Continuing the up-beat theme, I’ve had many jobs, but none that I could say gave me sustained pleasure. I’ve always worked to live, rather than lived to work, I’ve never stayed in the same job for long and I’ve pretty much given up on having a ‘career’. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I feel I’ve arrived at a place of employment karma.
I’ve been working in and around housing for twenty years. ‘Housing’ covers a multitude of sins and I’ve committed some of them, but I’ve arrived back where I started, helping to look after a council estate. I’m called the Estate Manager, but that sounds a bit grand. I think of myself more as a glorified concierge of the type that inhabit Parisian apartment blocks depicted in Zola novels. I organise repairs and keep an eye on the general upkeep of the estate. In doing so, I get to know quite a few of the people who live here, who might then call on me for other things like watering their plants, taking deliveries or (in the case of 93-year-old Iris) making a cup of tea or picking her up off the floor. Sometimes I have to admonish people for dumping rubbish in the wrong place or having loud parties and although this makes me feel uncomfortably like a head-teacher, unlike some housing officers I’ve known, I don’t think of myself as a cop. There’s an interesting debate about the extent to which the type of job I do constitutes part of the State and over the years I’ve certainly seen housing become far more involved with policing, particularly since the advent of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour’ neuroses which has blurred the lines between formal and informal social controls to the point where it feels that some people have lost the confidence to resolve problems without calling on the authorities.
I work part-time, as I have for many years and this is essential. As a society, we need to rid ourselves of the self and family destructive ritual of spending too many hours at work. I know I’m fortunate to have employment and financial circumstances that allow me not to work full-time, but I also know that I work more effectively this way and most of us could jump off the 40+ hour working week treadmill without it making any difference to the value of what we do. I’ve also managed to rid myself of a whole raft of paraphernalia that’s become an unquestioned tyranny of our working lives. I don’t have team meetings, supervision sessions, time keeping procedures, or action plans – and I don’t wear a lanyard. Simple pictures are best. We seem to have made the culture of work so complicated that we forget what it is we’re actually supposed to be doing. This is particularly true in housing. I never forget talking to an ex-housing department colleague who was a self-confessed middle management bean-counter, but he was also an ex-council tenant and he said to me, at the end of another long, frustrating week, ‘I sometimes think I’d be more useful to the people who pay us if I picked up a broom’.