“They ran the whole gamut from genuine talents and honest men, to degenerates and hopeless losers who could barely write a post-card – loons and fugitives and dangerous drunks … most of them working just long enough to make the price of a few drinks and a plane ticket.”
– The Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson
Today’s contractors aren’t too dissimilar from the journalists who worked alongside Thompson in the late 1950s. I know because I’m one of those degenerates currently working a project alongside honest men and hopeless losers. We’re an odd assortment ranging from former solicitors, complaint handlers and insurance underwriters, to teachers, drunks and gamblers, all turning our mixed bag of skills to the project at hand.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward industry, where you’re viewed as something between skilled artisan and cannon fodder. If the client or their project managers take a single dislike to you then you’re back on the job market without a second chance. Whispers throughout the office of someone being shown the door before the day is done are not uncommon, and never wrong, and we’re not surprised if we learn so-and-so has packed it all in to fly off to Australia or Thailand.
At any moment the word could come down from the client that the project has run its course and we’re done; clear your desk and don’t come back tomorrow, send us your final invoice and sod off. Or, worse still, yet another bloody extension, yet another truck load of case files to have done before the regulator beats us senseless with a variety of large clubs.
Pitched in with strangers from different backgrounds, tasked with a project that may stretch to infinity or end tomorrow, working 50 to 60 hour weeks in a volatile environment where the man next to you may disappear during lunch, how do we not tear each other to shreds in a paranoid frenzy?
Every Friday lunch time, regardless of how many cases the client needs done by 5pm, or how big a fine the regulator is threatening, we go to the pub. We sit down, we order in pints and burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and whatever else, and for a golden hour we talk, and laugh, and relax. No canteen or café could cut it.
It is our lighthouse on the rocks, guiding us through the turbulent week, giving us a glimmer of hope and passage to the weekend. It is our fortress, a place to gather together the broken pieces of our humanity and return to the fray as better people. It is our nourishment for the body, mind and soul. It is our Friday lunchtime pub.