When I was 15 we did the career quiz that all British schools seem to inflict on their Year 11s. I distinctly remember being adamant that I didn’t really care what it told me to do, so long as it wasn’t working in an office. I really, really didn’t want to work in an office. I didn’t want to have to deal with spreadsheets, and meetings, and other people. I was absolutely not going to do that. Ever.
So when my careers quiz came back telling me I should be a journalist, I was pretty pleased with it. And then, when the time came for me to finally enter the workforce seven years later, I totally ignored everything about that quiz and got a job in an office.
Another seven years on from that, and I decided that perhaps the OASIS careers quiz may have been right all along. So I ditched the office job and set myself up as a freelance writer. I was following my destiny. It was going to be magnificent. And I was never going to have to wear a pencil skirt again.
But, in a totally unexpected turn of events, six months in there are things about office life that I actually miss. Quite a few of them, actually.
I often proclaim that I hate people. Loudly. They get in the way when you’re walking about, and they try to talk to you when you’re in the middle of things, and they’re generally annoying. But when you’re not around them every day, it turns out you do miss them.
I was part of an excellent team in one of my last office jobs. They were fun, and they didn’t interrupt unless you wanted them to, and we all had long conversations about Strictly, and Bake Off, and other important televisual events. And sometimes we even talked about work.
Now I don’t have that any more. There’s no-one to procrastinate with. Days go by without my speaking to anyone during daylight hours. My tweeting is getting out of control, because I just need SOMONE TO TALK TO.
I worry that soon I’m going end up like Bernard Black, and start inviting Jehovah’s Witnesses in to have a nice chat.
One of the greatest things about office life was what we termed “biscuit apocalypse.” It was a simple concept; someone went to Tescos and bought a load of biscuits, and then we ate them all in one sitting.
There’s great joy in shared biscuit destruction. The collective guilt seems to somehow cancel itself out – it’s fine that you had 8 gluten-free chocolate cookies, because someone else had half a pack of custard creams. It’s a bonding experience, bringing you and your colleagues together in the shared knowledge that you’re all a little bit greedy.
But when you inhale a pack of biscuits on your own, that’s just sad.
Not long into my office life, I decided to quit smoking. It was a filthy, disgusting, expensive habit – and my then-boyfriend (now husband) said he’d dump me if I didn’t give it up. So I decided to swap out one addiction for another, and took up drinking tea.
Over the next few years, my tea consumption became legendary. Every hour, on the hour, I’d head down to the cafeteria and get a tea for myself and whoever else wanted one. I was almost never seen without a cup in my hand. And soon, whenever anyone else from my team went down to get a cup, they’d get one for me too. Because I always wanted tea.
Yes, this sometimes meant that I ended up with two or three cups of tea on my desk at once, but I saw that as a majestic challenge. And one that I always completed.
Now I have to make my own tea all the time, and that’s frankly rubbish.
I’m one of those insufferable bellends who likes to “bounce things off” people. I’ll get started working on something, and get so into it that I sometimes wonder if I’m still making sense. And that’s where other people are helpful – they can listen to your ideas and tell you if you’ve entirely lost touch with reality or not.
I don’t have that any more. The closest thing I have to colleagues these days is my cats, and they’re not particularly helpful with their constructive criticism. All they care about is getting food, so they’ll say whatever they think makes an early dinner more likely.
And, given that they’re cats and don’t speak English, I’m not sure they understand what I’m asking them anyway.
This is one I really didn’t expect to miss. Meetings were a bloody nightmare when I had to do them. They got in the way of doing actual work, and often got scheduled in such a way that it was impossible to take a lunchbreak before 4pm. And often nothing would actually be properly decided anyway.
But now I see them for what they often were; sanctioned procrastination. You couldn’t do anything on that project until the meeting. Yes, that was a great idea, but you’d need to get sign-off at the meeting. And sometimes, you’d have a meeting just to decide that you needed to have another meeting.
Plus, people brought tea and biscuits to meetings. And we all know how I feel about tea and biscuits.