Saturday, 12 May 2012

At last, the sun, in our 'time poor' society

It's been raining so hard and so long over here in the UK that some areas of the country, notably in the South West, have had their hosepipe bans lifted. Right now, at 0715hrs on Saturday 12 May, there's blue skies and bright sunshine. It was one of those mornings when I regretted drawing back the curtains before going to bed.

The Black Horse Ride is tomorrow and I think the weather's going to hold, so all is well. I'll be meeting Andy at 0930hrs on the A23 and then we'll cycle down to Reigate from there, adding around 20 miles to my distance. The ride is 36 miles (they've reduced it from 50) and that means I'll be cycling a total of 56 miles.

Traditionally, we don't go cycling the day before the Black Horse Ride, although checking the weather out there now, it looks like ideal cycling weather. Which reminds me: I must nip outside today and check out my bike. I might even clean it!

I was cutting it fine on entering the ride this year, not for any particular reason, just generally pre-occupied with working. Normally I fill out the forms, send them off and get all the stuff through the post; this time I had to resort to driving over to the organiser's office in Coulsdon and posting my entry form through the letterbox, with a cheque for £20 attached.

Now, I would call my lateness pure disorganisation. Others would say it's all part and parcel of our increasingly 'time poor' society. I think they're talking rubbish, but it's amazing how, if you say something for long enough, eventually it becomes gospel.

Lunch! There's no time for lunch!
I often attend press conferences about this and that, notably the launch of new food products, where the latest trends are rolled out by marketing directors in an effort to explain the rationale behind the new product. A common 'finding' is that we're living in an increasingly 'time poor' society, meaning we don't have time to do stuff anymore – even eating is being done 'on-the-go' and 'lunch' as we know it, is becoming obselete. More and more people are sitting at their desks with a baguette rather than get up and take in some fresh air.

The big question here is why? Why are we time poor? We have the internet, which makes life surprisingly easy, especially for journalists and, indeed, for everyone else as we no longer have to visit a travel agent to book flights or holidays, we can shop online and save the journey to the supermarket, there's email instead of 'snail mail' so we don't need to visit our local post office and queue to buy a stamp. Technology, in other words, has made life a breeze and it means that we have more time to do the things we wouldn't normally have the time to do.

Why, then, are we tied to our desks, skipping lunch? Now there's a phrase. "Skipping lunch". It used to be something we did once in a while when somebody was away and we found ourselves doing the work of two people. "Oh, I'll have to skip lunch today," we might say to one of our colleagues. "Pete's away and I've got to write up his product pages by 5pm." But no, Pete's not away - he's not having a holiday this year because he can't afford it, so what's wrong with a spot of lunch?

I'm starting to feel guilty when I go to out to lunch. We're allowed one hour and I like to use the time to take a walk, even if it's raining (I'll take an umbrella). I don't want to be sitting at my desk ALL DAY, I need a break, I need to stretch my legs, get a bit of exercise and a change of scenery; but as I leave the office, I notice that my colleagues have a sandwich on their desks and they're still sitting there, sandwich half-eaten, when I return, refreshed.

What, I ask, has changed? Why are we time poor? I've already alluded to the internet and how it's supposedly made life easier for us all, so what's changed, why can we no longer afford a proper lunch break? Why do we work late? Ironically, we're all earning less money so it's not as if there's an incentive.

The worst thing, of course, is that if everybody keeps doing it – skipping lunch or having a 'working lunch', which is even worse in my book – then it will become the norm and lunch breaks might suddenly disappear from contracts of employment. Even more annoying is the fact that if we're all putting in the extra hours, 'skipping lunch' and working through, what exactly are we achieving? Despite ALL of our 'hard work' the country is back in recession? In other words, it's not achieving anything, but then you might sit back and start thinking: somebody is benefitting from all this unnecessary hard work, but who is it?

I was watching Question Time last Thursday and I noticed, in amongst all the rhetoric being spouted by a bunch of useless MPs and political commentators, that the 'coalition' wants austerity, because that's the way to get the country back on its feet again (it hasn't worked) and the left wing politicians want less austerity but still want to achieve the same goals; except that they would prefer to tax the rich (the people gaining from the masses skipping lunch). The right wants the masses to suffer, the left wants the elite to suffer.

Yesterday, at around 1845hrs, I was on a train coming home from work. Next to me, across the aisle, was a man frantically tapping out an email (or something) on a laptop. Like me, he'd been working all day too, but obviously not hard enough. He figured he could still cram in some work while sitting on the train. But how misguided! He won't be thanked for his hard graft. He'll probably be made redundant, but he thinks that, by working really hard, he might avoid the axe. Think again, my friend. Put the laptop away and enjoy the ride.

My wife mentioned to me the other day that the country seems to be reverting back to Dickensian times: an increasingly poorer population working long hours for less pay while employed by the equivalent of the wealthy, unscrupulous mill owners of the past. There are more rats on our streets as local councils cut back on refuse collection and who knows, perhaps one day the plague will return and then, perhaps, another Great Fire of London. How exciting!

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