The Daily Blog #5
The ladder of success
Goodbye Morningstar. Hello drizzle.
For the last three years, my son has acted as an alarm clock, getting me out of bed anywhere between 11pm and 5.30am. Today, I woke to the sound of him moving about upstairs and checked the time. 6.40am! I should be on the road already!
The good thing about this, is that I got to see my boy this morning, I got to sit on the sofa while he stole toast off my plate.
So, I’m on a late train. Being late, as I think I’ve explained in previous posts, isn’t a real problem. I’m speaking generally here. There are forces beyond your control, and I don’t think you should be made to feel bad if engineering work overran, or they cancelled your train, or if there’s several feet of snow between your front door and the office.
Back in the early days of the job, it was a problem, but damn near everything was a problem back then.
I once overslept, like today, except it was as though my circadian rhythms had switched off completely. There was no period of sleepiness or wakefulness. Everything was just off and then got turned back on again. I opened my eyes and half the day had disappeared.
This was in a time when you got to work at 8.45, or else they beat you (or you felt like a beating was a very real possibility)
This was and is the draconian world of publishing, ruled by a cruel and vicious overlord who never has to worry about a train cancellation. He can emerge from his London townhouse and stroll down to work whenever he likes. If he’s late, that’s his business.
But if you’re late. If you’re late, then someone had better be dead. A train cancellation won’t cut it.
This wasn’t a cancelled train though, it wasn’t two cancelled trains. It was maybe five or six cancelled trains plus a hostage situation at the terminal. I’d been gone for half a day and no one was dead, I’d just had a really long sleep.
Now I was panicking. What was Igoing to say? I called the switchboard and told whoever answered the first thing that popped into my head.
I told them that my brother had fallen off a ladder.
At that time, the office consisted of eight frightened young men, all of whom were abusing alcohol or drugs or both, and they were all depressed, because it was impossible not to be. I don’t remember who took the call.
As the words left my lips, I realised I hadn’t at any point thought this excuse through. I had surprised myself.
Why my brother? Why a ladder? Why does this mean you’ll be late?
I told them I had taken him to the hospital. We were awaiting the results of an x-ray. I sounded suitably worried.
The voice said “okay”, and put the phone down. It doesn’t matter if they bought it (they definitely didn’t), it mattered if my boss was able to catch me in that lie somehow.
And it was an awful lie. It leant on my brother’s broken legs. It’s like using “my mum died” as an excuse — you can only really do that the one time.
Sidenote: I’ve never used “mum died” as an excuse for oversleeping, or anything else.
I suppose technically my brother can keep falling off ladders every time I need him to, but I maintain that any excuse that relies on harm to a loved one really is the wrong side of okay.
My boss cornered me in our tiny kitchen area that afternoon. He stood blocking the doorway as I prepared a tray of tea.
“How are your brother’s legs?” He said. Did I detect a sardonic trace of sarcasm?
“They’re…they’re okay,” I said. It was the first time I’d told the truth that day.
I didn’t dare look at him, but I could feel his eyes burning into my temple as I reached for my cup of coffee, placing it on a tray with the others.
“Got to watch those ladders,” he said in an uncomfortably even tone, a voice absent of all expression. I sensed he was looking for some sign, hoping that I’d break.
“Uh-huh,” I said. The less you say, the more serious it is. The less you say, the more serious it is.
He must have known I wasn’t telling the truth, but he wasn’t going to call me out on it, not this time. I picked up the tray and went out to deliver tea to the masses.
Sidenote: we existed in a malevolent patriarchy, and making tea and coffee for the team served as a means of solidifying our bond, as well as a grim acknowledgement that we had all ended up here to be victimised daily, and we had to seek refuge in simple things.
I made tea for the entire office for over two years, until someone told me to stop making it. It may be the only thing I ever became proficient at.
These days, things are entirely different. Everyone makes their own tea, for one. I arrived half an hour late this morning, and the place was damn near empty! There were perhaps two or three people milling about. This place has become like a drop-in centre. Turn up if you want to. Even my boss doesn’t make it in much before 10am now.
You climb up these slippery rungs, and you think that maybe, just maybe, it’s heading somewhere. Maybe at the top they’ll give you a medal and a bouquet of flowers. But the ladder doesn’t go anywhere. It all ends the same way. Eventually, you step off. Maybe you go off and find a better ladder, maybe you decide to build a life on the ground. No idea what I’m talking about. The train is pulling in to the station, time to go.
I never told my brother that he broke his legs. Saying it now helps, I think. I’m sorry.
Thank you, as always, for reading. The gift for me is that you found these words and they found you at some moment in time (due to the chaotic pace of modern life, it’s likely you were in a toilet stall somewhere, that’s okay, that’s just fine) and we shared a brief connection with one another. Please, always feel free to leave a comment and know that I will do my absolute best to respond.