I’m not sitting here doing absolutely nothing, even if that’s how it looks. I’m drinking coffee, listening to the mimosa trees buzz with bees, and watching the ants.
Our garden seems to be home to millions of them every year. Most people count them as a pest – as I’m sure they are – but they make fascinating viewing. A two-lane ant highway is currently marching resolutely across the back terrace, the outbound ones empty, those returning each carrying a seed, a husk, or a piece of twig. I’m sure none of them know why they’re doing it, but they do it just the same. I love work – as the saying goes – I could watch it all day.
I’ve recently taken up a little online project – just for interest, not for income – that’s put me back into ant mode for a while, too. I didn’t think that it would; technical blog posts? I can knock one of those out in ten minutes, surely? Yes, I probably can, it’s just hard to pin down which ten minutes those were among the last two hours of rebooting, clearing caches, finding a working USB lead, letting the dog out, trying to remember passwords, throwing away non-working biros, letting the dog back in, answering the phone to persistent Vodafone salesmen, emptying spam folders and all the rest.
I was once a chap who ‘knew about computers’, you see, but that one-size-fits-all occupation has long since become impossible. These days I have to pick out a few tasty-looking fruits to concentrate on in the ever-growing forest of internet programming and web design, where once I knew the forest end to end. So that’s what I’ve done. The last straw, that sent me out here to gaze at Vespoidea for a while, was getting stuck designing a fictitious online registration form to use in a tutorial piece.
It’s proving tricky. Gender, to begin with, once upon a time used to be easy. Now, it seems, there are as many options and submenus as there are in setting up a Windows share – and just as much chance of ending up with nobody talking to you. So I decided, for the purposes of the example, that I could exclude that field and thus skip those dangerous grounds for the calmer pastures of Occupation.
And now I’m stuck again.
Long ago when I was a youngster (yes, yes, and horses were still fish, I know) I seem to recall that the available occupation options among adults were working, unemployed, housewife or retired. Everyone I had ever met fitted into one of these slots, or was dead. But now I’m not so sure. The forest has spread.
Modern life has thrown up all sorts of possibilities outside of the corporate yoke. In addition to those who are filthy rich, there are people who don’t work because they care for others, those building a business which doesn’t yet pay them (and maybe never will), some taking internships in the vague hope of future employment, yet more off to gain experience abroad. There are hard-working but as yet unpublished authors, unexhibited artists and unpatented inventors. Here in Spain, a depressing number work on long after their crippled employer has stopped paying them, in the vain hope of some financial miracle saving their jobs. What selection would they choose to make from my humble little pull-down menu?
And what about a loafer like me who’s emigrated to the rural wilds of a foreign land? I suppose I’m unemployed, but that has a subtle and unpleasant overtone of “can’t get work in his field”, which hopefully is not true. Resting? That’s the province of the Thespian, and trust me, that is so not me. Early retired? That sort of implies I’ll never work again, or that I’m loaded. The former may or may not be true, the latter hilariously off the mark. What, then, is the right term to use for the gainfully self-unemployed? I worked hard for many a year, until my fag-packet maths suggested I’d done enough to carry on a modest existence without working too hard or seeking a handout. After a long innings, I wasn’t dismissed; I suppose I declared.
So maybe I’ll throw in the towel with Occupation, too. After all, this form is just a tutorial example. I’m sure nobody will mind if I skip those fields altogether and move on instead to questions that are more clear cut and uncontentious, like ethnic background, social status or religious leanings.
I imagine the ants will still be here, working, when I get back. I don’t think I’ll be long.