Chitra Ramaswamy: Work, but not as we know it
I WAS working out of the office the other day. This isn’t a euphemism for a sneaky day under the duvet reading Fifty Shades of Rude, or whatever that mummy porn is called. (Incidentally, why do mummies need a separate category of porn? Are we no longer designating them as women?)
Anyway, I was doing my job, but away from the soul-sucking paraphernalia of desks, swivel chairs, striplights, water coolers and phones that increasingly never ring. The morning began as mornings working from home tend to. In bed, pyjamas on, face unwashed, body hunched over laptop as old as a medieval scroll. Seriously, the only key with the letter still on it is ‘J'. Poor old ‘J', the consonant worth a whopping eight points in Scrabble that has been reduced to the neglected orphan of the alphabet. And yes, this is precisely the sort of meaningless digression that occurs when one is working home alone.
By midday, my back is in agony. I have to talk to the walls to remind myself what my voice sounds like. I'm hungry and there is no canteen. (Actually there isn't one at work either but as I'm away from the office I'm allowed to indulge in my own yummy porn fantasia of a stationery cupboard decked out with 50 shades of Moleskine and a canteen where chefs flip pancakes at live stations and you can order a beer with your sushi.)
Back in reality, I'm in my kitchen, in my pyjamas, contemplating toast for lunch. Again. Option two is to leave the flat and go forth into the world of shops and services, much as one's ancestors stood up and walked across the tundra.
This is how I end up stumbling upon a place that could be called Office Paradise, which sounds like a naff stationery shop but is actually amazing. It's a place where people speak in hushed, reverent tones. A place where the tinny hell from other people's headphones is replaced with the turning of a page. A place where you don't have to buy bad coffee all day just for the privilege of taking up space. A place where everything is free. A place of peace and learning and, if you're lucky, a small amount of sexual frisson. Yes, fellow wage slaves, I'm talking about a library.
Now, a library is hardly a revelation. I have grown up in libraries, visited them like relatives, loved them as lovers and returned to them as friends. Whenever I move, joining the local library is the first thing I do, up there with sorting out council tax (the reason we have them in the first place, remember) and stuffing holes with tissue so spiders can't come out. And yet, when I stopped being a student, I stupidly stopped seeing libraries as places of work.
This one is of the stubborn we're-pretending-the-internet-never-happened kind. I ask the librarian – a job that always seemed to me the height of buttoned-up sexiness – to point me in the direction of a plug point. “Actually,” she whispers, “we don't really do laptops.” How wonderful. I sit on an old chair in a quiet corner next to a workman in his hi-vis jacket reading a red-top. I use my laptop until it runs out and then write in a notepad. I get more done than I have in days. Libraries, I realise, are ideal offices. Then the 21st-century gremlin in me starts up, and I decide to air my new-found wisdom on Twitter. Just like that, as my phone starts flashing and people start replying, the silence is broken and the new world comes crashing back in.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
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