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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee