An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 29.

Every weekday morning, at about 10:15, the postman buzzes the ground floor intercom.

As the only unused person in the building, I have become responsible for letting him in. Sometimes I’m preparing the breakfast when he buzzes, but sometimes his buzzing wakes me up and I have to get out of bed.

This morning, I decided to ignore his buzzing. I’d been up late attending to the pressing business of watching Jeeves & Wooster videos, and was far too sleepsome to worry about activating leg muscles and so on. Someone else would have to deal with it.

But they didn’t. Nobody let the postman in. So there was no post today.

I’ve only been living here for six months. How did the postman ever deliver his load to these flats before I was here to let him in? Did they only start receiving post six months ago? What did they think was happening? “Something’s just come through the door, Jeff. It’s all wrapped up in brown paper. And what’s LoveFilm? I’m scared.”

This reminded me of something I observed years ago but never reported here: the fact half of the planet expects you to work 9-5 while the other half expects you to be continually available.

If you need to meet with a bank manager or even do something as perfunctory as deposit a cheque, you have to be available at some point between 9 and 5 (or 10 and 4, if you need my local HSBC). If you’re expecting the delivery of a new washing machine or a fruit juicer or whatever, you have to be at home between 9 and 5 to receive it. If you need to visit the post office, a government office or a public library, you’d better be available during the conventional working hours. You often can’t even do it on the weekend.

How does anyone achieve even the smallest personal maintenance task while also juggling a job? When I had a job, I would use the office mail room, telephones and computers to conduct personal business. But this is against the rules. I only got things done by being a renegade. If I’d been caught using the mail room to send my own stuff around, I’d almost certainly have received a disciplinary.

Today I discover that even the postman needs someone to be at home. And yet! The other half of the world – the education system, the job centre, even your own family – seems hellbent on getting you out of your pajamas and into the blasted workforce.

To be a functioning member of society, you have to sell your hours of 9-5. But in doing so, you essentially remove yourself from society by being perpetually unavailable for anything. Is that how society works? The employed serve only the unemployed? If so, the jobbies should be thanking the skivers for keeping them in a job.

Speaking of my old office, I walked past it yesterday. Looking at it with fresh eyes, it struck me as a nice enough workplace. There’s a taxi rank outside for making speedy escapes; the building backs immediately onto the park for scenic cigarette breaks and summer lunches; there’s a selection of local cafes nearby and the best public library in Scotland is within easy walking distance. Hard to believe I ever begrudged it! Ah, but lest we forget.

While I worked there I took advantage of all of these things. I even went the extra mile by walking to a slightly-further-away vegan cafe for lunch some days. Oddly though, I was the only person on the payroll who seemed to use any of these stunning local facilities. I never saw any colleagues in the park or the library or the cafes. They would just stay chained to their desks all day, subsisting on vending machine snacks and making sarcastic remarks about the large hadron collider or whatever other worthwhile initiative had met tabloid scorn that week.

When I worked there, the office was a lot less fun than it looked today. The place was a continual construction site. The owners of the building were actually adding a storey to the building and we were expected to continue working throughout it, dust falling around our ears. It was like something from a Spike Jonze movie or Monty Python. “You’ll have to excuse the racket! They’re adding a storey!” But they really were.

Offices. Machines for people to die in. I think I’ve said this before, but what’s really remarkable is how people don’t even take advantage of the minor escapes let alone the big one, which mainly involves a dignified walk in the opposite direction.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

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