Home work horror

One of the unhappiest periods of my working life was when I was
given total freedom to do my job from home. I was working for an
independent TV company at the time, making what was intended to be
a trailblazing series on disability. As much of my role at the time
involved making decisions about the structure of the programmes
before editing, my editor said it was a logical move to work from
home. It would reduce the stress of commuting for me and save
travel expenses for him, and there would be more time for both of
us (the fact that we were two strong personalities in a small
office might also have something to do with the decision).

Anyway, why not, I thought. At that time I had been working and
travelling as a blind journalist and broadcaster for nearly 20
years; it must surely be taking its toll on me. Why not spend a
summer making thoughtful summaries of the programmes and features I
was making, interspersed with pleasant little interludes of
coffee-drinking, test match listening, and just the odd bit of
reflective sunbathing – just to aid the thought processes, you

It was a terrifying, and thought-provoking experience. I realised
almost from the very first morning that I was not cut out for this
lifestyle that supposedly was going to be the reality for all of us
before the turn of the 21st century. But as the coffee-drinking,
sunbathing and, in my case especially, the test match listening
seduced me from considered programme organisation, I realised that
I had made a terrible mistake.

I don’t think that this was simply a matter of lack of discipline,
either. I would readily admit to such a lack; my boarding-school
background, where the threat of compulsion was never far away, had
not fitted me for long periods of unsupervised industry. But in
fairness, I think it was much more than that.

Until then, I had loved being at home and had rather prided myself
on not finding it necessary to bring work back to the house. Home
was the place you went when work was over; suddenly finding it was
the place you were in before it had even begun, somehow didn’t seem
right. And the problem that arises when work never starts, is that
it never finishes either. No factory hooter or modern equivalent
releases you from your labour. The way it works is that you find
yourself in a permanent state of guilt, well aware that you haven’t
got far enough with your allotted task, and therefore knowing that
you should get down to it; but idleness is cumulative and

I would sit, thinking about the assignment ahead, wandering round
the house aimlessly, and then jumping every time the phone rang. In
short, I lived in a constant state of fear. It brought it home to
me that work, for me at least, was very much about momentum; and
that the mere acts of getting up, getting ready, and getting out of
the house, was what made it possible for me to work at all. Most
people assumed that as a blind person, the travel involved in
getting to my place of work must be energy-sapping and
debilitating. In fact, it was the very thing that got me going,
started my adrenalin pumping and which gave me the oomph to carry
on all day.

Certainly, another part of the equation is the stimulus of working
with people, brain-storming or just the sense of being part of a
community. All that goes when you are seduced by the joys of
homeworking. I tried it one more time; when I wrote my
autobiography. I used holidays to write it but once again I
discovered that the lone working life was not for me. It’s not an
experiment I intend to try again.

All future books will be written on trains, at work during the
coffee break or surreptitiously during very boring meetings. I
don’t know whether I have revealed a glaring personal inadequacy
but I do get a sense that I am not entirely alone in this
antipathy. Judging by the numbers of people on the train on which I
am writing this article, not that many people have signed up for
homeworking yet either.

Peter White is the BBC’s disability affairs

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