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Friday, 11 July 2008

The burden of work

When I had holiday jobs as I student I carried only my thumb so I could hitch lifts to work and back. I might have carried some loose change in my pocket just in case I had, if all else failed, to catch a bus home but this would be a mark of such abject failure that it was not to be deployed if at all possible. I wouldn't carry a coat either, just a T shirt and jeans, that's all I needed to get through the day. If I got wet then that was all part of the teenage macho image. If I took sandwiches then they'd be wrapped in some grease proof paper and stuffed in my pocket and the crumpled remains, delightfully unchilled, would be plonked on some surface for the morning until it was time for lunch, though lunch was usually provided free in staff canteens - the perks of working for a hotel. We won't go into my summer of cleaning sewers.

Then I started my first full time job. By this time the jeans and T shirt had gone replaced by, and it embarrasses me to recall this, a brown suit with lapels so big you could glide several hundred feet in the air with them like some gigantic flying human squirrel and flares on the trousers that could knock pedestrians over 30 metres away with the back draught as they flailed around my ankles as I walked. But jumping from the car and walking into the offices from the staff car park, I carried nothing more than my wallet and pass to get me through security. You could be out of the house and into the car in seconds and then from the car to the office in a few minutes. When it came to the end of the day all you had to do was push all the stuff on the desk into a drawer with your forearm, lock the filing cabinet, wake the boss and walk out.

It all started, straight after a promotion to a field job. First came the briefcase, then folders to put in the briefcase. Because you now had a brief case you felt you had to take it home at the end of the day, for no good reason as it stayed firmly closed all night in the hallway, it was just what everybody else did. So that meant unpacking it in the morning on arrival in the office and then packing it all up again in the evening. An extra ten minutes either way. No more jumping in and out of the car either. The case had to go on the back seat or seat well which now meant opening the rear door. 

Then came the mobile phone. At first it was installed permanently in the car and then it became 'mobile' or, for those of us that remember such things, the size of a military sized field radio that needed carrying on a back frame. So now the journey involved remembering the briefcase, the phone, switching on the phone, wedging case and phone in the car on leaving home, getting phone and case out of car in the office car park walking into the office, unpacking the files, finding a place where the mobile both received a signal and could be charged and then reversing the process for the return journey. We've just added 15 minutes to the journey each way.

Now the field based job. It got even harder. The briefcase, the phone (smaller admittedly), the suitcase (as I had to stay away for several days at a time) and the complete set of A to Z's for Northern France and Belgium and the Baltic States plus all my A4 files, probably 50 in total. Now it takes half an hour to leave and half an hour to unpack at each hotel or when I get home.

The executive job. This includes a laptop because having a laptop means that you can work on from home after a full 12 hours at the office, and can therefore never be away from the 'office' which indicates you are important, plus a Blackberry, colloquially known as a Crackberry because you can't put the damn thing down as it chirrups incessantly as new emails arrive demanding to be dealt with NOW. Of course this has all added more time to the leaving and arrival palaver as you now have to put the laptop in the special docking station in the office and boot it up. For some reason booting up a laptop onto a network takes the best part of a morning as does the shutting down process in the evening, when Windows likes to take a very leisurely route to turning itself off. You only have about two hours during the day when you can actually use the thing. Naturally I circumvent this by yanking the whole unit from the docking station after half an hour of 'Windows is shutting down please waste 30 minutes of your life that you will never get back as we decide when we want to go home, not you.' I gave the Blackberry back after a month. I couldn't stand it anymore.

Today. I pack my laptop in its own case, put my files and notebooks into a leather document holder, pick up my three glasses cases (driving, reading, and sunglasses) and walk to the car and place them on the passenger seat. Then I come back into the house put on my jacket, pick up my wallet and Filofax, pick up my mobile phone, Bluetooth hands free set, SatNav and Coolbag with my sandwiches in (thoroughly chilled) and return to the car. I then attach the SatNav to windscreen, wire up the power cable to the SatNav and stick the Bluetooth hands-free slug into my ear. It's taken 45 minutes to prepare to leave. For goodness sake they can launch the Space Shuttle and have it in orbit in less time. There are palpable signs of evolution on animals in the time it takes to put all the equipment in the car - and this is without unpacking it all when I get to the office or my destination. Then I have to work out what needs to go in the boot of the car for the time being, because of the issues of security when leaving the car in a public car park. Thieves would need a fork lift truck to move all this equipment from my car.

I thought the electronic world would relive us all from this burden. I see I am wrong. What I really need now is a Bergen military backpack to carry it all. But who will carry me?

Friday, 4 July 2008

It's all in the cards

I am a man of many identities. I know this to be the case as I have the papers to prove it. These are, of course, business cards and I have about 20 of them charting my career as it, too, has careered over the years. From account manager level to Director level and, my all time favourite, no job title at all level, they rest in peace in a box somewhere in the house so I show my kids the rise and fall and fall of my career.

At the moment I actually have two different business cards. How cool is that? One set for my three and half day a week job and the other set for the other organisation I was desperately needed for, sign the consultancy agreement papers NOW and send them to us immediately is there anyway you can hand deliver them there is a job that needs doing NOW, can't wait, hurry, hurry, hurry we'll print you business cards and FedEx them to you. Actually that was four months ago now and yes, you knew it really, it never actually happened.

But what happens to these cards, I mean does anyone actually do business with them? I diligently collected other people's business cards for years on the basis that they 'might be useful.' I have them here, right now in this purpose designed business card holder with the words 'business cards' picked out in sky blue Dymo tape on the top, in case I was under the illusion that it held a Faberge egg perhaps?. What's even more astounding is that they are in alphabetical order. That's why, presumably, I have the Mayor of Cordova's, Alabama card. Now I can't begin to remember why I have his card, where I met him or why I though this would be useful. Here's some others. One for an online used car sales company (out of business, I just checked), a paint shop in Singapore (just in case I needed some paint as I was passing through?), Banco Fiat in Sao Paulo, the delightfully titled Directeur de l'Observatoire in Paris, a barrister (ominous) with his name, telephone number and one word title (full marks for going overboard with design there), one for Gasper in Sao Paulo (who was Gasper, or what?) and one in Arabic on one side and Japanese on the other.

I can honestly say that I have never contacted these people again. And they haven't contacted me either but we all go through this rigmarole of handing out these little paste cards to each other. For some reason. Of course, like so many things, cards have become more and more ingenious. They have changed size, they are bigger/smaller, open out like a folding ruler and some are quite clever bits of origami. You know the sort you can't fold them back up properly afterwards, like a large newspaper after you've read it. I've got transparent plastic ones, ones with people's pictures on, square ones, ones written on rice grains, three dimensional cards, holograms, ones that don't exist in our time space continuum, ones printed on the back of live animals that I now have to look after, talking cards and even mini CD cards that you are meant to put in your PC computer tray and then look at. And look at them you will for ever if you put them in some CD trays because they never, ever come out again.

So all this effort to create attractive cards that represent one's business and capabilities and they all get put in a little red book with blue dymo tape for ever until they are forgotten. How sad. I did have a really groovy one, when I was self-employed, that was designed by my friend, a terrific graphic designer. The design wowed people, they would stop in their tracks and admire the striking design. They never called me though and I sent out/gave out hundreds of them. Would you like one, perhaps a box of them I have several left over?

Then there is the ritual of the exchange of cards. If you are the one entering into an office you always have the advantage - card already secreted in a pocket you whip it out and hand it over with a flourish - there that's my credentials so now you have to take me seriously. They, on the other hand, immediately dive into a drawer stuffed full of loose elastic bands, staples that have escaped from the box, fifteen pens that don't work and twenty seven pencils that you keep meaning to sharpen if only you had a pencil sharpener, 126 paper clips all connected together from when you had that really boring on-line conference that took hours, six memos that you meant to reply to but had lost, sixty seven business cards from previous visitors and a year's supply of PostIt notes and mutter 'I have one here somewhere' and then hand you one with a coffee stain on as they can't find a coaster for the coffee either. Then you leave and your card becomes the sixty eighth. Of couse there are always the dreaded V cards, little attachments to emails that are meant to update your central collection of business contacts - somehow these never seem to work and get deleted.

Then there's people's titles; Grand wizard, Associate (i.e we don't actually employ them), Gerente Geral (sic), Head of Group Synergies (you just know from that that there aren't any), TQE District Manager and so on. Some put all their academic qualifications on: GCSE in woodwork, ironing and coracle weaving, along with the big ones: B.Sc (HONS), M.A (HONS), FRIXT Assoc, GMINT Acc, FRIAPP (Fellow of the Royal Institute of Associated Pygmy Photographers) or whatever. They have a qualification and boy are they going to make sure you know it, whether they actually earned it or paid an annual fee to have membership to the association.

It's all now lost on me anyway - as soon as I get a card that I know I will need the details for I write them in my Filofax anyway.
And throw the card away.