The Fight Against Down Time: Blog Entry

I adore my bed. My bed takes pride of place in the centre of my room. Not shoved into a corner or cramped against a radiator is my bed. My bed has side tables complete with lamps on both sides, four pillows, and fabulous bedding. It’s a double, memory foam, divan investment. Once it meant an investment in a relationship – my love and I tore through the show room together, picking out just the right TOG – now it’s just my bed. I’ve made love, war and dinner in my bed. I’ve cried, hidden and danced in my bed. I’ve stood on my bed during midnight mosquito combat. My bed smells like me. My bed is boss, ace and totally awesome. My bed gets me.

I adore TV, really crappy telly. I’d rather spend two hours watching back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory that I’ve already seen rather than invest brain time in a book or a film. I love adverts and the tunes played on the channel menu screen. I search for my remotes the way some would search for a missing purse. My TV is massive, old and cumbersome and the screen is comparatively tiny to the new chic monsters lording it over my friends’ living rooms. I fall asleep on my totally awesome sofa, the lover with whom I sometimes cheat on my bed, happily listening to the voices of Family Guy and American Dad. I adore my TV.
It has taken me a long time to be able to say these things without feeling guilty about it.

I do not adore my bed because I am lazy; I am not lazy. I do not adore crap TV because I am stupid; I am not stupid. I am highly motivated and rather clever. I celebrate my love of my bed and crappy TV because of what they represent: the end of a long day, a break, a treat, down-time.

Our days are getting longer. Once the complaint of experiencing a twelve hour day was a rare, noteworthy occurrence; now it’s more of a four-day-a week regularity for too many of us. For the purposes of this blog I have taken note: I am usually out of the door at 8.30am and rarely get home before 9pm. I’m neither a social princess nor a party animal – I’m doing a full time master’s, I work part time in the evenings and I watch and review theatre. The old routine of every evening being free-time from 6pm is becoming a distant memory for many of us, regardless of profession. I had a drink at the home of my boss tonight. I asked if I could stay until his wife got home in order for me to say ‘hello’ and catch up with her. She arrived at 9.30pm. It’s only when I got home and settled down to work that I realised how odd it was that I didn’t find it odd that she was arriving home at 9.30pm and I was setting up my computer an hour later. Midnight is no longer bed-time, it is stopping work time.

Remember when we used to come home and not even question or think to appreciate that we had the entire evening free to do whatever we wanted? Not study or work or exercise but read, paint, chat, drink and potter. When was the last time we pottered? My ‘days off’ are spent doing research and homework for my master’s or prep work for my students or housework for my scarily untidy flat. Days off are now catch-up days. Real days off are relegated to our holidays, if we get one. Even holidays are for cultural sightseeing, catching up on reading, not reading, CATCHING UP on reading, reading we should have been able to do in our evenings – which of course, no longer exist.

At Central, we get lunch and tea breaks between classes. I have made a point of noticing what my colleagues are doing during these times. They are on the phone, not chatting, but ‘making calls’, they are dashing to the library, checking email and running errands. I found myself drinking soup straight from the bowl like it was a coffee as not using a spoon kept my left hand free to tape down a speaker wire. I wonder and worry about where our free-time has gone.

At my previous job at the London Dungeon, the culture of the ‘working lunch’ crept in and took its fearsome hold. My boss was adamant and unmoveable: we were to take an hour for lunch, a full hour, no exceptions. We were permitted to eat our lunch in the office but only if we stayed away from the desks and computers (unless we were using them for Facebook or YouTube, that was OK!). He encouraged us to leave the building and go for a walk. I remember him coming under a bit of flak for this. He maintained that in order to get the best out of his team in the afternoon, they needed a full hour off for lunch and that a convoluted, rushed ‘half-lunch, half work’ meant less productivity for the rest of the day. We started cooking homemade lunches and bringing in plates and cutlery, setting the table in the staff-room and making a point of sitting down together. This quickly caught on. Others started to join in, to contribute their lunch to the table for others to share and for a while we enjoyed collective sit-down meals. My boss, the other supervisors and I sat down with our team and we talked about the day, our families and well, anything. It was the utopia of lunches. It didn’t last. It couldn’t. As admirable and enjoyable as this plan was, we saw him slip. He used to power nap during lunch, then he started ‘just answering this email quickly’ until eventually he became a ‘one hand on the sandwich, the other on the keyboard’ convert. The working lunch got him, and it’s getting us all. Now it’s creeping into our evenings. It’s a lovely rare occurrence when my flatmate and I sit down at the table together to eat. Tonight all I managed was to stand in his bedroom doorway for 2 minutes to ask how his day was and wish him goodnight. I adore my flatmate, he’s fast becoming family to me, and I don’t see him much.

I do celebrate this, though. The fact that I don’t get to see Ben much means that we’re both busy and busy is good right? Right? If we have matching days off we still don’t see much of each other. I have noticed that Ben spends most of his ‘free-time’ applying for jobs, preparing for his current projects, exercising, and organising his admin/invoices and finances. When was the last time any of us had a full day of fun without having to prepare or make up for it?

How good is the work that I am doing if I’m not getting enough down-time? How present am I in any room ever? As much as I adore my bed, my sofa and my TV, I have started cheating on them all. I have found that I am checking emails during Family Guy and editing essays in my bed; my gorgeous, forgiving, non-judgemental, faithful bed. How dare I? Compartmentalisation is another thing Quincey has taught me. You keep your thoughts, energy and even emotions in the places they belong, but everything is slipping, everything is blurring and overlapping, it’s increasingly tough to hold on.

I’m bringing back down-time. Not just down-time, but guilt-free down-time. I hereby advocate that when we get into bed, we say hello to our covers and pillows and salute them with a big fart because we’re home. I advocate the scratching of our bums on the sofa in our pyjamas and I advocate the pointless text to the friend you haven’t seen in ages about the programme you’re watching on your mighty massive TVs. I advocate watching clips of dogs in costumes on YouTube.

We can’t manage chunks of ‘us time’ anymore, but we can snatch moments of it, and if it’s anything like Quincey’s 15 minute power nap, it’ll do us the world of good. Be amazing and clever, focussed, creative and ambitious. Use some of your coffee break to share important links on Facebook or re-tweet a controversial idea while the coffee burns your tongue because you’ve had to rush it. Work hard, but remember to text your sister that you think ‘Back to the Future II’ is the best of the trilogy before you turn your phone off for that three hour lecture/meeting/rehearsal. If we can’t have our evenings anymore, let’s make it up in small ways throughout the day.

Remember that no matter what happens, your bed, sofa and TV have been waiting for you all day and they love you, regardless of what kind of day you’ve had, whether you’ve triumphed or fucked up, soared, hurt or were hurt. Your box-sets, Tesco cheese-balls and pyjamas are there for you, and always, unquestionably, will be. Honour the cheese-ball, honour your pyjamas, box-sets, texts and YouTube, and give your brain a break.

(C) Jade Allen 2014

Jade Allen