Erikka Askeland: Slither and slide your way out of the gloom

JANUARY, gloomy and cold. It’s also wet, and while the dark may be slowly slithering back to his cave, he wants to make sure he casts his pall on all of us before he retires.

Even if your are not a sufferer of some sort of seasonal affective disorder, the undeniable truth is the year may be new but it is still the same old you. Meanwhile, train fares are going up but your salary – if you still have one – has stayed miserably the same. Your boss has likely given up even trying to put a brave face on prospects, and by the time you get your next pay cheque the only items left in the sales will be things you wouldn’t be caught dead in.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Earlier this week, travel firm First Choice advertised what for most would be a dream job as a water-slide tester. The work for the lucky applicant involves a six-month contract flying to resorts in Egypt, Turkey and Europe where it is your job to hang out in the pool and take a few runs down the slides. All travel and accommodation is paid for. Even the money’s not bad – £20,000 for six months, less than an MSP but significantly more than the UK average of £26,500. Bathing costumes aren’t all that expensive anyway.

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Lucky for potential slide-tester applicants, it’s not really my kind of thing, so go ahead, have a free run at it. I was fortunate enough to grow up practically next door to a water-slide park. It mainly involves running uphill all day, shivering while you wait goose-pimpled in a long queue and then hurtling, screaming down a flume for at least five seconds. After five solid hours of it, it all gets just so Sisyphean.

Instead, perhaps you might fancy a jungle adventure while earning a little cash to stave off boredom and the corrosive effects of inflation? If so, get yourself to Florida and sign up to the Python Challenge. Starting from today, hundreds of hunters who have signed up – many of which are bored office denizens – will be unleashed in the Everglades to hunt Burmese pythons. At the end of the four-week hunting season, the one who has slain the biggest snake will win $5,000.

According to a report by, the Burmese python is an invasive species which threatens such charming local critters such as the Key Largo wood rat. There are thought to be tens of thousands of them. Most seem to be escaped pets – which makes you wonder about the strange predilections of people who live Florida. Or it could
just be that all the snakes are progeny of the same ex-pets, who in addition to their Houdini-like escape tactics have wonderfully productive mating characteristics.

And while they aren’t terribly dangerous for humans, they are bloody big. Officials at the Everglades National Park were recently astounded to have found one 17-and-a-half feet long. At that rate, even if you don’t win the five grand you could probably get a few pairs of shoes and a handbag out of your catch.

A change is as good as a rest, the old saying goes. Psychologists believe that if we are to be any good at our jobs at all, we have to be able to get into the “flow”, sometimes called “directed attention”. But constant interruptions which most of us are probably quite familiar with – pictures of cats on Facebook, texts from home, direct messages on Twitter from trolls, e-mails, phone calls – break us off from this. Even if we are able to resist interruption and become completely absorbed in some project or task, at some point we all start feeling “directed attention fatigue”, which means we get a bit tetchy and start fuming about colleagues who haven’t done their tea round recently.

The change bit restores us to being able to focus. And while hunting snakes in the grass or throwing yourself down a PVC tube are just some ideas, you can also get the same effects gazing at clouds or the stars.

If you really wanted to live the glamorous life of a water park expert, there is the added incentive of a free, all-inclusive holiday at the end of the term.

Although it could be that at the end of six months of living in resort hotels, with their questionable buffets and dubious hygiene, you might hanker after somewhere dark and austere – like your office. Or Scotland.