Being a chatty, friendly (ie annoying) kinda guy, I have, in my many years of what passes for life, spoken to many fascinating peoples. As in the most part they all are. As Quentin Crisp so rightly says, to say someone is boring is to criticise ourselves; it means we have failed to make ourselves into the wide open vessel into which they can pour their entire lives.
And when it comes to conversation starters, apart from, ‘Where are you from?’, the most trite and tested has to be, ‘and what do you do?’
Well, if it’s good enough for Mrs Windsor, who am I to bust a gut looking for anything more original?
As to the former, it makes a tiny number shrink away as if afraid I will be finding out their illegal immigrant or on-the-run-from-the-mob status, which they could hardly signal more clearly by that very reaction; and on one occasion earned me an irate lecture about asking such an intrusive, personal and silly question on first acquaintance. Hmm, touchy.
I just saw a tv documentary in which a guy giving people customised profiles for dating sites says the best start-line is something like, ‘pineapple on pizza: yes or no?’ but I’m just wanting to get to know people, not to knob them.
But the job/profession/hobbies question has been most instructive. It’s odd, because when I had one of those paid work things, I hated to be defined by it. I would often answer, ‘What do I do? All sorts of things: I paint, I write, I read, I cycle around …’. If I was in a perverse enough frame of mind, I might add references to eating, sleeping and even masturbating. To which the response would always be, ‘no, I mean what’s your job?’
Now, even ignoring the fact that most of my colleagues would question whether I ever did ‘do’ my job, I used this opportunity to rant about not being defined by the shit I did to put a crust on my table; rapidly, and largely by subtext, I told the questioner enough about me to send him or her on their way, wishing they’d never wasted their time.
But down the years I have often found myself asking other people about their jobs, and the most interesting or odd ones — even ones that sound unspectacular but still out of the ordinary — have made me think, more than anything, “why the fuck did our careers advisers at school or uni never tell me that option existed?”
I recall walking up Rosslyn Hill with a pram-pushing young mum who was taking a maternity break from her job of finding luxury hotel rooms and buying them wholesale to sell on via cheap deals (and this would be by phone or coupon in those pre-interweb days). Now, I was just coming to the premature end of my career in what was latterly called IT; of course, careers advisers, especially back in the early Seventies, didn’t have to think hard about what job a computer science graduate (third class) would be likely to pursue. One could get a well-paid job programming the damn things if one could spell ‘kompewter’. But how quickly I would have changed course, if someone had told my callow, twenty-one-year-old self that one could get paid to go round the world on expenses, checking out top-class hotels!
Of course I would have been aware of my other dream job — paid food critic — but even there, I, familiar only with the the simple conveyor belt of school–uni–IT, would have had no clue as to how to become one.
So it’s intriguing to consider all the amazingly varied things folks can actually do to earn their salt.
And what made me think of this? Well, I was sitting at my computer typing away at last week’s blog entry, and a sudden disaster, followed by a careful examination of thirty-plus ‘flour-based food products’ (as Wikipedia calls them), caused me to wonder what sort of person would ever choose the job of sitting by a conveyor belt, assiduously putting microscopic cracks in whole packets of rich tea biscuits so that the majority of each breaks off, moisturised by the slightest dunking, into innocent bloggers’ mugs of sodding coffee. I hope it’s well-paid, you bastard!