There are many downsides to working by yourself and running your own business – like never being absolutely sure where your next client might come from, no IT department and your Christmas parties. (Boy, is it hard to get into the festive spirit when it is just you, a single party popper and an individually wrapped sausage roll).
But there are some great upsides, like being in control of your own destiny and making the rules up as you go along. Sorry, I mean making the rules up. And there is one other advantage that is among my favourites: being alone in my office.
Now, I know that this will make me sound like a total misanthrope, and all I can say to that is: guilty as charged. Send me down now, it’s a fair cop. Just don’t make me share my cell. I have had my time in a busy office, and made some great friends there, some of whom have been tolerant enough to indulge our friendship beyond my employment.
But really, working in an office full of people is not natural. It reminds me of battery hens.
But you don’t see Jamie Oliver campaigning against cramming people into a confined space who will metaphorically peck each other’s eyes out given half the chance, do you? All that being nice to the office idiot, all that surreptitious web surfing, mouse hovering over the minimise button in case anyone approaches, all the territorial wars over desks, all those half-licked buttery knives left in the sink.
I am not sad to see the back of all that, I can tell you.
Firstly, being alone for your working day makes me Queen of Productivity. I am so good at getting stuff done, I even had time to make myself a crown and decorate it with paper clips, which is all well and good until I forgot I was wearing it and answered the door to the delivery man.
And no one tuts at my messy desk. In my head, I want a pristine desk with no extraneous piles of paper which are either pending, or have been there so long, are now simply redundant. But in reality, when I am busy, any semblance of order goes out the window and I employ a rather more random layering approach. At the end of the week, trying to find that important piece of paper that I last saw on my desk on Monday, it’s like a little archaeological dig… just with less beards.
And so what if I want a fresh mug for every cup of tea I drink, meaning that I have a straggling line of them across the desk by 5pm?
The absence of a sarcastic ‘oh look, are you starting a mug collection?‘ comment from the office comic (and when I say comic, I mean idiot) is a blessing.
My office is attached to my house, making the morning commute a real treat. No one breathes their morning breath on me as I stand, squeezed between a buffoon who insists on reading a newspaper despite there being about eighty people packed into the tube carriage, and a rucksack, the owner of which is utterly oblivious to the fact that in a crowded tube, his bag is basically a lethal weapon.
I can get to my office in my slippers, all ribs intact, without breaking into a sweat.
Granted, I have to exercise extreme caution on the walk, as the hallway is littered with toppled scooters, hastily scattered shoes, a badly parked pram and a confetti of pizza leaflets, but it is a small price to pay.
And being alone in the office means you can pretty much lie through your teeth about what you are doing at any given moment. A client calls just as I am putting the finishing touches to an Amazon order for some more music and a few books. ‘Oh yes, I was just finishing that off for you, I’ll send it over right away’. Another client calls me on the mobile. ‘Are you in the office?’ he asks. ‘Yes, I am,’ I reply. I was actually sitting on the toilet having a wee and got accidentally engrossed in a magazine article. I continued the conversation with the client, silently praying that he wouldn’t ask me to call up a document on my screen.
The flushing sound may have blown my cover.
Music: if ever there was a bone of contention designed to cause an irrevocable rift in an office, it’s the choice of music. At least two of the offices that I have worked in have allowed music to be played, which is a terrible decision whichever way I listen to it. I have suffered Coldplay albums on repeat (I know, I know, but I am alright now, I had some therapy), commercial radio stations with lobotomised, screaming presenters first thing in the morning and dance music just too far away from my desk to hear anything other than a persistent, irritating, fast-paced drum beat.
At least I thought that’s what it was until I realised it was the sound of my own heart beat as my blood pressure rose further and further…
There is another disadvantage, though. My office is the physical manifestation of where business and children collide: there is almost nowhere I can cast my gaze that doesn’t have a reminder that I am a mother. I don’t even have photos of my kids pinned up – I gave birth to them, I see them every day, I don’t think even I will forget what they look like, so there is really no need. Not when I have so many other lovely reminders… there is a small blue trainer cast adrift in the middle of the floor which I have been too busy (or possibly lazy) to pick up, so have spent the day inadvertently kicking from spot to spot. Inept drawings of houses (at least that is what I am told they are) are scattered across my desk and table, ensuring that even if I did manage to have a tidy desk, it would never stay that way. A broken calculator lays forlorn on the table, where first one son then another “accidentally” broke it in two.
On my printer are a number of pages of pictures of cartoon characters, printed out for colouring in purposes but discarded as the allure of another, more destructive activity was too much to ignore.
I am sure it is only a matter of time before I inadvertently bind a certificate from the CBeebies website proclaiming ‘You superstar! You finished three levels of the Octonaut’s Jawfish Egg Rescue!‘ into a client proposal.
But my own office is a real treat despite that. At the end of a busy, challenging day, there is nothing I like better than a nice chat with my stapler. I think items of stationery are much underrated as co-workers. They know their place, they don’t answer back and they don’t listen to music. Just don’t let the kids get their hands on them.
I couldn’t bear it if Snappy dies.