk-buying, tea, walk, newspaper, sudden bath, e-mails, tea, tea, tea. Then there's Googling your friends. Googling your enemies. Googling your exes. Googling your exes' partners. Googling yourself. Consulting Friendsreunited, Yournotme.co.uk and Awfulplasticsurgery.com. Just as we all wrote our Sylvia Plath dissertations on the last two days of the holidays, so we cram the urgent stuff into less time by whipping up false adrenaline.

No wonder. We have the longest working hours in Europe and the second-longest in the world. Longer hours are statistically bad for productivity, health and sex lives: it's inevitable we have to rebel in puerile fashion. Procrastination is also linked to perfectionism, which makes sense to me: beneath my slacker habits lies an inner spod, basically eternally horrified if I haven't produced a literary masterpiece in under a year through rigorous lucubration. According to the University of Cambridge Counselling Service, procrastination "commonly involves feelings such as guilt, inadequacy, self-disgust, stress and depression". The medieval image of a lazy man lying on a bed of spikes just about sums it up. Clever medievals.

The only problem with the British Library is that, in flagrant contravention of its rules, you can text in the reading rooms on silent mode. Oh for that distracting little vibration....

****

Size 12 is the new 16. Since the size-0 debate, non-anorexic women in the public eye are described as "a curvy size 12". I even read a recent interview in which some micro-celeb felt driven to declare, "I'm a curvy size 10" in defensive tones. Jen Hunter, the size 12 one-off from Make Me a Supermodel, says, "I was made to feel like a freak." Forgive me if I'm a walking lard mountain, but size 12 seems ideal to me. About time that footbinding came in, isn't it?

****

Apparently William Windsor has made it to the Sword of Honour shortlist for best officer cadet at Sandhurst. How we all snorted. This is the same William who recently mislaid one's machine gun. The same William who was a member of Pop at Eton. Whose pater was head boy of Gordonstoun, and whose uncle Edward got into Cambridge on a C and two Ds at A-level. And we shout about cash for honours? A meritocracy quietly leapfrogged by a plutocracy exists now just as it did under Thatcher. I recommend out-and-out cynicism as a logical mindset.

Joanna Briscoe's novel Sleep with Me is published by Bloomsbury (£7.99).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future