A Day in the Life


I don't bother to look for my dressing gown. Whoever is ringing me up in the middle of the does not need to know that I am talking to them in the nude. This is one of the advantages in living alone.

'This is your reminder call. This is your reminder call. This is...'

The other advantage is that there is no-one around to notice when it is 11.00 AM and you have slept through two other alarms.

I am left with less than thirty minutes before the bi-weekly ritual outing to the dole-office, sorry, Job Centre: strictly speaking the only time that I need to venture out into the world.

I decide that clothes would probably be a good idea, track down my pretty green 'helping you back to work' book and proceed up Tooting High Street in the direction of Balham.

The Tooting - Clapham axis is one of the few areas of London where the Underground runs directly under a main road. This means that I can related the Northern Line stations to the world outside. It is oddly comforting to delayed at Kennington and know that there is a Co-op outside. The rest of the Tube is a non-place. Highbury & Islington is a bright orange and yellow interface between BR and LT; Finsbury Park a wet station where the chocolate machine never works and a spiral staircase links you with central London. There is nothing outside these places. Morden and Walthamstow are purely mythical.

There is jolly Jamaican outside singing spirituals and selling Big Issues outside Sainsburies. There's also the usual table of Moslem tracts and the Rastafarian posters. I am suspicious of the two homeless - how can someone that well dressed and young end up begging for change outside MacDonalds?

The Job Centre, remarkably, conforms to its promise under the Citizens Charter to see all 'customers' in less that 2 3/4 minutes. I advance from the queue to the chair, and the clerk finds my file. Nothing remains but self-confession.

'I've done some work this week.'

I never know whether I do this because of timidity or scrupulous honesty or a desire to maintain the moral high ground.

The man at the desk is disorientated, by this non routine development. Stiff in his rehearsed helpfulness, he picks out a form.

'What I am going to do now' he says, like a doctor or an American executioner, 'Is give you this form and ask you to sit over there and fill it in with this pen, and if there is anything that you do not understand, please ask me.'

Fill in hours worked last week:

Once again, I feel the need to be utterly honest:

10.00 Log on to the Information Super Highway, to see if any electronic mail provides me with an excuse not to work.

10.15 Make pot of coffee.

10.20 Check that there is no old fashioned paper and pencil mail on the doormat for me.

10.25 Switch on Word 6.00 and load new document entitled 'Article'.

10.27 - 10.30 Write.

10.30 - 10.45 Go to the lavatory.

10.45 - 10.46 Erase what I just wrote and start again.

10.47- 10.50 Stare into space

10.50 - 10.52 Make list of headings to write for article. Run word count. Discover that subject headings alone make up more words that the intended length of the article. Erase.

10.55 - 12.00 Walk to Sainsburies; buy paper; do shopping, go to MacDonalds; eat Cheeseburger at Silly Price of 59p (278 calories) drink coffee, read paper, make indecipherable note about article in margins of leading article.

12.00 - 12.15 Home again. My first sentence has dissolved into a screen saver. I watch it flow around the screen in a coloured pixel soup.

12.15 - 12.45 Set up a new screen saver. Decide to reconfigure Windows altogether; replace the bathroom tiles with red bricks. Give everything red, white and blue borders, and change the sound effects.

12.45 - 12.46 Write

12.46 - 1.00 Take 'How to Make 1,000,000 Writing' with me to the lavatory.

1.01 - 1.02 Write

1.02 - 1.02.30 Half way to lavatory before realising that I have only just been.

1.03 -1.45 Listen to World at One

1.45 -2.00 Listen to Archers

2.00 - 2.45 Watch an old episode of Star Trek.

2.45 - 3.30 Watch another old episode of Star Trek, the one where Picard mind links with Spock's father.

3.30 - 4.15 Decide it would be a shame not to watch right through to the end of the tape.

4.15 - 4.16 Stare at computer screen.

4.16 - 4.17 Realise that what I am suffering from is writer's block, and that I must break out of it by diverting my attention to an alternate artistic task thus allowing my unconscious mind to compose the article by itself.

4.17 - 6.30 Play Doom.

6.00 - 8.00 Eat tea.

8.00 - 10.00 Play Doom.

10.15 Log on to the Net. Read various newsgropus. Compose 24 pages of scintillating contributions to discussion groups, on subjects such as the crime of Gallieleo, the salvational status of Narnia, and the rank of transporter chief O'Brien.

1.00 Desperation sets in. I have not touched on article all day. I am clearly never going to makes a success of being a writer. I blame Miss Beale, who kept me in after school for having bad hand-writing and thus gave me a sense of low self-esteem which subconsciously causes me to court failure. I blame my friends who do not take my work sufficiently seriously. I blame my family who think that I am some sort of literary genius but do not actually read any of it, denying me the very approval that I need. Consider total change of career, e.g. into computer programming or school teaching. Decide that the problem is in fact that I write in the same room in which I sleep and watch television, and that therefore I cannot instil a good sense of discipline. A change of scene is probably the solution - either a flat with a separate study, or else purchasing a laptop and working at a friends house. Have dialled Nick's number to inform him that I am moving back to York on a semi permanent basis before I realise that it is past midnight. Pound forehead violently with fists. Wonder whether I require psychological counselling to deal with my fear of success.

Decide that actually starting the article would be a better move.

1.05 Set computer timer to play 'My Darling Clementine' in thirty minutes. Switch off monitor. Type violently, with Elvis Presley singing 'I Was The One' loudly in the background. (Seventeenth time I have played that record today. Why do I develop enthusiasm later than everyone else, both biographically and historically?)

1.35 I have accidentally typed the entire thing upper case. It runs to 2000, words, double the intended length. Some of the sentence seem actually quite good.

1.35 - 2.05 Delete the bad ones. Run word count. Article still too long. Delete more lines. Add more words to ensure it makes sense. Repeat ad nausuem. Run spell checker.

3.00 Go to bed.

'I don't work regular hours.'

'Well, just estimate.'

I write '12.00 - 4.00' in the space marked Monday - Wednesday, and 350 words in the space marked 'pay'. But this is still not good enough, I have to calculate my DAILY pay.

I write '87.50' by each day. At the bottom of the page, there is a space which says:

I declare that everything I have written is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and that falsifying the information on this form can result in you losing benefit and/or criminal prosecution. And if that doesn't work, we will bring back military service, so we'll get you that way. In the olden days, they used to round up beggars and the homeless and flog them, did you know that?

I sign, and go back to my flat for another fortnight.