When I first moved out of London — and don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “why I left London” diatribes, although I might write one of those one day, who knows — I was absolutely convinced that I didn’t want to work from home. I was excited to be freelance, yes, but I was also completely sure that if I worked from our house I would never get anything done. I am a creature of completely contradictory motivation levels: I did write the entire first draft of my 85,000-word book in seven weeks, yes, but I also regularly record podcast episodes at 3am on the day they’re supposed to be published. I needed a properly separate “work” environment, I decided, in order to trick myself into doing more of the former and less of the latter.
So I hired a small studio space in the trendy artsy district of Liverpool and filled it with random books, boxes of papers that wouldn’t fit in the house, and a grimy Ikea desk. My husband and I would leave together in the morning to take the train to our places of work, even though only one of us actually had to exit the house in order to get paid.
I never liked working at the studio, for lots of very obvious reasons including: it’s a 30 minute walk from the train station and it rains a lot here; the place is incredibly dusty and it makes me sneeze constantly; and the people I share the space with do things like sculpture and textile art that can get pretty noisy. But, I kept going because it was where I worked. Also, I didn’t want to have to move the miscellaneous boxes of papers again.
Then, about six months into this arrangement, we got a dog. Initially, I thought I’d just be at home for the first month or so while he adjusted to life with us, and then dog and I would together go to the studio every day so I could work. Except, we haven’t been once. It turns out that doing that hour-ish journey to the studio by train and on foot was one thing alone, but when loaded up with all my work stuff as well as the things Morris the dog would need to stay entertained during the day, it seems like such an expedition. There always seemed to be something that I needed to be filing urgently that made setting off on this voyage impossible; therefore, we just stayed at home.
It was always a temporary situation, though. I was still someone who didn’t work from home, even when another six months had passed and I’d only made occasional trips to the studio to check on my books. I bought a desk and turned the walk in closet off our bedroom into tiny office, but it still wasn’t my “place of work”. Even today, more than two years after I moved here, I still tell people about the studio as if that’s a significant part of my working routine rather than a ridiculous book storage situation I need to sort out.
Even while I was internally travelling to work every day yet actually only journeying as far as my desk-in-a-cupboard, I was getting very used to all the perks that come with working from home. I can walk my dog whenever I want, cook whatever I fancy for lunch, get chores done when I need to avoid a task I don’t want to do, receive parcels on the first delivery try (I never have to go to the sorting office anymore, it’s such a gift). I eat better, sleep better, and exercise more now that I don’t have to commute. I’m really lucky.
I’ve been focusing very hard on remembering that last part this week, though. A falling-domino series of household problems including a broken boiler and a leaking shower meant that we needed to get workmen in. And suddenly, I’m “working” from home in name only. There’s bashing and crashing and things being hoisted through windows that are clearly too small to take them. Constant decisions must be made about plasterboard and picture rails and thermostats. The water supply had to be off for an entire day, and so I spent ages walking to the station (with my dog) to use the toilet there, and then to the drinking fountain at the other end of the village to fill up a variety of containers for cooking and washing. Some of them leaked in my bag on the way back, but let’s pretend I didn’t get upset about that.
Earlier today, someone took a chisel to a wall and accidentally punched a hole in a pipe though which a huge slapstick squirt of water erupted, instantly soaking the entire room and causing the ceiling below to gently descend onto the kitchen floor.
I essentially live, and work, on the set of Home Alone. I have never wanted more to be at a desk in a noisy, windowless open plan office with too-low ceilings. I crave thin grey carpet. I miss being constantly interrupted by people who want to show me their tweets.
And yet, and yet. Getting to work where I want is an immense privilege, I know. For all of the times I’ve whipped up Alison Roman's #TheStew for my lunch and thought smugly about the sad overpriced salads I used to eat to break up the work day, there will be weeks where chunks of the wall mysteriously fall into the neighbours’ garden for no apparent reason. I used to hide in the toilet on a different floor at the office so that nobody I knew would see me coming out with red eyes. Mopping the ceiling off the floor seems quite fun by comparison.
Things to read, watch and listen to:
- Can a Woman Who Is an Artist Ever Just Be an Artist?
- Sometimes it’s better to keep secrets.
- “Stop telling me which good books are actually bad.”
- This interview about fandom and the internet.
- A family history of eye surgery.
- This Is How a Woman Is Erased From Her Job.
- Michael Sheen being chaotic on The Great British Bake Off.
- How Reading Became a Lifestyle Brand.
Thank you very much for all the kind responses to last week’s letter, I really appreciated them all.
There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: I do daily podcast recommendations at The Listener, I write weekly podcast industry reports for Hot Pod, I make a fortnightly podcast called Shedunnit and I’m sometimes on Twitter.