Friday, 31 July 2015

A Summer Quite Alone


Don’t be put off by the title—this isn’t a post about breaking up, losing a loved one, or being depressed. It’s about the fact that I’ve decided to live in Norwich, where I study, for the next couple of months on my own before term starts in September. The reasons for this are threefold: I love the city a lot and there’s not much going in rural Ireland, my other option, plus I was paying rent for a lease that began 1st July so decided to get my money’s worth, and finally… I have never had a job before and thought it was high time I got stuck into finding one.

I’ve lived rurally since I was twelve, in a country where for most of that time 1 in 3 people was unemployed, so it was a disheartening thought to even look for work there… and besides, I’m lucky enough that most of the time, I was in a position where it wasn’t essential for me to work. As I’ve always worked very hard at school, and homework and revision as well as other commitments like theatre productions took up most of my time, I didn’t really even notice that I didn’t have the sort of part-time job many of my UK peers would have looked for since the age of sixteen.

By the end of First Year, however, and going on nineteen years of age, it was high time I looked for some employment. This was not only to help me fund my next year at Uni a bit more comfortably, taking at least some of the pressure off my parents—and yes, those of you who think middle-class students don’t need financial aid… it is pressure for the parents, particularly those on pensions as it is. So I made it my goal for the following year that when my dad asked if I needed any money, I’d be able to say—truthfully—that I was fine, I was looking after myself.

Secondly, things on my CV were beginning to look a little bleak. It’s chock-a-block, more so than most people, but I suppose being in films and plays, having an online writing portfolio and running small businesses, however successfully, is not the sort of paid, nine-to-five experience many employers I’ve come into contact with are looking for.  


After countless phonecalls, CV printing and re-printing with the correct phone number, trailing the streets of Norwich, attending recruitment days and interviews, and filling in countless online applications with bizarre personality quizzes only increasing in their intrusiveness, I finally found something that I could do, and that all my experience could actually help me with. Thus, I have found my calling. I am a charity telesales advisor. This was possibly the best interview I have had in my life: my years of improvising, learning scripts, selling products and generally communicating with people of all ages and backgrounds, finally paid off, and I was telephoned about an hour after the interview informing me I could begin training on Monday.

So in the past three weeks, I have gone from never having had a job in my life, to having two—I had my first shift at a local pub last weekend. Since my primary job is as someone a large proportion of people across the UK hate, doing bar work comes as a blessed relief: I am actually selling people things they want to buy, and however many stupid questions I asked or foam I wiped on my skirt throughout the first day, customers were alarmingly patient and helpful…and I survived.  

Training at the call centre went fairly quickly. We built up pitches, reeled off our compliance, practised using the computer system and learned tremendous facts about the charities we work on behalf of. It all came fairly naturally to me during the training, and I got to know some really lovely colleagues who helped me survive the training week.

 

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my first few days on “the floor”. The countless answer-machines, those who sigh and hang up as soon as they hear the word “charity”, those who ask to be called back and don’t pick up the phone, others who demand to know how you got their number and insist they are being “hounded” as they have to deal with at least three calls a year. I’ve had people tell me the charities I try to fundraise for are fighting a losing battle, providing help to those who don’t deserve it, and neglecting those who do. I’ve been told my facts are wrong by people claiming to be experts—only to find that I was right all along, but because I sound young and perhaps female, I am not taken seriously by those with professional careers. However, I’ve found being female does make people slightly less aggressive towards one. So that’s something at least.

I’ve also been brought close to tears by people with stories of losing loved ones to some of the things my charities try to prevent. I’ve been told that I am doing a wonderful job, a hard job, and that even though some people can’t afford to give, they will do the best they can and pray for me. I have laughed through conversations about sponsored swims, vegetable gardens, charity shops and an elderly lady’s warring cats. I have empathised with lonely people who just need a chat about how much we miss our families who live far away. Most importantly I have been afforded a rare glimpse into people’s lives. For every rude, hard-done-by person recipient, for every hang-up or answerphone, it only takes one pleasant conversation to make the day go that much quicker.


So at present, the majority of my time is taken up by speaking into a headset and processing calls, or being told by people that it’s fairly obvious I’ve never worked behind a bar before but that’s totally OK, I’m picking things up very quickly, and that the gin is usually kept on the left shelf… yes, just there. Apart from that, and apart from the occasional visit from my boyfriend and skype conversation with my parents, I have been living quite alone.

Normally I adore being alone, but this time it has taken quite some time to get used to. When exhausted for work sometimes it would be preferable to have someone else make me a cup of tea, listen to my complaints and give me a hug. And yes, sometimes it’s scary being on my own and when the central heating makes an odd noise in the middle of the night, it’s easier to deal with if someone else is there. Especially when where I’m living is so unfamiliar and new.

 

For the most part, however, being alone is as I remember it. Time to read books—whichever books I choose, more on that later, and process my thoughts to their full capacity. Time to get back in touch with friends and family I haven’t spoken to in a while. Time to cook all by myself, exactly what I like to eat. Time to focus on my own body, health and exercise routine without worrying about looking silly in front of other people. And time to make a start on all those things I’ve been planning for ages but have yet to put into action. Yes, I am so looking forward to a full house, to my friends returning as a welcome “swarm” into town for the new semester, to noise and activity everywhere and so many people to catch up with. But for now, I’m enjoying keeping all this to myself.

 

This summer, there will also be plenty of time to get to know Norwich a little better, this city I look at from the bus and smile to myself because I feel so happy and at home here. With this in mind, the next posts I write will probably be centred around enjoying summer in the city and all there is to behold.