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'

Share

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).

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks