22 July 2006

Hen Weekend

The Hen Weekend was a strange experience. Work was finally over, but I was still recording everything I did. I was still undercover, not in the world of low-end employment, but in the world of all-female mini breaks, where 50 percent of the attendees are alumni of either Oxford or Cambridge or both! I had gone from one extreme to another.

I chatted to a few of them quizzing them about their work. This was a real reality check about the notion of 'working hard' - I discovered it's perfectly normal for a junior doctor to work five twelve-hour shifts in a week. The week previous, my friend Nicola, who is a solicitor, had worked from 9:00 - 2:00 everyday at her office. I felt guilty for all my moaning and feeling sorry for myself. I tried to justify my behaviour and it came down to this:

Maybe it's not just about the work load, maybe it's the isolation that gets you down. Junior doctors and solicitors are in exactly the same situation as their colleagues - they are all able to understand what one-another are going through. They can relate to one-another's experiences, therefore can empathise and support each other.

It's a very different situation when 99 percent of the population doesn't have a clue what you are going or why you are doing it. Admittedly, they are entirely self-made pressures but they do exist in the silly little world of the undercover artist. This was my main reason for wanting the help create and then join the Union of Undercover Artists. Liz and Joanna were the only other individuals in the world who could truly identify with the pressures of 'Part-time' as they too had been through it.

When people asked me what I did I said I was 'an artist'. They then asked 'what do you paint?' I explained that I didn't paint and tried to describe what I did do. It was easiest to start with Day-to-Day Data as this could be simply termed 'organising an exhibition'. Not once did I mention what I'd been doing for the last four weeks or the fact that just two days previous I had been packing hundreds of St Tropez tan mitts in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere with a real-life chav and a family of junk food junkies.

Not until Sofie arrive that is. Sofie is an old friend who I have known since I was one (when she was born). She grew up just down the road in Ealing (just like Claudia the Hen and Nicola her sister, the over-worked solicitor). However Flo, Sofie and I comprised the only vegetarians on the trip and more than likely the only three who had attended state schools. We were ever-so-slightly different.

I told Sofie everything, the whole story: the commission from Prime, the meter reading, the agencies, the office work, Broadway, The Cobra Group, Labour Ready and all about those damn mitts. It was like therapy. Telling my story was in someway making it seem less pointless. The fact that had learnt so much and experienced so many new things - I had so much to tell - it suddenly began to seem worthwhile. Sofie seemed interested too; it obviously wasn't as boring as I had feared.

She asked what made it art and not just a sociological study - this was a very interesting question. I answered it by saying that there was certainly a lot of crossover. In a similar way that the Mass-Observation project of the 1930s was founded by writers and artists, it later became viewed as a very important anthropological study. What I had just experienced was in itself an observation on the different lifestyles I encountered - working lifestyles that I would never have otherwise come into contact with.

It made me realise just how lucky I am to do what I do (most of the time) and to be my own boss. 'Part-time' had been a re-education, making me appreciate my own life more. I like the analogy of 'Part-time' being half way between role playing game and social tourism. I was an investigative journalist, randomly stumbling across things of interest, as I desperately scrabbled around for work.

That day we did a 'gorge walk' in the Brecon Beacons. It involved eighteen of us and two instructors, walking up a stream in wellies, helmets and buoyancy aids. We climbed round rocks, sat under waterfalls, crawled underneath waterfalls, trekked up hills and finally jumped off a cliff to finish. In the evening we went to a Thai restaurant in Abergavenny and to a nightclub called The Auberge. I let my hair down a little (consuming my first alcohol, other than the pint of Guinness I had with Joanna on Monday 3 July, since 'Part-time' began), but always kept my Log Book close to hand...