One day last summer, as I was trailing a very cute bookshop in Bramhall, a man approached me, saying that he thought he recognised me from the office where he used to work, wasn’t I the girl in the hot pink coat? I was and so he continued to tell me that he had been made redundant a few weeks before, after twenty-four years with the company.
All that struck me at the time was the queer combination of redundancy and twenty-four years. I just didn’t think that long-standing employees (and this one was a high-flying senior manager) would get axed when the going gets a little tough. The best I could manage was what I am sure looked like a mildly perplexed look and a ‘wow’ uttered as my eyebrows eventually rose all the way up to my hairline.
Redundancy announcements are one of those cases whereby you don’t quite know how to react, a bit like the sudden-death news of someone you vaguely knew. What do you do, do you look heart-broken, mock-concerned for those who are left behind or just say ‘sorry, didn’t know him’ and move to the next group of people? Redundancy is very much like that, with the person at the receiving end left hovering above the working colleagues as the infected outsider we don’t know whether to pity or congratulate.
And so I grasped for that age-old cliché, that horrible and pointless, ‘what will you do now?’, as if a job were the be-all and end-all of a person’s ability to actually live. ‘I got a good pay off, so I am taking six or maybe nine months off to stop and smell the roses’. We parted soon after and, believe you me, I have often thought of that man since then and I have kicked myself on many occasions, wondering why on earth I didn’t give him my card so that we could hook up if we needed to. Blimey, with twenty-four years experience he probably has a zillion contacts.
Instead I left the bookshop looking at my shoes and kicking the air, wondering why we don’t smell the roses a little more often. Shouldn’t we smell the roses also when we work, also in the various winters of our lives, when we feel like there is nothing worth stopping for? I spent the last few weeks glued to my PhD, my mind constantly reeling with ideas about Coleridge, Shelley, Frankenstein, Wordsworth in an irrational cauldron stirred up by the vampire, and so I forgot that I crossed a momentous day, May 30. On this day last year, I left what was to turn out as my last work assignment at a client, to then spend the summer working from home, producing minor documents of very minute importance until I left for good. Thinking back on it, I am scoffing at having felt sad on that day as there really was nothing to feel sad about.
When I turned the page in my pin-up calendar a couple of weeks ago, I realised that, in a way, I have not been in a work-situation for one year. I know that my friends say that’s not true, but you know what I mean, doing a PhD is not the same as going to an office or a shop every day of the week always at the same time. Thank God it ain’t. And do you know something perplexing? I’ve never been this relieved. Isn’t that weird that lack of funds could possibly go together with feeling relieved? Isn’t that the other way round? Well, that’s the point exactly. I finally had the opportunity to stop and smell the proverbial roses and it was only without the jet-setting job that I did so. I stopped being tired, run-down and narky all the time, I stopped living so that I could work.
And more interestingly than all of this pseudo-philosophising are numbers which, as is often the case, speak for themselves. In eight months, from Sept last year to May this year, I wrote over two-thirds of my PhD, way over 50,000 words. So maybe my next project should be a postgraduate guide ‘A Part-Time PhD Is Really Only Ten Months Long’. Of course this happened because I stopped and smelt. Not that my roses above smell of anything other than grass and mud but... you should smell that too sometimes...