I did some temping once. Filling in for two ladies who were off to have High Tea as a treat for working at their company for so long. They were fun and smart and I was pleased to see them stride off to their taxi; chic hair styles, red lips, their sites set firmly on Liberties and Bond Street. The company itself was full of young designers, people who knew how to look nice without trying too hard. They were friendly and normal and rather than simply having the title of “A Creative” they had the contents too. They actually were creative.
I felt a distant affection for these people going about their working week and living like human beings do when they live well. Doing regular work that pays, in jobs they were good at, planning Christmas parties and sharing excitement and anxiety over each other’s children.
And I thought (not for the first time) what an odd decision it is not to take that path. How self sabotaging to decide to embark on a rough, choppy water that is statistically likely to pull you under. And how foolish and wilful it is that so many of us choose to set off without a life-jacket and invariably end up drowned.
Another time I temped in a company which was eerily quiet. Even the computers kept their humming to a polite drone. There was no music, or chatter and when the phone rang it was abrupt, like a woman doing a seagull impression in the middle of a library. The people who worked here were serious and hard working. They made sure I was all right and seemed to feel best when things stayed the same and protocol was adhered to. I dread to think what would have happened if I’d dotted a T or crossed an I. I wondered if their Christmas Parties were polite and prim, or if they became a writhing mass of sexually frustrated office-creatures, tearing off their cardigan shells after enough drink had been drunk and letting their inhibitions fall messily to the floor.
Two middle-aged, burly, interchangeable men came in to restock the water cooler one day. “I couldn’t work in an office” Burly Man One said to Burly Man Two. “It’s too enclosed”. “I know what you mean” said Burly Man Two. And so did I.
I thought about the days I spend running to the bus, scrambling on the tube, being chucked out in Soho and finding myself in a casting suite pretending to be the human interpretation of “A Sock”. Those knowing glances between actors as a much younger director gives the Sock’s emotional motivation and the shared coffees between us afterwards, debriefing and putting the Acting World to rights. I thought of those times reading a script in a draughty church hall, the first day, the model box, the palpable excitement on the circle of plastic chairs. Or performing to an audience in a hot little pub, or proclaiming Shakespeare in a rainy park, or getting good news and making instant new friends and finding that closeness both on stage and off. That rare, heady, intimacy in the dressing room, laughter so loud it threatens to break the windows, singing and humming which bounces off the walls like the ball in Keepy-Uppy. I thought of those times I’d dragged my suitcase on wheels through unknown streets, heading to a theatre, or a tram, or to some strange digs run by a woman who is legally obliged to own a cat.
I thought of getting on a train and staring out of the window with a script on my lap.
I thought of all the good things and I knew what the Burly Men meant.