Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Happy fifth Wednesday in February! We haven't had one of those in twenty-eight years, in case anyone was wondering. On Wednesday 29th February 1984 I was deep into a my second term at junior school, in the class of a delightfully old-school, cardigan-wearing, blackboard rubber-throwing, quiffy-haired teacher who has long since departed this world. I had a full complement of grandparents (now none), a new-found love of the most wonderful sport known to man (still have that), not a care in the world (no comment), and no idea why I had no desire to join in the games of kiss chase that took place in the playground most lunchtimes (worked that one out now). I occasionally wore jeans.

I haven't worn jeans since I was eleven years old. I had never liked them, a fact which I had made very clear to my parents on a number of occasions. But one day the following leap year, 1988, I was presented with a new pair of jeans. I was annoyed - upset even, and decided to draw a line. Over a period of a couple of weeks my protests about the jeans became repetitive and ferocious; both qualities I rarely exhibited. One day the conflict came to a head and I was forced to wear the new jeans. Exhausted, exasperated, but not defeated, I played my trump card - I cried. This was partly calculated I suppose, but the tears were borne of genuine frustration and anguish. This was an event so rare that it shocked my parents, who, realising they had underestimated the strength of my feelings, never asked me to wear jeans again. I think the offending garment made its way to a charity shop some time later.

The thing is, I'm not sure why I don't like jeans. I think other people can look fine in them - attractive, even, but the idea of wearing them myself has alarmed me for as long as I remember. Other clothing aversions (shorts, certain types of shirt) have come and gone over the years, but this one persists. In recent years I have worn trousers which are not dissimilar to the jean in style, yet crucially, nothing resembling denim. I can, I think, categorically state that I will never again wear jeans. I don't think it was ever a stylistic objection, and it certainly isn't a phobia. My family and friends wear jeans and always have done, so there was no apparent reason for me to develop such a strong aversion to them. Perhaps it was merely an extravagant way for the eleven-year-old me to prove a point to my parents, which has grown into a lifelong habit. Either way, I'm jeans free since 1988, and staying that way.

Monday, 20 February 2012


I don’t know why I haven’t posted for a while. I’d like to say I’m lacking in inspiration, but that’s something of a default state for me, so can hardly be used as an excuse. If anything I’ve felt lately as though I ought to be coming out with something weighty, something profound, maybe even something worthwhile. I’d like to move or inspire people rather than provoking a half-smile and another whimsical exchange (that’s not to say that I don’t value the whimsical exchanges – they are frequently the highlight of an otherwise uneventful day).

It’s very chicken and egg, this whole civil service business. Does the nature of the work and the reputation civil servants have attract dull, lifeless individuals who can not imagine any life other than forty years behind a desk; or does the grinding repetition and endless procession of bland days, trips to the photocopier and cups of tea chisel away at the will, the individuality, the very soul of those who strayed too close to the flypaper and became stuck?

I’m about ninety-three per cent certain I would have been more fulfilled doing something else, yet I have very consciously decided every day for sixteen years (the anniversary is this week) not to do something else. It’s difficult to say whether my creative faculties would have calcified in this way had I sought employment in a different field. I’m sure I was brighter twenty years ago than I am now. I can see that it’s alarming, yet I am totally relaxed about it. It only occasionally annoys me very slightly, and even then only because I am aware that other people think I ought to be annoyed by it. In truth it feels natural, and comfortable. A kind of self-medication, if you will. And I don’t think I’m settling for what I have because of the effort that would be involved in changing course (although I concede I wouldn’t relish it). Neither do I think I’m scared of failing in any attempt to start afresh (although now there’s a high probability I would). Neither do I categorise my attitude as defeatist, or as being resigned to my fate (no caveat needed for this one – I’m really not). No, not any of those. In the end it always boils down to where I assign importance in my life. Up to this point the answer to the subconscious question “am I happy enough?” has always been “just about”.

There’s certainly no shortage of people here who claim to have joined ‘as a temp for the summer’, only to remain a decade or three later. I am here because I’m from a time and place where that was what people did when they didn’t know what they wanted to do. That time is gone, and it no longer applies in that place, but thousands of us remain – relics of a time when you could wander into employment, dull as it was, without so much as a decent A Level to your name, let alone any kind of higher education. And yet even in these austere times, relatively few of my colleagues seem to value their career here. Applications for recent voluntary redundancy schemes have been massively oversubscribed, and not entirely due to the ageing workforce. These peoples’ experiences here are very similar to mine, but their tolerance levels obviously differ from mine. They have decided to leave in search of something different, something better than the life I continually choose to endure.

There was a stat doing the rounds a while back claiming that civil servants ‘enjoyed’ the lowest average post-retirement lifespan of any profession, at roughly eighteen months. I have no idea if this is true, but I suspect some jealous pensionless individual in the private sector made it up. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from writing ‘have a good eighteen months’ in one or two retirement cards. It’s in my nature to trivialise. That’s my defence mechanism. I convince myself the things which matter to other people don’t matter to me. I’m brilliant at it. I whistle so that people think I’m cheerful. I am always on hand with a flippant remark, laced with just the right amount of black humour. If I were to release a fragrance, it would be called ‘Futility’ ™.

Despite dismantling and restructuring this post more than once (okay, twice), it still flows not. Fairly apt, I suppose.