8 things I miss about my office job

I really shouldn’t admit to this. I quit my job nine months ago to #livethedream. But this is my guilty secret – there are a lot of things I really miss about office life. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret the move. david_feetup_1024Great things happen when you shake things up. But working in a team can be great. A while ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook how much they loved their job, how awesome it was, and it was as refreshing as the proverbial breath of fresh air. It got me thinking that the whole #quityourjob narrative is a little misguided and clichéd. So while I’m loving my #freelancelife I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss:

Banter
I’m not talking inappropriate jokes and viral shares (although I miss them too). But trade intel. There are things you can only learn from human interaction. Trying to read insider trends from LinkedIn? Blughghg. Like I have the time for that.

Social
No, not media but welfare. It’s not the salary I miss so much as the social welfare benefits and automatic pension plan. They’re the first to be sacrificed in lean times.

coffeeThe office coffee machine
Brewing my own in an old school Italian espresso machine like the one on the left is all very hipster, but it’s a chore to make and a pain to wash-up. And there’s no one to flirt with, I mean talk to.

Rhythm
Routine isn’t all bad. You can achieve a lot when you settle in a role, stop worrying about the peripheral stuff and concentrate on the job in hand. Of course, you need to shake it about from time to time but that doesn’t meant that routine per se is all bad.

Team
Ever noticed that humans are fairly tribal? We like belonging to clubs, sports teams, nations. We like being part of something. Being part of an office team, working together, pooling talent is awesome. One of my proudest moments in comms was placing some valuable editorial about Red Bull Illume in the Sunday Times magazine, but I couldn’t have done it without the whole panoply of designers and creatives and photographers I was working alongside.

Salary
No getting around this one. A regular pay cheque does have its perks. As every freelancer knows (especially freelance journalists), time spent chasing late payments very often nearly equals time spent doing the work.

Holidays
Freelancers can never truly switch off. Booking real time out is very difficult when you’re juggling different jobs and clients and you never know what’s coming up. But if you’re in a proper job (but not always ha!) you can have a colleague answer emails on your behalf, at least cover your ass. You can plan ahead.

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Fixed desk
The global trend for flexible working arrangements whether working from home or that Caribbean hideaway is all very well. But… there’s something also quite nice about a fixed workplace with proper desk and chair.

Working at the kitchen table, on the sofa or while travelling on that train or plane is not always that great, unless your name’s Josh Sampiero, the only person I know who can work behind a screen while lying down on a floor. Yes, really, that’s him working under a desk on the left.

The REAL reasons you should not vote Brexit

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Bit off topic for me, but the Brexit debate is so important, perhaps the most important question for our generation, that it can’t go ignored. For the communities hardest hit by the effects of immigration, I respectfully acknowledge why you want to vote in favour of Brexit. But for the rest of you, there’s no excuse:

 

 

 

Don’t become your grandchildren’s embarrassed secret
Boris was on the right lines invoking Hitler but he got the analogy wrong. Forget his repellent comparison, likening the EU’s noble ideals to the goals of a mad dictator. (Boris, really…?) But there are parallels. During the 1930s Hitler told the Germans the Jews were the source of all their woes; removing them was therefore the logical solution. Substitute EU for Jews and it sounds eerily familiar to the Brexiteer’s argument today. Those faceless bureaucrats are to blame, it’s the EU forcing regulations on us, supplanting our Parliament, taking our money, over-running our services etc. The EU has become a useful whipping post for all our concerns. But be warned folks, remember the adage, no matter which party you vote for, the government always wins? Getting rid of the EU won’t mean less red tape or fewer regulations. Or even solve the immigration crisis. Read Matthew Parris expand on this theme here.

Do it for the Germans
We’ve had 70 good years of taking the piss out of the Germans. They deserved it of course but isn’t it time to move on from baiting them? They desperately want us to stay in and their Der Spiegel have even written us a charming love-letter, lauding our music, cultural and political influence on the continent. Read it. As you’d expect from the Germans, there are some very very logical arguments for staying. “The 20th century showed that everyone benefits when Britain faces up to problems instead of running away.” Still not convinced? Ask serial German baiter Jeremy Clarkson. Even he thinks we’re better off alongside team Germany. Vorsprung durch Technik. Imagine what they could do for our football if we let them.

But don’t underestimate them either
Time and again we hear those Germans will be all to quick to agree favourable trade deals with us. Maybe. Maybe not. The Brits aren’t the only ones to think about this debate in emotional terms. And what is very dear to the German heart, even more than sensible rationalism, is the European project. They won’t like us leaving the family and Mama Merkel’s priority will be to keep the European family together at all costs. Britain can expect, if not pariah status, at least a cold shoulder. After all, an example needs to be made to the other naughty children in case they have similar ideas.

Remember Agincourt
Us Remainers despair over much of what goes on in Brussels as everyone else. European judges having supremacy over the our own? The unforeseen demands of mass immigration on local services? But the solution is not to pull up the drawbridge and give Brussels a bloody nose, mainly because it offers no solution. The problems of immigration are going to continue whether we’re in the EU or not because this is a pan-global problem and it’s going to get worse with global warming and continued instability in the Middle East. (And if the Australian ‘points style’ system is so amazing, why don’t we use if for the 188,000 immigrants who come to the UK every year from outside the EU. And incidentally, they have very high levels of immigration. Read this.)

Mass migration demands a European response not just a childish #notourproblem one. We used to own France. We used to run a fucking empire for heaven’s sake! We could absolutely lead the charge in reforming the EU if we so pleased. Why is the Sun so pathetically insular?

The only people who stand to gain are the lawyers
This is a divorce and it could get messy. But it’s a divorce where the partners are absolutely not free to pursue their own lives; they’re still tethered, living together in the same house and now forced to agree mutual childcare arrangements and finances with none of the goodwill and where all the important decisions are left to your ex. That could be very #awkward. And the only people who stand to gain are the lawyers and those bureaucrats. It could drag on for years. We need lawyers even less than we need bureaucrats.

Because borders on Europe were a fucking nightmare guys!
Oh you of short memories! Open borders are AMAZING for trade and travel. The world before Schengen and the Euro do not bear thinking about. If you lived in Austria’s South Tyrol or by Lake Constance you might have had to drive through three borders in a day to go to work. Changing money from Austrian Schillings to Italian Lire to German Deutschmarks. Nightmare! Yes, immigration’s a big issue and needs to be addressed. But it doesn’t invalidate the awesomeness of Schengen and the Euro. And we negotiated opt-outs, getting the best of both worlds!

What did the EU ever do for us?
Quite a lot as it happens. How about 70 years of peace (Yugoslavia excepting and with acknowledgements to the US and NATO), steering the Eastern bloc into democracy and away from communism, workers’ rights, cheap flights, cheap mobile calls, reciprocal working arrangements, food standards, access to European health services, 48 hour week, scientific funding, wildlife protection, the European Arrest warrant… And don’t forget the green man fire escape dude, so you can instantly recognise a fire escape whether you’re in Poland or Portugal.

What’s the worst thing that can go wrong?
Try this risk assessment tool used by extreme climbers. Ask the question for each scenario? Well on one side (depending on where you are on the glass full/empty spectrum) here goes: the pound crashes, Scotland succeeds in demanding another referendum on independence and this time wins, the UK breaks up. The US forges a new special relationship with the Germans and French. Those promised incredible trade deals fail to emerge quickly enough; the economy dives and soon we’re battling calls to justify our place on the UN Security Council. And that’s to say nothing of what happens in Europe where Britain’s exit leads to the breakup of the EU and then Putin decides to do a Crimea to eastern Europe. Project fear? Well yes, but given the fact nearly every major economist has issued dire warnings maybe we should be afraid? And on the other side? Hmmm, well we stick with the devil we know, have a cup of tea and carry on. (To be fair, there are doomsday scenarios on both sides. The difference is the Brexiteers have zero plan for post Brexit. Nada, zilch, rien, nichts…

Speaking of disaster scenarios, how about unintended consequences
Britain needs friends in the world. If we stick two fingers up to our European allies, we can kiss goodbye to any mutual back-scratching favours. Gibraltar. Falkland Islands. How long before we’re forced to give them up?

Everything you’ve been told about the EU is wrong
The press have been rabidly anti-EU for years. Blame Brussels for forcing us to go metric? Britain signed up to ditching Pounds and Feet in a white paper as early as 1972. Children banned from blowing up balloons. Nope. Bent bananas banned? Read this myth buster.  There’s also a nice snapshot on the UK’s hysterical media here.

Incidentally, UK businesses have less red tape (and pay lower taxes) than many EU countries. Those crippling regulations? How many of them came during the Tony Blair years. (See EU scapegoat #1 above). I live in Austria where you can still smoke in bars and restaurants and where builders wear little more than a traditional felt hat for head protection, which does suggest that other EU countries have been able to take a flexible view to supposed EU diktats.

Don’t trust a couple of ex-hacks
On this theme, it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago Brexit’s two cheer leaders Boris and Gove were a couple of hacks, busting out opinion-leading articles for a living and in Boris’s case, falsehoods like this one. There’s a depressing truth in journalism: every time you come across a story in the papers where you personally know what happened, you will spot glaring errors. Take it from a sometime ex-hack, most of the time journalists don’t have a clue what they’re writing about. And in the case of Boris and Gove, their days in newspaper offices does not translate to executive experience and ability to govern. Personally, I wouldn’t leave Boris in charge of a goldfish. Gove is like that annoying friend who arrives late at the party and insists on changing the music. Go back to writing articles and quoting obscure Greek poets, both of you.

Sovereignty isn’t everything
It’s a lovely romantic ideal. But as Michael Heseltine has pointed out, we were a truly sovereign nation in 1940 and Churchill spent 18 months begging America to be our friend. The world is getting smaller. We need greater democratic transparency for sure, across all institutions. But if the 20th century has taught us anything, surely it is that we need less nationalism, and greater co-operation between nations. Come on, we’re the kids of the 21st century. We all belong to one world. Let’s go forwards, not backwards.

Training on the first leg of the course, Zermatt

Patrouille des Glaciers

In exactly a week’s time I hope to be climbing up the Rosablanche mountain, two thirds of the way into the iconic Patrouille des Glaciers ski mountaineering race. The brainchild of the Swiss military, it was originally conceived as a test of endurance for alpine troops during WW2. But after a tragic accident it was discontinued, only to be re-invented as an adventure race. In recent years it’s become a classic and is hugely popular. It’s 53km in horizontal distance but with 3,994m to climb, it’s equivalent to 110km! For us, it promises to be 14 hours of fun!

Follow our progress on the PdG 2016 App. Our team number is 097.

Training on the first leg of the course, Zermatt

Training on the first leg of the course, Zermatt

I’d like to think I’m as ready and fit as I can be but like the morning before an exam – you always think you could have done more. The question is have I done enough? Is there enough in the memory bank to see me through?

All will be revealed in a week’s time. My team mates are both incredible characters. Bernie Shrosbree is an ex-special forces Royal Marine and former triathlete. I met him during a 500 mile cross-country skiing expedition around Norway. He may be 57, but there’s still a formidable engine in his tank. He’s a performance coach with Red Bull racing. Then there’s Pippa. She’s a great cross-country skiing athlete, having completed both the Vasaloppet and Birkebeiner classic Nordic races but she’s also an excellent downhill skier. She’s in great shape and an excellent addition to the team. We came together after she approached Bernie through a mutual friend about doing the race; Bernie and I separately had been talking about it and it made sense to come together. As for me? I hope I can bring some hard won ski-mo and mountaineering experience to the team. I’ve had the benefit of living in Austria recently and have a couple of seasons of ski-mo racing seasons under my belt where (I hope!) I’ve made my mistakes and learned from them. I’m also, as Bernie so politely puts it, ‘the admin bitch’. It’s a thankless task – how is it that these races take over your life? – but I can’t wait for the race to begin. It promises to be an epic experience – and that’s what I’m personally looking for.

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As always this race would not be possible without the support and help from partners and friends in the sports world. Matrix Fitness have provided us with much-needed financial support while the guys at Mountain Equipment have been generous with their expertise and products to ensure we’re wearing gear that’s right for 14 hours of strenuous activity in the high mountains in temperatures that could range from as low as -20ºC to 10ºC. There’s never the perfect combo, but we think we’ve got it right with their range of super-light, warm and breathable ski-mountaineering gear. In a race like this, you also want proper ski-mo racing skis, bindings and a rucksack you can attach your skis on without taking off. That meant only place – Dynafit – and they’ve been very generous with the discounts, and super helpful as well. Finnish watchmaker Suunto have also been good with the discount code to ensure we can accurately keep track of the adventure with a Suunto Ambit3 Peak. One of its unique appeals are its recovery features. It will be interesting to see how long it recommends for us afterwards!

Who wants a Guinness World Record?

There was a time when to be featured in the Guinness Book of Records, as it then was, meant everything. It was the ultimate badge of respect. Make it in to those hallowed pages and your feat was official. It was founded by the McWhirter brothers 70 years ago and originally it was chiefly concerned with the big endeavours – fastest man, first person to step on the moon, cross an ocean etc.

But sometime that all changed. No longer was it the compendium of who’s done what for armchair sports fans. Instead it started including freak show acts and stunts, like how many Big Macs you can eat, longest time spent playing Grand Theft Auto – that kind of thing. If it makes an entertaining read, that’s fine by me, but why do adventurers still see it as the ultimate badge of honour?

The other day the polar explorer Ben Saunders proudly shared his official Guinness certificate on Instagram. Just to be clear, Ben and Tarka L’Herpiniere deserve every plaudit going for their incredible return trek to the South Pole, following the original route of Capt Scott in 2014. But is Guinness the best arbiter of adventure records when it has no direct involvement in adventure? By contrast, the Piolet d’Or climbing awards – themselves not uncontroversial – are made up of a panel of climbers while other records in aviation are overseen by sports’ respective governing bodies such as the FAI for aviation or those on water by the WSSRC.

Well, it’s official: Tarka and I walked quite a long way

A photo posted by Ben Saunders (@polarben) on

And Guinness sometimes get it wrong. In the 2016 edition of the book, under circumnavigation records, it singles out Colin Bodill for being the first to fly around the world by microlight in 2000. Brian Milton, who was awarded the Segrave Trophy for his 120 day flight around the world in 1998, a story described as ‘one of the last great adventures of the millennium’ by Sir Chris Bonington in his book: Quest for Adventure, is understandably aggrieved.

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Milton wrote to Guinness World Records to set the record straight but they told him that because his original co-pilot dropped out and he continued alone – harder in most people’s book – it wasn’t really a first. “They required me, when Keith [Reynolds] abandoned the flight in Siberia, to go back to London and start again,” Milton told me.

Following this logic the 16th century circumnavigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano should have returned to Spain and started his journey again when Magellan died in the Philippines before he could claim the world’s first circumnavigation.

Online it’s no better; Guinness currently list Bodill’s 99-day flight as being the fastest circumnavigation by microlight. This was actually bettered by a pair of Indian Air Force pilots who made the journey in 80 days, albeit in a fixed wing closed-cockpit microlight. This is where it starts to get complicated – illustrating why records (and firsts) should be ratified by a body of peers. [I should point out that the folks at AdventureStats do a grand job at keeping track of adventures at the poles, oceans and on Everest.]

I also know of one quite well-known adventurer who has a Guinness certificate for being the youngest Briton on Everest when – if subjected to a ratification process – that claim might not have stood up to scrutiny. But the bigger issue is, since when did being ‘the youngest’ become a record anyhow? It’s thanks to Guinness this is taken seriously at all.

Traditionally in climbing there are just three noteworthy achievements: making the first ascent, putting up a new route or repeating a route in a better style. Nothing else counts, certainly not how old you are. There was a time when your age wasn’t the focus of your deed – it was what you did that counted!

In 1975 the British climber Peter Boardman was part of the team to make the first ascent of Everest’s South West Face and he was in the second party to summit. He was 24. Today we have an ever increasing number of kids wanting to be the youngest, and Guinness is partly responsible for encouraging this.

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Michael Perham lands in Portsmouth, 2009. ©Tarquin Cooper

A few years ago there was a spate of teen solo round-the-world sailors. Between 2009 – 2012 Michael Perham, 17, Jessica Watson, 16 and Laura Dekker, 16 all made various circumnavigations. I remember meeting the man from Guinness when Perham reached Portsmouth in 2009 and presented him with his Guinness certificate (below). But by the time of Dekker’s achievement Guinness had publicly distanced themselves, saying they no longer recognised ‘youngest’ as a category.

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The delight in getting a Guinness certificate is understandable; it’s acknowledgement and adventure athletes could all do with some more of that. But it’s also very subjective and arbitrary and risks trivialising adventure sports (remember extreme ironing?) Record-chasing also also encourages frauds such as the recent Martin Szwed, whose laughable claim to reach the South Pole was recently refuted – but not before he got his limelight in the media. Ultimately, the reward of adventure should not be a framed certificate but that inner glow on the inside. Proving it to yourself should be enough. Do you agree…?

Man’s greatest flaw – stubbornness?

I ask myself, would I have done that if I was a woman? Why do they seem better a making sensible decisions, or rather not making bad ones like deciding to go mountain biking in the teeth of a very wet snow storm. I had decided since the previous day that my post work exercise would be an easy spin on the bike to the gym and back. It was settled. Fixed. And I’d been looking forward all day. The weather had been pretty clement until just at the point that I started getting ready to go out. But quitting, as they say, was not an option.

My view looked a bit like this. ©flickr/ woodleywonderworks

My view looked a bit like this. ©flickr/woodleywonderworks

I got 500m before abandoning the idea. Visibility in the dark was terrible; I could barely see anything in the glare of my head torch. (Memo to head torch manufacturers: design one you can strap to your waist belt. Like low beam fog lights, it would give much better visibility.) I turned around, figured I’d just do my easy 5k loop around the lake here and then well, you know how it goes. I thought I’d just carry on a bit. I’ll just go a bit further. And so I continued the 10k up the valley. So far so good. The single track had only a light dusting of snow. It was fun.

Then the altitude increased, the snow became thicker and impossible to ride. I switched to the road. By now my feet were getting cold, made worse by a de-icing truck that reduced the fresh snow to slush. It was like bathing my feet in ice-water. (My over-booties of course were in England). So on the way back, I suffered. Big time. Like, feet pain so bad I wondered whether I could really continue like this. I gave myself landmarks every 100m. I mentally checked the house of a family I knew I could knock on their door and beg for blankets and sustenance. Man my feet hurt! How could I have been so stupid. But there was only one option and that was to keep the legs spinning.

My glasses steamed up on the inside, I could really only see about 10m. And then it occurred to me, would I have decided to go out in this if I was female? Where was the voice of rationality in my psyche. I kept this thought in my head until I made it all the way home and throughout the following 20 minutes while I nursed my feet back to life. (The hot aches were off the pain scale – imagine being stabbed by hot pins.) So I gave myself the debrief I love to give after adventures. (Also learning from failure is a big theme of mine since reading the excellent Black Box Thinking.)

Anyhow, I learnt my lesson. Next time, I should have made some homemade booties by wrapping my feet in plastic bags. That would have fixed it. And then gone out.

 

Under Construction

It’s going to be a work in progress but now that I’m back freelancing again it makes sense to get my website up and running. It’s going to take a while though before I figure how it should look and feel. In the meantime, I’ll be blogging from this simple wordpress platform.