Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Doing stuff for money

I was just looking at the small biography of an author included at the start of one of her novels. It said that before she was a writer she worked as an icecream driver, a funeral parlour assistant, and a riddler (person who turns the champagne bottles so the sediment collects in the neck of the bottle), among other wacky jobs. You have to wonder how long she actually spent at each of these jobs just to list them on her quirky c.v.

I’ve been doing stuff for money for a long time now. When I was a child I used to make odourless liquids using food colouring and crushed ants, and I'd bottle these laboratory blues and raging reds, label them "perfume", and sell them to kindly neighbours.

My first real paying job was as a sales assistant in a lollipop shop, at the age of 14 and nine months, the legal age for children to work in Australia. I was like a kid in a candy store. Customers would ask where they could find candy dentures, liquorice bullets and king size jelly cobras and I’d just stand there, unable to speak, my voice blocked from exiting my mouth by a pile-up of jelly beans. Every Thursday night and Saturday morning I ate away my working hours. As well as wearing a bright yellow cap, red shorts and a smile, I also had a sugar lump belly from too many sweets. Six months later I swapped this job for bookselling in the hope of fattening my brain with reading.

One of the book shops I worked in was located in a decrepit shopping centre in a suburb of Sydney where people have long-forgotten how to read. Julie, who looked after the shop during the weekdays, spent her time in the back room doing yoga or chatting to friends on the phone while little kids ate the bestsellers and stray dogs dribbled over the cookbooks. But this neglected book shop was a dusty paradise for me. Being on the virgo cusp I’ve always had a love of organising. Every Thursday night I came in to that shop and arranged, inventorised and alphabetised everything. I even lined up the cup o noodles Julie kept behind the counter in alphabetical order by flavour (beef before chicken etc).

Shelving books in a library was equally fulfilling. I find that humdrum jobs, if done in moderation, can in fact unleash a herd of creative thoughts and send them stampeding in to my writing.

But I lasted one night as a pizza delivery driver. I was the only girl in the parlour. I sat around watching telly in a room full of boys who smelled like pepperoni and tickled me because I was a girl, waiting for my turn to hit the road. Fast Craig whisked in and out, taking all the ready to go pizzas and boasting about how many tips he got from big-breasted waif girls (probably pizza loving old ladies). You were paid according to how many pizzas you delivered but because of Fast Craig (and because I got lost en route to my first customer) I only delivered one pizza. One pizza minus deduction from my pay of the cost of one bottle of coke which exploded in the customer’s face because I accidently dropped it on the ground, doesn't equal a whole lot of dough.

When I moved to London it was a bit like starting again, returning to these odd jobs of my adolescence and early adulthood. I’ve posted a couple of posts about some of my early London jobs below.