It’s stamped on the divider between two urinals: Duravit. Purveyors of bathroom porcelain, presumably. They must wake each morning with the pride of a thousand New Horizons engineers.
The word has come to symbolise everything I hate about my current existence, because these urinals are at the office I’m tethered to and every time I see the word I’m filled with the pain and sadness of millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror, and being suddenly silenced by some fucker saying “I’ve booked room 2 for our 10.30”. Someone could flash the word Duravit at me on a piece of paper walking down Charing Cross Road and the spirit of Pavlov would likely make me grab the nearest rifle from our freshly armed ‘terror cops’ and spree myself into the Guinness Book of Records, before leaping in front of a number 24, urinating throughout.
Despite my lofty goal last year to prevent having to do this ever again, I have for the last few months been a member of the office tribe, ostensibly employed as a copywriter. I have virtually no work to do. The little I am given to do makes Peter and Jane look like tortured Tolstoy creations.
Everyone around me seems to be creating work for themselves because they live in a constant state of dread that someone will notice they’re really not contributing anything and they’ll be out on their arse. This suggests they fear they’re utterly replaceable, which of course they are because these jobs could be done by sheepdogs. This is where capitalism has led us to: unending worry that we are a single unwitting stumble away from unemployment and destitution – every one of us, all of the time.
Obviously I’m not trapped here; I can leave any time I want. It’s not as though they’ll seek my arrest on negligence charges because they barely notice my presence anyway. It’s not as though they couldn’t replace me in this farcically easy job with absolutely any recent Humanities graduate, at a quarter of the cost.
But in order to drink as much as I need to, I need money. And in 2015 the quickest way to get that money comes about through staring at a printer 50cm from my face and pleading with it to churn into life, because who knows what thrills it might spit forth? It could be the agenda for a meeting I won’t attend on the arcane principle of only going to meetings I think there might be a point to. It could be a spreadsheet that doesn’t quite fit the page and you just know that those missing numbers are the ones that make the whole world make sense. It could even be the printer itself deciding it’s time to test the toner. AI has moved on so much in recent years, it’s almost as though we don’t need to be here.
And of course we don’t need to be here. My usual complaint is that I could do this ‘work’ from anywhere – from my bed or the pub or some combination of the two. But really, what of this needs to be done at all? Of the 40 people in my field of vision, which of them is planning the placement of a new shopping centre? Which of them is waiting for their next call to save a stricken infant from the back of an overturned Dacia Sandero? Are any of them doing anything other than daydreaming that the last time they were asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the asker had it in their power to grant that job, not just smile wistfully at the memory of their own smashed dreams?
For reasons of past employment I have a Linked In account. It has just this afternoon emailed me that someone I was drinking with on Saturday has a new ‘skill’ – ‘portfolio management’. I can’t begin to imagine what the hell that is. I’m hardly the first person to make the point that the amount of real, meaningful work people do in offices could be done in less than half the time but when I see words like ‘portfolio management’ I can’t imagine how there’s enough to fill a morning. Per year. Leap years only.
Whichever rich bastards are in charge this cycle need us to be boxed up all day, to prevent what they’d call idleness and the rest of us call real life. Too much time on our hands can only lead to sedition, because after a while chess, bird-watching, fornication and whatever else people get up to at weekends gets dull and only riots remain.
Last week there was a tube strike that meant nobody could get here on the Thursday. A couple of days before, some management prat said “Please remember we work in an Agile environment, which means we need to work collaboratively so we must all make every effort to come in”. Because if we can’t see you for one day out of five, we can’t be sure you’re not actively enjoying not being surrounded by blue swivel chairs with inexplicable stains where groins usually go, indecipherable hieroglyphics on tragic whiteboards and a selection of wonderful mugs brought sadly from previous jobs by people who are having no more fun here than they were before they told their previous boss to fuck off.
My three-month contract was up at the end of last month. In order to agree to renew it I asked that they let me drop down to four paid days a week. They insisted it remain at five, that there’s plenty of work to do if we cast the net a little wider around projects I have no experience of, interest in or influence over. They did that. I am up to around 40 minutes’ work per day. I know I could do other things to fill time here, but my motivation is being drawn from me like the seed of a Geordie on an 18-30.
Try to explain to anyone you’re uncomfortable with your lack of purposeful activity, that trying to milk an employer like a Norwegian Red is not a long-term route to self-fulfilment, and you’ll be met with the anger of office workers who have so much to do it’s ridiculous. That we’re in the same boat, doing work of so little value it would struggle to pass quality control at Poundland, is lost in a shriek of disdain that I’m getting away with it while others are forced to dig a massive hole every day and fill it in the next, because you never know when there’ll be a hole shortage or surplus and we all have to do our bit.
Why do we, the massive majority, put up with this? What in our collective psyche has allowed us to be coerced into believing these tasks we perform have a purpose beyond making sure we’re where we’re expected to be? There have always been pointless jobs and people willing to do them, but we have Thatcherism to thank for making it the norm.
Would it be so awful to give us a specific amount of work to do each day, and once we’ve completed it we’re free to go? Or if not go – sedition, remember – just let us read or paint or kick cutlery around the canteen, anything other than staring at Word documents with titles like ‘Digital Inclusion Scale’ with the resigned face of a man standing outside an engaged toilet cubicle listening to straining and plopping sounds.
This staggering tedium, this complete waste of a huge portion of a life already sure to be curtailed by a diet of bitter and batter, is the great scandal of our time. The highlights of my day are the occasional seconds I spend at the urinal. And I live, and I die, and a voice quietly screaming that you’re all fucking mental for putting up with this will be silenced and you’ll be free to sit there, doing that, day after day, for decade after decade, in peace.
Enjoy your Duravit.