Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The pleasures and sorrows of work

"I like work, I can sit and watch it all day" said Jerome K Jerome. Yeah, but somebody's got to do it.

I was paying attention at school in a physics lesson when I learned that  "work = force x distance", and the careers advice I had was that if you can avoid real work, you'll earn more and have a comfier life.  Vincent Van Gogh may have celebrated the labouring classes, but he didn't actually do the physical work that he so admired in others, however splendidly he recorded it.

So what's all this got to do with Big Swifty? It has all been a bit frantic recently, hence my relative silence on here. My best paid job is very busy, and so is my second best paid job. But I've had a week's holiday in Denmark with my older son, so work got even further behind. Plus at home we've taken on far too much in the house and garden with our urban homesteading, and all the activities we have with the diabetes support group, stand-up spoken word, carnival float, fundraising and food and drink. Oh yes, "work is the curse of the drinking classes" said Oscar Wilde.

My second biggest earning job is working, on piece work, for the local authority, delivering information to households about the electoral register and about waste collection and re-cycling. A basic delivery job, with some admin and intelligence gathering on the round. A job that is useful, and that I understand, and is "task and finish", unlike many aspects of modern life. I find it satisfying, doing the job during the different seasons, observing the changes in nature. Most of the task is in suburbia, but I also cover a couple of sprawling rural parishes, with villages, hamlets and isolated houses.

At one of the latter I was greeted by the middle-aged resident with the suggestion "So they force you to deliver these cards on a bicycle?". "No", I explained, "I choose to use a bicycle; I like the fresh air and the exercise, and it's the most efficient way to do the job", me sounding like the pompous bicycle nerd that I am. He responded with "What's on these cards anyway?" I explained about the new rubbish collection arrangements, and was given a look that suggested he felt that my job was the most degrading and demeaning task imaginable. "Well that's a waste of time and effort, sending you out here to do this" he said. Clearly he didn't value the task.

It got me thinking about "the pleasures and sorrows of work", which is also the title of a recent volume of the philosophy of Alain de Botton. It makes me laugh, to think of skinny pasty Alain, being an authority on work; I imagine his delicate hands would be ripped to shreds by a day on a shovel. I love my delivery job, and feel sorry that some people are unable to acknowledge the pleasure in such a task. Most other people I met seemed to enjoy my quick visit, as I gave service with a smile and a happy heart.

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