Notes

The revolution that takes place in your head, nobody will ever see that.

Tag Archives: Work

The Prince and the Writer

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Astrological ClockBooking my flight to Venice last September had none of the usual fanfare. No shiny guidebook from Waterstones, no ‘going local’ through disruptive technologies or Spritz cocktails. This was a a clandestine mission lasting less than 36 hours. After a deeply frustrating summer and a broken fairytale pulling my strings, I threw the dice and gambled on Venezia.

Arriving at Marco Polo Airport at noon, I had the afternoon to work out the route to hotel. Armed only with a rucksack, I repeatedly told myself this was not a holiday, I couldn’t contemplate doing anything fun.

Chopping along the lagoon waters at breakneck speed, I sat next to a brash American family as cormorants sped past us on the aquatic highway. Young romantic couples on mini-breaks took selfies, and a Dutch family hawked up guttural consonants throughout our sea-bound journey.

Everyone else on the vaporetto boat was decked in holiday attire and carrying bulging suitcases. I felt considerably out of place as we pulled up at St. Marks Square. Battling amongst a swarm of visitors I marched towards an astrological clock with sweat trickling down my back. Much to my dismay, patches the size of Venice were already starting to develop.

Still blisteringly hot in early September, I checked into my one-star hotel and was curtly directed to my box room upstairs, where I had to squeeze past a monstrous boiler just to get inside. Collapsing onto my rickety single frame it immediately began to squeak – immediately I knew this was going to be a long night and the bloodsucking mosquitoes made sure of that. Such was the sense of decay at the hotel, I could have mysteriously died and my body would have lay undiscovered for about 25 years.

Calle-dei-FabbriMy interview took place a few days before the Scottish independence referendum and I felt incredibly tense refreshing Twitter for new polls. The #indyref certainly contributed towards a heightened sense of anxiety, one which crystalised my entire summer and fed into my Venetian journey.

Meanwhile I had to get this job whether Scotland became an independent state or not, and finding the office was proving difficult. Navigating a densely packed medieval warren and trying to pinpoint a tiny calle is not easy as a tourist.

With the lagoon heat saturating my energy, I kept on getting as far as Rialto fish market and nervously backtracking to my hotel exhausted and hungry. My interview was at 11am and not being able to find the ofifce would hardly have been a ringing endorsement of my intelligence. Even with my spatial awareness deficiencies, I simply had to find the office after coming all this way.

After dining in a backstreet tattoria close to St. Mark Square, I coughed up for my pizza and returned to my upstairs hovel. Darkness had pulled its cloak over the lagoon and there was a tangible switch in atmosphere, a balmy restlessness of knives and spoons entwining in lobster restaurants.

Lying on my creaky bed frame, I conceded to my overheated melancholy and purchased £10 phone data, which triggered multiple What’s App conversations.

Venice NightMy first message came from an eccentric Croatian guy called Matej who had been communicating intermittently with me on Skype for months. Highly intelligent with superb colloquial English, Matej told me about the job and encouraged me to apply for the role, but pleaded with me not to mention him at all.

I never knew what to make of the veiled secrecy. Being a straight laced, north European my instinct is to apply for jobs the traditional way and let emails take care of the rest.Things are done differently in Venice as I soon found out.

Matej aggressively pleaded with me to meet him at Rialto Bridge saying “I’ll be really pissed with you if you don’t come!” On Skype chat he always appeared to be a shape-shifting chameleon, and had a bizarre penchant for self-publicity. His alter ego Facebook page left me wondering exactly what ‘Matej’ I was going to meet that evening.

He was also a domineering figure and clearly enjoyed playing games with people. Luckily I liked him, but I was suspicious and nervous too. I always appreciated his sense of humour. However, I didn’t know what to make of him, or what his motivation might be for inviting me to apply.

Unsure whether it was a good idea to meet him beforehand, I left the hotel and entered the darkness with mosquitoes famishing my wrists. Guided by spooky gas lamps and painted arrows, I arrived at Rialto Bridge teaming with flashing cameras and selfie sticks.

Matej was standing there on the lower steps, a skinny flamboyant man with a rib hugging t-shirt, and we shook hands and both silently observed a hitherto internet character morphing into life.

Matej stressed we couldn’t hang around Rialto in case somebody saw us. Venice is a tiny island and you bump into acquaintances every day. As a stranger in a foreign land, I blindly followed him down a series of calles past a fifteenth century monastery, which had been serenely converted into a beautiful hospital. In hushed tones he made it clear we couldn’t be seen talking in public, as far everyone in the office knew, we weren’t aware of one another’s existence.

Along the way I learned a Swedish guy was being considered for the job as well. Matej’s plan to parachute me into the office was suddenly in jeopardy. I felt threatened by this development too. Suddenly this trip was no longer an inauguration, and I could end up flying back to London with nothing.

Arriving at a backstreet tenement in Castello, I was introduced to three people in a gloomy Hopper-esque kitchen. Accepting one of their beers, Matej explained how the owner ran the office like a saloon bar and that I needed “to tell them how you can make the company lots of bookings without spending any money.”

Then somewhat depressingly he lamented company’s lack of bookings, much to the annoyance of his roommates, who were clearly all too familiar with this angst ridden tale.

After discussing the Scotland’s exit from the UK, I said my farewells and headed back to the hotel following the yellow arrows. Mataj’s cloak and dagger tactics had been a great help and I warmly reassured him I would stonewall him at tomorrow’s interview.

With the office directions firmly embedded in my head I was confident I could find the place and get through this final, final round. Like everything else you need to throw the dice for extraordinary things to happen. I had lost enough in the proceeding months.

I flew over to live three weeks later.

calle-dei-boteri

Touch the Sky

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As modern as tomorrow, there’s something tangible sitting in this office seat, surrounded by silver laptops and shabby tubes of muesli. If you want to visualise the decade, then you’ll find yourself here, staring at two screens, listening to a bewildering range of accents and a slimline French girl with disconcertingly wide eyes.

Ambitions and eulogies soar in the glass room opposite me. It takes a huge gregarious character to entertain so many people for ten hours solid without a break. And that’s before you factor in the What’s App messages, emails and midnight phone calls to Shanghai, Chile and New York.

What I find more interesting than status is why people try to achieve what they do. Why do people keep working fourteen hours a day when you already have everything you possibly need. Money is the point, but its not what motivates them. 

They want something bigger than money. This goes beyond the champagne, lobster cliches and four-day weekends in Monte Carlo. They play for glory and glory alone and it’s an exhilarating experience working in London at times. Especially when I remember where I come from, and the shy insignificance I feel watching the globe elite converge in front of my very eyes.

In bed at the hospital

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Health is a freedom passport most people take for granted until it’s taken away from you. I have always considered myself to be fit and healthy and barely set foot into a hospital as a child. I do remember falling off an older boy’s bike when I was seven and having to wear a sling the following day. Trips to the doctors were comforting back then. If anything it was a chance to play with toys somewhere other than home.

By the time the human body has circled the sun for several decades, I take a dimmer view of hospital waiting rooms. Through human error and abnormality I found myself vulnerable to their presence today. A hapless figure lying sideways with a black pipe thrust down my throat, bereft of the independence and freedom I so often take for granted.

Choking on an innocuous piece of chicken the night before, I had been retching over my sink into the early hours. Initially I felt annoyed that I had wasted an evening to discomfort and stress. Although I was sure it would pass the following day.

Listening to the Arctic winds lacerating the tree behind my window, I lay motionless as the stray television aerial whipped the adjacent balcony. Storms are strangely comforting in times of stress. But after hours of choking I gave way to unflinching reality that my throat wasn’t functioning with the same lucidity it once did.

Checking into my local GP and immediately being transferred to hospital, I found myself with no toys to play with apart from my smartphone. Despite not being able to swallow or eat anything, I still wanted to work and get on with my duties as normal. I even brought my laptop to the hospital with the hope of completing some articles in the waiting room.

Sitting alongside trauma victims and watching old ladies on green trolleys, I found myself passed from one expert to another. Watching each doctor strip my independence and freedom from me, it became obvious that I required an emergency operation.

The doctor said it was a life or death scenario, as I could potentially choke to death and was physically unable to sip a glass of water. A large black nurse then gave me two baby wristbands and booked me an overnight bed. I politely refused saying I wanted to go home after the operation.

‘Do you have anyone to pick you up after the operation, Mr Agnew?’ I politely said that I didn’t have anyone, and they agreed not to sedate me. Consent forms were thus signed and it’s getting serious now. There was a 1/1000 chance of severe bleeding and lacerations.

Unlikely I know.

Placing my body on the exam table, I found myself surrounded by six medics in blue coats and green breathing masks. A fuzzy helplessness emerges when you lie down in surgery. You cease to mean anything at all.

The maternal surgeon then began discussing Greek terms such as Oesophagus and shoved a garden hose camera down my neck. Tears involuntary burst out in shock and my body’s gagging reflex was horrible. Suddenly I was nothing but a lump of breathing flesh, a vulnerable specimen entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Choking on an alien pipe inside my body, I started to panic and tapped my left foot to signal my discomfort to the doctors. But they kept pushing further down my neck and it took up to three expeditions before they removed the errant piece of chicken (5mm in length).

With my throat raw like a rusting mine shaft, I remember the machine green lights and the blind glare of the overhead lamp pouring over me. Someone’s smartphone was vibrating on the shelf opposite. I took some comfort in that. It was alive and buzzing with life. Funny how someone’s phone was the only thing I could relate to in the entire room.

Afterwards I thanked all the doctors and nurses for looking after me. A nurse removed a needle from my hand and I was told I would get a confirmation letter within a few weeks. Eating properly will ensure I don’t ever have go through that operation again.

Only I realise now that my independence and freedom is a temporary facade. It can be removed without notice or care. A person’s health is entirely dependent on benign cells, organs and most importantly luck. I have been fortunate on a number of levels on my journey to adulthood.

My throat is still sore, but my body works and functions as soundly as before. That certainly gave me something to think about, as I walked home unscathed, listening to my stomach silently roar.

Sounds on my pillow

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Dozing on my pillow, I wake up and have thirty minutes to spare. Outside the pneumatic groan of the 394 bus trails past on route towards Hackney Downs. My phone is buzzing with messages and the second alarm is just about to go off.

It’s noisy outside and the estate is getting ready for work.

Housewives are chattering outside my balcony and packs of kids in woolly hats are going to school. Local drivers are in the hunt for a parking spot. Downstairs a coarse man nursing a semi-circle of ill-health is effing and blinding like a complete utter cunt.

My alarm is now vibrating on a cold sheet of cotton.

Surrounded by grim tower blocks and dazzling towers of chrome and glass, I prepare for eight hours of home working. Gone are the crashing bells of Venezia and waking up to water taxis and gondola men whooshing past at dawn.

Ole! Ole! Ole!

Only a few months ago, I lived in that strange dream across the water. This provides some comfort as my body swivels on a chair and switches on a bright electronic light.

Oddo’s Court

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After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting today in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. It was a naked triumph of Venetian greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their payment demands to my boss.

Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. Sitting opposite them at their family table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.

Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to go to Oddo’s: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit, but I like my boss. He’s funny, entertaining and affable hustler with an eye for a new deal.

Once I realised what they were doing and that I was being charged for more than just an electricity bill. I sat silently like my boss’s errant son on remand for a crime I did not commit.

I felt enraged by their shameless greed, but I couldn’t let my boss down. Not in front of him because unlike my outbursts in the past I know the power of words. When to speak and when to say nothing. I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. You play the game.

It’s important to always pick the right words, and I will refuse to shake hands with Oddo when I finally depart my apartment’s front door.

Partly Cloudy

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Rialto Bridge Nightfall

I had my photo taken again this morning. My blurry silhouette is probably filling up pixels on Instagram as I write this story. It happens every day, observing untold love stories walking over Rialto Bridge. Europe’s most famous crossing is forever swelling with tourists wanting their Facebook cover of the Grand Canal.

Every day I cross over Rialto on my way to work. I love watching little men scurry off their boats exchanging ropes for boxes; frantically unpacking wine and chocolates. Occasionally an ambulance dashes underneath like a Bond villain under siege and even the waste disposal boat is fascinating as it churns out steam.

Church bells are crashing around me every hour, but I need to make myself eligible to live in London. Make a leap back towards metropolitan life and nurse glittering bruises on even broader shoulders. I told my new Lolita-esque flatmate before I left that I have a lot of love to give. Isn’t it strange that you travel so far only to daydream about the same thing.

Super selfie love story

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Venice EveningSometimes I feel unworthy of living in Venice. I don’t pay enough attention to details, especially now the numbers are slowing down. Walking back to the hotel with my headphones on, I feel guilty for not listening to bursts of opera or cutlery exchanging hands in restaurants. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat your songs over and over again.

Collectively we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration, an unprecedented boom of global fertility all wanting the same photograph of the Grand Canal. Likewise I’m just a temporary EU migrant passing through the loveliest city in the world. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

Gondola Couple VeniceEveryday I see newly married couples snuggle in beautifully crafted gondolas and it’s very much a case of play, pause and repeat. Same posed smile, loving tilt of the head and furrowed brow, I’ve witnessed a thousand honeymoons upload their story underneath a bridge. Seen through the prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and marvelled over by long distance friends.

Only I see the same love story every single day.

Away from the watery parade, I remove my headphones, the plastic grooves gnashing onto my collar bone and enter an inverted baroque church. Squashed inside the Venetian back streets, I step in a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being militantly secular in my global politics, I took comfort in this beautiful refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I stood in silence amongst elaborately carved tombs and dead wooden benches.

It’s one of the few places in Venice where you can share a private moment, a world without flashing cameras and streamed playlists. Outside the craziness goes on oblivious, and I have to get back to my hotel; shower, get changed and go online again. My smartphone might vibrate with loving messages.

There must be something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

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