Steve McKenna

Freelance travel writer and photographer

Blog: Peripatetic musings...

Was it the caffeine talking?

Posted on May 26, 2011 at 8:25 AM

I just spent an hour sheltering from the drizzly air of a nondescript suburb of Greater Manchester, making the most of the free wi-fi access you get when you buy a drink in a Costa Coffee. My flat white was pretty decent – though not a patch on the ones I used to get from the independent cafe joints in Sydney and Melbourne when I lived Down Under. Ah, good times....

Anyway, I did the usual online – browsed the newspapers, Youtubed a few things, pondered work options, checked how many people had been on my website in the past week (15) and rounded it off with some Facebooking. All this time, however, I couldn't help eavesdropping on a conversation that was taking place on the table next to me, involving two men, probably ten years my senior (if not a little more), discussing the peaks and troughs of being struggling freelancers (writers and photographers, they were).

Naturally, being in the same sort of business, I was intrigued by what they had to say. I put on my best poker-face impression and wagged my big right ear, while tapping the keyboard, twiddling with the mouse and pretending that I wasn't in the least bit interested in what these two middle-aged slackers had to say. The more sheepish, less confident of the two told his friend how he used to be so depressed with his job that he would cry when he got up in the mornings. I remember feeling slightly down when my alarm sounded at 5am on a Monday - mainly because I was still hungover from a heavy Saturday night and would've happily slept til midday - but despite the horror and pain of rising at this despicable hour, especially in winter, I can't remember ever shedding a tear about it. When things became too much, when another winter was looming and I really couldn't be doing with it anymore, I jacked it in and went travelling.

That was in 2005. I've not had a 'proper' job since – although I have been getting plenty of experience in the topsy-turvy world of self-employment. Anyway, the man sitting next to me quit, too. By the looks of his ghostly white skin, however, I somehow doubted that he'd jetted off to Thailand to mingle on the Khao San Road or beached it on Ko Phi Phi. No, he knuckled down straight into his new life-career. His friend gave him a verbal pat on the back for his decisive action, then the pair discussed their progress in the fickle freelancing world.

So how were they doing? Not exactly brilliantly, by the sound of things, but they were upbeat nonetheless. Or at least they were doing their best impression of sounding upbeat. The pair bemoaned the modern world of salaried work – the set hours, lunch breaks and holidays, the pressures, the hassles, the bastards you have to work with/and for, day-in, day-out. They slated the prospect of doing a job they hated until they were told they could retire, and they slaughtered the idea of being a corporate clone/drone all their lives. Of course, they wouldn't mind the lucre you get for being one of these so-called clone/drones, but....

It seemed they were happy to eke out their days, doing what they called 'creative things', and struggling along, enjoying what they were doing, getting stuff published here and there, getting paid here and there, and seeing how things go, and trying not to worry about it all. And of course, being able to have a chat and a coffee when they saw fit. Like at 3pm on a Tuesday.

The more confident of the two blokes said: “I guess we just make it up as we go along. Then again, so do most people in life. Haha.” The other guy laughed. This throwaway comment struck a chord with me. The wrong side of my 20s, my life isn't mapped out in the way I thought it would be, say, ten years ago. If anything, it's more fluid than ever. I have lots of goals and ambitions, but they've changed as time has worn on, and I'm not sure where I'll be this time, next year, let alone in 2032....

As the clock on my internet access ticked down to zero, and as I packed my things up and got ready to face the drizzle outside, I wondered: did these two guys really believe what they were saying? Were they really happy just struggling along, living from week to week, creating their own 'existence' on a whim? Did they never lieawake at night, thinking 'what the hell am I doing? Shouldn't I have a plan?' Shouldn't I be doing better, earning/doing/achieving more than I am?'. Had the caffeine given them a dose of over-confidence and persuaded them they were happier than they really were?

I couldn't help noticing how the more confident, and talkative, of the two had ordered a second coffee, while the quieter, more pensive, one was happier to nurse the same one and was distinctly less chirpy. And I went through the exit, thinking: do people talk as much crap when they're on the caffeine as they do when they're on the booze?

PS. I think they might, you know....

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1 Comment

Reply celia
12:54 PM on June 7, 2011 
exquisite pics capture every true moment in the cities =)