Yes, I am of those weirdos who work nights. It’s an odd life, and, fittingly, we’re an odd bunch. Indeed, a recent Giles Coren column in The Times read: “Whether you’re a lottery winner or miserable night-shift worker, riches don’t mend unhappy marriages.” So we’re the polar opposite of people living the dream – even the willfully unemployed have a better social standing. As I work in PR/admin, I haven’t even got the saving grace of working for any real societal good either, like nurses, firemen or even cabbies (just think how much more sick there would be on the streets on Friday and Saturday night if the act didn’t cost £50 a pop).
And to add to that, working nights has been linked to, variously, altered levels of melatonin, poor diet, decreased safety at work, social isolation, cardiovascular problems, restlessness, tiredness (obviously), decreased attention span, disruption of the metabolic process, and higher chances of heart attack, stroke and (twice as likely) breast cancer. It even has a name. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders not only exists but has clubbed the aforementioned issues together under the moniker ‘shift-work sleep disorder’ (SWSD). We’re basically modern-day lepers.
I jest – partly. For I get every other week completely off, which acts as a nice compensation, and my job is alright and by no means as bad if I fuck up due to tiredness as, say, a midwife working nights (respect to them and firefigthers, police officers etc who work nights btw).
But given the reputation of nights – and the fact night work is on the rise (blame George Osborne, unscrupulous employers, globalisation, modern culture or other as you will), a rise likely accelerated with the forthcoming 24-hour tube – I thought I’d give some personal plus points of working nights, and present an Attenborough-esque glance into my – our – weird world.
(N.B. So the following makes sense – I work every other Monday up to and including Sunday, 10:15pm to 6:15am, or a bit later, and when working I sleep soon after I get back, usually 7:30 to 9am.)
I can do shit in the day
All those little tasks that go on in hours when normal people are working – like going to the dentist, picking up your repaired phone, having to be in to let the electrician/plumber/young ‘gardener’ in – you can schedule them basically anytime Monday to Friday 9 to 5, knowing you’ll be free (albeit possibly having to get up ‘early’ then go back to bed). A couple of my colleagues even manage nights with their families. Not the most exciting benefit, granted, but practical.
Consider for a moment that agony, the exquisite pain upon hearing your alarm, that scourge of modern society, on a Monday morning. And just think, I never, ever, have to experience that in my current job. Nor indeed on any day of the week (unless for some daytime engagement or tactical nap). I have experienced this – at school, where I did a paperround, and in working life – and I know the pain. So I still consider a major novelty being able to get up and 1pm on a Wednesday, working or not, and, depending how I feel, either mess around in bed checking emails, Facebook and whatever rubbish the interweb has thrown up that day, or look at the time and think aaahh, fuck that, I’m going back to sleep.
…And in summer it’s actually quite nice to do this
There aren’t many things that feel right about working nights, but casually getting up, via a series of (allowed) snoozes, with the sun streaming through the window, is one of them. I usually get up naturally earlier too, which means I can enjoy the best of the day – go for a run, sunbathe, see some sights – while everyone else is toiling away on a computer in an office before cramming into a sweltering tube train. One doesn’t have to feel guilty about watching the Ashes or Wimbledon either. Granted, the winter, when once or twice I have pretty much slept through all of the day’s daylight, is not so nice. But I remember after playing tennis with a mate at university, him getting sentimental for student life a few weeks before finishing, saying “when else will we be able to play tennis at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, unless we are very successful or very unsuccessful?” The strange untruth of it sometimes comes to mind when I’m sipping a beer on a sunny summer weekday afternoon in my club’s beer garden having just played a couple of sets. And let me tell you, it feels good.
‘Ha, I’m going home to sleep!’
It’s very petty, but I do enjoy the schadenfreude of leaving work to see all the early City workers just off the Drain, at Bank, trudging up the walkway to fuck around with derivatives or whatever it is they do. All while I can think of catching some precious zzzzzzzs. Yes, in that time they will be earning far more $$$$$$s than me, but for what I do, I could be paid worse.
My work’s Friday 5 o’clock drinks are Monday 6:30….am. Fortunately, there is provision for this – the Market Porter, by Borough Market, where me and colleagues sometimes go, along with workers from our rival company occasionally. There’s something so wrong yet so right about a pint at such time. And there’s a small but fascinating array of species in the pub at at 7 o’clock on Monday – us probably among them. You really should try it (seriously, don’t). Once we met a chef who had lost all his mates on a work xmas do, and thought, at about 6am, ah, Borough Market will be open and they do amazing sausages. So he popped in for a pint, very pleased with his sausages, before wending his inebriated way back to Orpington, or some other suburban mediocrity. If you make a morning of it, it’s also quite amusing to see the looks from all the City workers as they, presumably, try to work out what fresh hell allowed their hard-earned tax money to fund such Jeremy Kyle-types to get pissed on a Monday morning.
And last but certainly not least, as compensation for not being out if I’m working on a Friday or Saturday, the guilty pleasure of the work kebab (occasional, I hasten to add), which manages to taste like one of the greatest and worst things in life simultaneously.