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.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me you have to ask yourself not so much what else could I do, but should I leave anyway. Even if it's a not a horrible job, just a dull one, then that's probably killing you faster than you should be killed. Then you say you are destined to die quite soon after retiring. Perhaps then you'd better go and see what else there is. Let's face it, you haven't got that long :)
On your own admission you're already more stupid than you were when you were twenty. So why wait for an end at which you are even duller than you are now? You seem like a nice person who could make people and yourself happy, not that that should necessarily be your goal. Go and make people unhappy for a change. Just chuck it in and go and try something else. Don't be careful. Love, Alec xxxx

Ben said...

Thanks for your suggestions, Alec. You have a reactionary vitality which I never possessed even when I was your age, and of which I am quite jealous.

I suppose there is a slim chance that I could jump ship and make an enormous success of something or other, from a personal perspective if not a professional one. The thing is, I remain unconvinced that there's greener grass to be found. This post was never intended to be a lament, and my regrets are mercifully few. It's just bloody quiet sometimes, you know?

I suppose I am careful, but then it's very much my intention to buck the early death trend.

"You seem like a nice person" - ouch. Is it national faint praise week or something?!

Anyhoo said...

But do you seem like a fairly nice person.

I think you're one of the nicest people who were bleeding at the time I've ever met.

Ben said...

And now I'm only fairly nice. Is that why you never went near my perinium?

That was a fun day. Playing football in London, meeting you and concluding in A&E at 1am the next morning.

I still owe you a present, too. Sorries.

Anonymous said...

The thing is you probably won't die early if you give your dull job, and might just last longer, in more exciting ways. And you don't have to be an enormously successful person. Opting to be a more stimulated one might be good. Forget the inhibiting 'greener grass' idea, and having mercifully few regrets. Give yourself the chance to have lots of regrets, or none. Try something you always wanted to do. Don't work yourself into a position in which you can only be faintly praised.
I'm an agony aunt! I surely am. Dishing out liberating advice from a position of servitude. I'll break out tho'. See you do, you seemingly nice person. Love, Alec xx

Paul Brownsey said...

There seemed to me to be a curious omission from your post that would have helped to make sense of the rest, namely, the absence of anything about your financial situation.

I came from a background marked by real poverty and I think this was a major influence in my deciding to stick with a job I was unhappy in right up to retirement, for there was no family money anywhere to cushion me if I came a cropper and I didn't want my partner (himself not very happy in the civil service)to be burdened by me. It's easier to 'try something new' if several hundred grand from Mummy and Daddy are in the pipeline.

Ben said...

Paul (welcome),
Believe me, if I didn't need the money, I'd have legged it long ago. That said, even if my family was wealthy, which it is not, I wouldn't expect them to bail me out.
And I repeat, I'm not unhappy! The good outweighs the bad comfortably enough for now.