Saturday, November 26, 2011

'tis (almost) the season to be jolly...

Freelancers, teleworkers and remote employees; part-time contracts, multiple employers and, of course, the global financial climate: just some of the long list of factors that have conspired to create a very different image for the World of Work (or lack thereof) in general. But amidst the flurry of changes, one tradition has endured against all odds: the Christmas office party, it seems, refuses to die a dignified death.

At their worst (or best, depending on your point of view), the COP is an infamous breeding ground for bad behaviour. Got an urge to make a pass at a co-worker, tell your boss what a tosser he/she is or spill the beans on an inappropriate crush/liaison? After three pints of lukewarm wine-in-a-box glugged in an awkward environment, your moment has arrived. At their best (or worst, ditto previous parenthesis), the COP exists to remind us that the season of goodwill to all men (yup, even those you secretly despise) is upon us once again, in which case you put a bit of glitter in your hair, dump a fiver’s worth of destined-for-the-charity-shop novelty gift in the secret santa sack and leave before the inevitable chaos sets in; whichever way you look at it, the scene is set for yet another rerun of a farcical sitcom wearied by endless multi-media/gossip mill analysis every December. But those armchair social commentators should make hay while the winter sun shines; as the 9-to-5, Mon-Fri schedule is fast becoming obsolete, this year’s corporate Christmas shebang might well be the last.

Like most of my immediate contemporaries, I’m a self-employed freelancer who spends the vast majority of my working hours glued to a keyboard in front of a computer screen in the corner of my living room at home; as a result, the terms ‘team building exercise’, ‘lunch hour’, ‘contract of employment’, ‘paid annual leave’ and ‘appraisal’ just aren’t in my working life lexicon - and neither are seasonal team building get-togethers. So for me, any COP I’m invited to is a freelance contract too, either making it a far more enjoyable proposition than it might be for those who are obligated to attend...or making me feel like a complete outsider if I do. But let’s spare a thought for the record-breaking 56% of workers in ‘traditional’ employment that have undertaken countless hours of unpaid overtime this year in an attempt to guarantee job security (source: YouGov), and the millions more who have accepted part-time/job share agreements in order to avoid total redundancy. Millions more again, meanwhile, have embarked on short-term contracts, work three part-time jobs or have no option but to accept ‘total job insecurity’ as an unwritten part of any contract they’re lucky enough to have, while a whole raft of sad souls know already that they’re facing redundancy in 2012. Given such circumstances, is it really possible to party like there’s no appointment at the Job Centre waiting in January’s cruel wings... and should the office really be blowing budgets that could be put to much better use (for example, paying those unpaid overtimers, perhaps?) on flaccid mini-sausages and cheap Chardonnay? The ghost of Christmas future predicts that the office mum might not be visiting Iceland at all next year.

But perhaps Scrooge isn’t ready to gatecrash yet another Great British Tradition just yet. As long as there are inappropriate liaisons to be had, cleavages to be photocopied, grievances to air and bitter sorrows that need to be drowned, the COP will live on. As for me, I’ll be decorating my monitor with tinsel, putting a plate of cold mini-quiches on my desk and raising a plastic beaker of warm wine to myself on the last working day of December; here’s hoping I behave myself - after all, I’ve got a great boss.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Adam and Me

Summer 1979: John Wayne dies, McDonalds sell their first Happy Meal in the UK and a song about rabbits dying of myxamotoses dominates the airwaves. Meanwhile, an exhilaratingly gaudy, tastefully vulgar, brazenly flamboyant role model was about to change my life forever.

To a geeky, plump kid completely devoid of any of the qualities that offer membership to a network of peer support, Adam Ant symbolised escapism in the true sense of the word. As the tumultuous, hormonal storms of adolescence blighted my path across the bridge between childhood and the brave new world beyond, he literally represented the new royal family and wild nobility of which he sang. More accessible than David Bowie, not as whimsical as Marc Bolan and infinitely less challenging than the New York Dolls, here at last was a pinup that I could directly relate to.

At the very start, Adam and the Ants were more punk than pantomime in their inspirations, as their debut album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (1979) - a jagged, wiry collection of angry, angst-ridden nursery rhymes set against a raw, discomfiting backdrop of mismatched beats - will attest to. Ugly, rough and deliberately stupid, punk was never really my thing, but in Adam, I saw a diamond sparkling in the rough. That diamond eventually attracted the attention of the now-legendary impresario (and arch manipulator) Malcolm McLaren, who introduced the Ants to the Burundi drums of Africa: qua qua diddly qua qua! A whole new musical concept was born. At around the same time, clothes designer (and Malc’s then-beloved) Vivienne Westwood gave Adam a brand new dressing up box to plunder. Having already made her mark by styling the Sex Pistols (as Dolly Parton once said, “looking cheap ain’t that cheap”), Vivienne dragged Adam out of bondage and into a wardrobe of lavish costumes that blended 18th century fop regalia with North American Indian and pirate-inspired flourishes; already a massive fan of the original romantics (I’m talking Shelley, Keats and Coleridge here), that was a look that I could understand. It was also a look that would eventually define the burgeoning New Romantic movement, but while bands such as Visage, Culture Club and Spandau Ballet were starting to make their mark on the independent charts by offering a faux-glamorous, studiously capricious alternative to the aggressive, spiteful brutality of punk, the Ants remained to exist in an alternative microclimate of their own; having developed into a restless, unruly misfit of a 16 year old, escaping my own confusing, uncomfortable nest to hitch a ride on the tail of Adam’s ascending star made perfect sense. 

On May 24 1980, I paid a sweet transvestite a fiver to help me bunk on a fan club coach trip to Manchester to see my hero strut his stuff. The following day, I was one of around 20 adamant Adam fans to hide in various loos of a British Rail train to Birmingham before we crawled through the badly-lit service corridors backstage at the Top Rank club to be in his company yet again. Acknowledging that a dodgy, perilous precedent was being set, my dad - not known for his skills as a parental outlaw - forbade me from following the rest of the tour. And so it came to pass that, when a fleet of police vans arrived at the Sheffield gig a few days later (hitchhiked; made it!), I was convinced that they’d come for me - as it turned out, they hadn’t (my dad had, erm, other things to think about by that time), but the boys in blue still had the good grace - or, perhaps, the sense of humour? - to escort me safely home after the gig had ended. Six months later, I didn’t have to make such difficult travel arrangements to meet Adam again (which is just as well; frills, flounces, ruffles, corsets, fishnets, thigh boots and fake beauty spots don’t do public transport, with or without a ticket). The Ants Invasion tour invaded my home town in November; by that time, it was a case of stand and deliver! The Kings of the Wild Frontier had gone mainstream, and I was forced to share my personal Prince Charming with the world. But hey, I could handle it; I was, by this time, not-so-sweet sixteen...but I still hadn’t been kissed, not by Adam or anybody else.

Despite an infatuation that drove me to beg, steal or borrow my way into Adam’s limelight, it wasn’t lust that motivated my ‘go get him’ thrust. While he was indeed indisputably beautiful, Adam represented something far more significant than the possibility of a tumble in the New Romantic heyday. He was the ultimate fabulous Frankenstein: androgynous angel, smutty slut and camp pantomime dame in equal measure - a heady cocktail indeed. But what girl wants to smudge their makeup on a boy prettier than herself? And anyway, seedy sex was, to me at least, a distinctly underclass pastime; if my beau couldn’t quote Byron, he wasn’t worth the price of a Red Witch (the de rigeur New Romantic cocktail of choice). Goody two shoes? In one way, yes. But despite such a flimsily-constructed, pseudo-aspirational, absurdly snooty philosophy,  the surprisingly straight-laced ethos at the heart of a movement that was fast becoming a fully-formed subculture (and one which I, at last, was on the guest list for) gave me the confidence to believe that, despite my limitations, I could be whatever wonderful creature I chose to turn myself into without wasting my time and efforts on having my already confused, fragile ego battered by broken promises made by dull inadequates. For any teenage girl (and indeed, adult woman), that’s not a bad principle to uphold...and it was Adam who waved that magic wand of enlightenment over my carefully coiffeured, jet black pompadour wig.

Decades have passed since Stuart Goddard (oh come on, you didn’t think he was really called Adam Ant, did you?) and I grew up and grew apart, but he never quite left my field of vision for good. Like many of his peers, he’s endured an eclectic career mapped out by a turbulent journey across many peaks and troughs. But at the very start of that epic adventure, Adam Ant was the icon that this former Cinderella used as a blueprint to turn herself into the somebody else that she eventually became. Uniquely captivating, brazenly audacious and apparently totally unafraid of ridicule, he’ll always be Prince Charming to me.