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Stealing Time

Submitted by on July 17, 2012 – 10:55 am4 Comments

I love time; it’s the best thing we’ve got, mainly because we don’t have enough of it. I hate work, which probably isn’t the worst thing we’ve got, but it does take away our time.

Everything takes away our time really, even nice things like sitting on a mountain on a sunny day with a cup of tea, or lying on a beach fooling yourself through your sunglasses that you’ve got a tan, but that’s ok because we know time is always going away from us, and all we can hope is that we make good use of what’s left.

Unless we’re lucky, work doesn’t make good use of our time – not in the sense of looking back on it from our death bed and smiling. That’s why we get paid for it; we’re trading off our precious time to make someone else’s death bed memories a bit sweeter. This is alright if you’re helping people who could do with a bit of a hand in that regard, but most of those benefiting from the time we spend working are doing alright anyway.

“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job…”

I recently got a new job. I was pleased, as most people are when they get a new job. This was only because of the money though, which when you don’t have it seems like the path to happiness, mainly because most of the things we enjoy filling up our time with cost money.

I realise I’ve not just discovered this paradox of our time – everyone at some point stops and wonders at this tragedy that afflicts us: to enjoy our time we have to have money, but to have money we have to give up our time. So what do we do? Carry on working to get enough money to buy back bits of what we still call our free time. Time is money? Yes, our time and their money.

If you’ve ever been unemployed – which if I were a market researcher looking at what you choose to read I’d say is a good bet – then you’ll know that at first it’s just tremendous. You have to pretend to parents or partners that you hate it, but you can’t help but revel in the pleasure of lying in bed in the morning knowing that all those idiots outside are sat in traffic, getting annoyed at the delay in laying waste to even more of their time.

How delightful to go to bed knowing that you don’t have to get up early – you can stay up to watch the decent films they put on Film Four after midnight, instead of making do with the shit they usually put on at nine. Speaking of films, look out for the classic Office Space – a paean for anyone that’s ever had a shit job.

Being out of work means you can make grand plans to read those books you pick up in charity shops but never buy. You’d like to but you’ve already got piles of books you haven’t had time to read. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Idiot are waiting for you to become bed-ridden or the telly to break, and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time nags at you whenever you pass by, but they do look impressive sat on the book shelf next to your 1977 Manchester United annual. There we are; four books that could more or less describe your best years.

While jobless you can avoid queues by doing daytime shopping, but of course you won’t watch telly during the day cos that’s the road to kill your soul. You still do though, just a bit of Fraser in the morning and maybe an old film like Passport to Pimlico or Twelve Angry Men.

You long for the days when they used to show the Tarzan films – the Johnny Weissmuller ones with the fit Jane, and when 15-to-1 used to be on after Countdown. Maybe best of all, you can have an afternoon nap. There are times in work when you come back from dinner and all you want to do is have a quick sleep. Can there be a greater luxury than sleeping whenever you want? Sleeping on the job I’d say.

Never done it unfortunately, but it’s got be the height of ambition. Bob Monkhouse said his only wish was to die peacefully in his sleep, like his father had done; not screaming in terror like his passengers.

“idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen”

As Jerome K Jerome recognised though, it doesn’t take long to get bored. You can’t enjoy your free time when you know you’ve got it. So eventually we give in and get a job. This makes us a bit happier, partly cos we get money, partly cos it stops people asking if we’ve ‘found anything yet’, and partly cos it gives us something to do. I don’t mean the job itself, but having the job gives us back the enjoyment of idling again. We shouldn’t need a job for this, but we do. So if the bastards are gonna make us give up all that time just so we can enjoy what’s left, we have to make sure we get some of it back.

We’ve all robbed stuff from work. I have mates who’ve robbed everything from bog rolls to washing machines, but the most valuable thing you can rob from work is time. Most of you do it anyway, going for a Keith Barron on work’s time, or grabbing precious few minutes for a fag or a brew, or just getting in late or getting off early.

If you have a clever clogs job, you’ll use your computer to do your personal emails, book holidays or browse the musings of football fans on the internet – stuff that’s barely bearable even when you’re being paid.

I’ve disappointed myself lately cos I’ve been that relieved to have this new job (as every fucker keeps saying, ‘in this climate’) that I’ve let myself become the thing I always tried to avoid being – busy. Too busy to watch good films at the pictures or even on telly, too busy to read anything decent, too busy to write this article until the eighth extended deadline, too busy even to go to some midweek games.

A few weeks ago I told myself I had to go and watch Michael Moore’s latest film, but kept putting it off cos I was too busy or tired after work. I read a review on a smart new website (www.afinelung.com) in which the reviewer, obviously ‘living the dream’ had been to see it one afternoon, and I had to do the same – it was the word ‘matinee’ that sold it. It wasn’t easy, as if the targets of Moore’s much-needed ire were holding me back, saying ‘you’re too busy trying to earn money to spend a couple of hours thinking about how Capitalism is screwing us’.

On the last day it was on at the Cornerhouse, I left work at 2 and watched the film. The film was good, but not working was better. I’d recommend it to anyone. Make a real effort to take back some of your time, it’s yours and you can’t get it back once it’s gone.

Watch a film, go to a park and read a book, go fishing, have a nap, get on a train to the Peak District, go for a pint, have a wander around Newton Heath looking for streets named after the Busby Babes, go in charity shops and browse for classic books or records, but above all savour the feeling of taking back your own time.

You’ll be following in good footsteps. Protesting workers smashed the clocks above factory gates in the 1820s and 30s when they realised their time was being stolen by the new capitalists of the Industrial Revolution.

Even Dickens recognised this in Hard Times when he wrote of the “deadly statistical clock which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin lid”. What was it that Marx wrote about so unerringly and what did the unions fight to wrest back from the owners of production if it wasn’t workers’ time? ‘…come out to play at 3 O’clock on a Saturday’? Not without the unions we wouldn’t. Now we get holiday makers complaining to Sky News that the unions are delaying their holiday.

Fuck off, I want whoever’s flying my plane to be earning a big enough wage to take plenty of holidays and have had a good night’s sleep in a big comfy expensive bed. And I want to have paid for it out of my hardly-earned wages.

This article featured in issue three of A Fine Lung. To purchase back copies please click on the ‘Buy issues of A Fine Lung’ tab near the top of the page. All proceeds go towards something lovely at FC United of Manchester’s proposed new stadium in Moston. The current issue is now restocked in Cornerhouse, on Oxford Road, Manchester. Copies can also be sourced at the Working Class Movement Library on The Crescent, Salford.

A new issue of AFL is planned to co-incide with FC United’s first home Saturday game of the 2012-13 season. Don’t hold us to that though, cos as you have just read, we are lazy gets…


  • TH says:

    This is one of my fave Lung pieces so far.

    If you can get by (difficult as it is these days) why on earth do you need to flog yourself to make more cash and then not have any free time with which to enjoy the fruits of that labour?

    Saying that, getting by is becoming harder and harder…

  • JimShaw says:

    I absolutely loved this article, one of my favourites for a while. I can completely relate to it, I’m 22 but have lived through all of that, it’s like reading a page of my life.

    Sometimes I wish I would get fired or have the balls to leave my shitty job and have time to read my pile of books I bought from local charity shops when I was unemployed.

    Now all I can do is sit at work and enjoy these articles on my computer to get through the day.

    Thanks for making it go by a little quicker.

  • LesBagg says:

    I have coincedentally enough just finished reading Hard Times again after telling myself that too much of my free time was being spent with the television on with a laptop beside me, I was spending too much time surrounded by modern day background Muzak!
    Telly, fine, if you are watching something! but to just have it on for being ons sake seems to be a norm, likewise with the internet.
    So I’ve quite enjoyed the 30-45 minutes put aside of an evening to devour words in peace like I used to before all this new fangled stuff came along. (Don’t ever try to take my telly or laptop away though!)

    Amongst my least favourite modern day people are those who complain on SKY in that horrible ME, ME, ME! way. The people who the reporters search for at airports when a strike by people battling for basic rights in the only way left open to them.
    “They always do it in holiday season” They cry
    Well, when do you want them to do it? when the airports are at their slackest? Yeah, good idea, pointless exercise but at least you’d get to Magaluf!
    “In the present climate” is a phrase that has been invented and brainwashed into the working people’s minds by the modern Bounderbys.
    There will be an ironic cheer in our house when the first trust fund government toff or some chief executive or another comes out with it. That, nurses, lorry drivers, dentists receptionists, teachers, lifeguards, bricklayers or any of the millions of people with genuine concerns about the futures of their thousands of occupations are merely malcontents who just want to be fed venison and turtle soup with a silver spoon!

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