I’m the sort of person who likes to be in control. This is for powerful reasons of genes: both sets of grandparents ran their own businesses, and both my parents are very independent. He’s into golf and networking, she’s into grammar and pub quizzes. I’m into all of them. Genetics.
The problem last year came about when I felt control of my life slipping away. I was spiralling into hell and all those other clichés that are nonetheless accurate.
I was working as an intern hoping to secure a job I didn’t particularly want, in an online marketing department of a theatre-ticketing agency. The perks? Free tickets to A Chorus Line, Top Hat, Viva Forever! Jealous? You shouldn’t be.
There was no certainty that the internship would turn permanent, or eventually have me working more than the initial 15 hours a week. The marketing manager had been given a £90 weekly budget for an assistant.
Muggins said show me the money, Muggins got hired. Yet I was tired and fed up with the way of the world, because I’m old enough to be disillusioned by all this stuff. Who’s with me?
Most days I would stay in bed until ten, because my train wasn’t until 10.20 and I could leave the house at five past and still get there on time for 11. I’d eke out every moment I didn’t need to be out of bed. Stuff didn’t seem to matter any more. I’d put my book on Watford FC on hold, and stopped recording podcasts; playing my twelve-string guitar lost its joy; I went to a comedy gig in November and didn’t laugh once.
It really is horrid when something traps you. Black dogs and Englishmen is not a good mix, especially in a freezing London winter where four layers aren’t enough. Christmastime was awful, especially because I had to work over Christmas and New Year with people I didn’t particularly want to be around. My brother gave me a book, which advised me to open up and share my experiences, and Mum wanted me to talk to someone “outside of the family”.
Because I am the sort of person who doesn’t want to burden others with my problems, I felt horrible and alone for that three-month period. Even when I was on antidepressants and seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist, my blues became bluer, purple-er, more mauve.
I grew more and more irritated that I didn’t have a £30,000 a year job two years after graduation, and that the only available options seemed temping, tutoring or thinking of further study which costs money I didn’t have.
For two months I saw a psychiatrist. He didn’t help much, charging £250 for filling in a mood form and trying to prod me into going out with people. That’s £1,000 I will never see again.
For three months between the end of 2012 and the start of 2013, I felt like less of a man with free will and oomph, and more like a being that just existed, like a cow or a sheep, bred and reared to be eaten. I tasted like ‘Compromise, with a side of Ire’.
While in this job, I was given responsibilities to promote the website. One of these included the task of messaging other theatre-going writers who could be interested in free tickets in exchange for promoting the site managed by the company I worked for. Just as I was about to send my first email, after sifting through the list, my boss asked me a simple question.
“Can you pretend to be a girl?”
As Stewart Lee would say: “Now…”
There are many things I would do to get on someone’s good side. I would hold a door open for them, or buy them a cup of coffee, or come in between Christmas and New Year to do a task I could easily have done at home. Ever since I worked out that my ancestors had escaped death in Eastern Europe in exchange for poverty and paradise in England, I have attempted to never to let myself be trodden upon. I know some readers may want to tell me to grow up and move on, or just “do as you’re told”, as my colleague said, but I just couldn’t agree to this.
So I said to my boss that no, I didn’t want to sign my name as a girl. I, Jonny Brick, would be sending these emails, and the writers would talk to me, Jonny Brick, whose surname lives on through people who used to have it and died to preserve it.
“Sure,” said my boss, reluctantly. She is a Cambridge graduate of Chemistry who had initially wanted to work in banking. Finance’s loss is theatre ticketing’s gain.
Eventually, as happens in Hollywood films, there was a happy ending.
I was let go because, when asked what my freelance rate would be after the internship, I priced myself at £150 a week, too much for “a small company” to afford. ‘Negotiation’ was apparently too multisyllabic a word for this company to understand. Meanwhile, I was accused of being “childish and immature” by a very childish, immature woman for sending emails to Theatre Club members in which I said I was leaving the company “for very, very banal reasons”. I didn’t even mentioned the way that my boss held down the standby key on the computer I was using as I was trying to rescue some documents from the PC for my portfolio. I felt that was quite childish and immature as well.
Now, no longer saddled by suicidal thoughts on platform 6 at Bushey station, I can write without going into an office full of people who do not care for semi-colons or for keeping their voice down while the lowly intern does some work.
I have now returned to my life as a freelancer, precarious though it remains, thankful that I kept up my position writing copy for a website where my English skills are respected and I can talk to my boss about rockabilly, sailing and syntax.
I am inestimably happier, and more valued because I am working for myself, mostly. I no longer want to chuck myself in front of a train. I open the doors, and get on whatever service I want to. In short, I am in control. Genetics: powerful stuff, eh?