Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Toad Work

Toads Revisited
by Philip Larkin

Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,

Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses -
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn't suit me.

Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,

Waxed-fleshed out-patients
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets -

All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,

Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,

Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
Nor friends but empty chairs -

No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
What else can I answer,

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

Work is a vastly overrated activity, an unpleasant obligation rendered necessary by the need to earn money. Some people make the fatal error of imbuing their chosen 'career' with life defining qualities before promptly dropping dead on a golf course when they retire. Capitalism, with its inevitable recessions, only makes matters worse by causing much existential angst when work evaporates. Not only is the sense of self worth punctured by the loss of a job, the ensuing financial agony means that you can't even afford to be miserable in comfort.

The only solution to this hideous con trick that I can see is either to make enough money never to have to rely on a salary again, or quit the whole sordid business and live on the range of benefits which so many of the terminally bone idle seem to get by on so happily.

Personally I would be quite content to be a jet setting flaneur with a healthy private income. I'm not so keen on the idea of existing on frozen Iceland pizzas and litre bottles of cheap potent cider, but even that beats the prospect of sitting in an office with people I hate for eight hours a day.

Perhaps I need counselling to reanimate the Protestant work ethic which was briefly mine for ten minutes in 1996. I really could do with some motivational tips as I'm seriously toying with the idea of squandering everything on having a very nice time for the next five years and letting the long term future go hang.

Carpe diem and all that.

11 comments:

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KAZ said...

I agree - that's why I keep well away from golf courses.

Betty said...

I don't understand the kind of people who are over retirement age who have jobs handing out shopping baskets to customers in supermarkets because it gives them a "sense of pride". Eh? The work ethic is vastly overrated.

I see you too have been visited by Luos. He's been flogging me some of his wholesale furnishings. See, I'm not bothered by the recession, am I?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Thanks for the poem - a timely reminder.

I agree with all you say up to a point about the old treadmill, but also take the view that if someone truly hates their job that much, it is likely because they are in the wrong job. My day job is (or rather was until recently) mostly interesting and enjoyable, though of course had elements of dullness and duty too. Because I also write, I had never sought a career as such, lest I had no energy left to write and perform. It worked well for me, until now. It required me to brook no compromise on the personal integrity front and some of what I achieved will still be there in century or so, long after me, which is also nice. Old buildings always reward the people who restore/look after them, even if the management doesn't!

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