Chapter 29 – Saab 93 Convertible

You want to laugh out loud when you see the traffic jam stretching ahead for miles, yessss, you think, metaphorically punching your arms in the air,a result, with any luck you will be stuck here for hours.
All around you other drivers sit hunched over their steering wheels, desperately trying to make forward progress, mobile phones clamped to ears as they attempt to re-arrange their day,faces tense, tight, but you are different, you lean backwards, slip off your shoes and then stretch luxuriously and then you carefully, deliberately switch off both the phone the radio and the I-Pad and you sit back and fall into this stolen moment, this almost silence
Of course, its not really silent, the middle of a huge traffic jam is as noisy as it gets, the sound of a thousand engines all in neutral, all going nowhere, the constant rings, beeps, chirps of mobile devices and the snippets of music, talk shows, current affairs floating over the stalled movement machine.

You cast an almost professional eye over the jam, you have become a cognoscenti of queses, a reader of random traffic torpor and you estimate this one to be worth at least 30 minutes, maybe even more of the next exit has chugged to a halt too.

Thirty minutes, half an hour, a significant block of time to be off message, under the radar and yes of course you could use the time to make calls,send e-mails, read reports, be productive, but you have made a vow to yourself, that this year you will start stealing from the corporate world where you have spent your working life.

Not money, not stuff, not even ideas or insider knowledge, you are stealing time, taking back, one minute at a time, to try and reclaim all the hours, days , months that they have taken from you in twenty five years of work.

The rules are simple,in any situation possible, without risk of censure or causing trouble to colleagues, you will do as little as is possible and ideally nothing at all – it is your way of trying to reclaim your life.

It failure
Delayed flights
Snow on the track
Meetings in which colleagues fail to attend

All of these are fertile ground for your re-appropriation of time, but it’s traffic jams that have been the most useful.

You can, quite legitimately, you feel, explain that you were unable to make calls, send mail, pull together a PowerPoint as the traffic was so stop start that it needed your full attention and so far, no-one has questioned this or wondered why you seems to meet such terrible traffic so very often.

You have calculated how much of your life has been wasted, stolen by the world of work

I’ve been thinking recently about how short life is and, on average, how much of it we spend working. I decided to do some calculations and see exactly how our time is used. If we consider that an average working week is 40 hours then that equates to 1,960 hours per year once annual holidays are deducted. That’s 22.4% of our lives, not including any overtime that we may be required to complete.

I took it a step further because I was intrigued how many hours that we spend working in an average lifetime. This is where things really add up. Allowing for school and tertiary education, let’s assume that the average person begins their working life at age 21 and retires at 65. That’s a career that spans 44 years. If we use the same 40-hour working week we arrive at a figure of 91,250 hours!

That’s a huge amount of time and accordingly it’s a huge proportion of our lives that is consumed in this way. The average human life expectancy in developed countries is 78 years, which means that we sleep for about 205, 000 hours. All our other chores and tasks have to be done in the remaining time which means that there’s often very little time left for relaxation and leisure.

and have decided on a number of refinements to help you calculate exactly how many hours you will need to re-claim.

You admit that some elements of work have been worthwhile, even interesting or at least useful to others if not to yourself, so you have re-thought the original maths. The world of work owes you, you have decided, 30% of your work life back, that’s for the pointless training seminars, the sales meetings, the just ironing out the bugs in the new software weeks and months.They owe you time for making you write reports on subject so obscure that you began to suspect that you had fallen into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Of course some of the time stolen from from you is harder to calculate, is more than the actual hours, minutes and days, carries a heavier tariff. So, the two days spent at a pointless conference in Vancouver which cost your presence at the birth of your second daughter will need at least a month of re-claimed time, the meeting that ran endlessly over and kept you in an airless windowless room while your mother fought and lost her own battle with airlessness, well, you haven’t yet calculated that payback rate, but you know it will be high.

Today’s’ traffic jam is for all the missed assemblies, all the lost chances to see your son, your daughter on a wobbly primary school stage. Your phone rings and you carefully ignore it.

There are of course additional rules, conditions that you have imposed upon yourself. The delays must be genuine, you cannot invent over turned lorries on the M25, trains de-railed in ice and snow, fog bound panes at Gatwick.
You must occupy the moral high ground even as you steal back the fragments of your life.

Regretfully, you see that the traffic is moving and you look at your watch, twenty two minutes, a successful, worthwhile delay.

You are reconciled to giving the rest of the day, the working hours, back to the world of business, but then, only twenty minutes later, fortune smiles on you.
A single lane road, far too twisty to even consider overtaking and oh joy, you are forced to drive at less than twenty miles an hour, a large white horse lorry, followed closely by a filthy Suzuki Jimny. The lorry is being driven carefully, slowly, but the Suzuki is far more erratic, driven as if the driver is paying not enough attention to the road.

You sit back, consult your watch again, if all goes well, you may be able to reclaim a whole hour today.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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