The back of that truck
In my 36 years on this earth I have had numerous jobs. Since my first paper-round at aged 11, I have experienced earning money in some varied and interesting means. I’ve approached each role with the same attitude, work hard and go over and above what is required of me.
From the chicken farm to MacDonalds, vacuum cleaner salesman to secondary teacher, I’ve never once been sacked from a job, which I’m very proud of to this day.
Whilst still at university, I worked every summer putting up marquees for one of the largest operators in the UK. The internet was still very much in its’ infancy, but I’d found the job on www.summerjobsforstudents.com. The pay was pretty awful (£4.50 an hour), but the long hours and continual opportunities to work overtime meant that I was earning more than I’d ever earned before.
The job involved travelling around the country with a team of men from all over the world labouring outside lifting heavy aluminium frames, sledge-hammering three-foot stakes into the ground, and manoeuvring large sheets of plastic as roofs or sidewalls. I met people from all around the world, many of which were on a gap year before beginning university, others were earning pounds to send home to create a different life for their loved ones. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every minute. We visited many different places throughout the UK, some of which I would never have had the opportunity to visit had I not taken the job.
There were however downsides, long hours, unpredictable and often terrible weather conditions (great British summer!), being away from family and friends for extended periods, lack of routine (although I think this could be a benefit), questionable living conditions (more of that below), and physically very demanding.
This experience has taught me several things. Firstly, that I never wanted to put up marquees for the rest of my life. The pay was terrible, outside of spending time with colleagues, it was extremely antisocial, and it was back-breaking labour. Secondly, I knew that I would always have work if I wanted it over the summer months. I was always offered full-time positions with the company which I always turned down because I wanted to travel. The job was always a means to an end, to earn and save money to spend having fun overseas.
Lastly, and I think most importantly, I experienced living in pretty terrible conditions. For the majority of the summer I was crammed into the back of a truck (affectionately known as passion wagons) with five other men. There were six bunks with red plastic-covered mattresses. At the front of the wagon was a small sink, cooker, fridge and small work surface. Occasionally we’d be put up in mobile living quarters, which were like storage containers with beds. This was luxurious compared with the wagons.
Living in such conditions demanded a great deal of discipline, compromise and understanding. At the end of each season I would relish the thought of going back to my dingy student squats which were positively salubrious in comparison to my summer digs.
I’ve been told on many occasions that I unknowingly exhibit traits of a stoic. One of the most famous stoics, Seneca, wrote about frequently practicing living well beneath your means, eating only the simplest of foods and wearing only the cheapest of clothes.
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” Seneca
I can’t help think that my time working on the marquees and living in the passion wagon was testament to this ethos, as are my forays into the mountains and wild places, living simply, frugally and with only basic means of survival. The luxuries (water/hot water from a tap, restaurant meals, hot showers, personal space) I then experience upon re-entering my normal life are accentuated and I can further appreciate the daily privileges I have.