Let me introduce myself… these 4 words have been typed into the subject box of approximately 45 emails I have sent to prospective clients over the past few weeks. The design world has been unusually and unbearably quiet since Easter and although I have 22 years experience and have worked with some of the most admired and award winning design studios in London since 1996, it is never a guarantee of work. Such is the life of freelancing. Forever chasing work, forever updating your portfolio and forever competing against others.
It has its ups and it has its downs. When it’s good, you have to turn away work, and can pick the cream of the jobs on offer. You can choose the most fun people to work with and the studios that are the handiest to get to. When things are busy it really is brilliant, but when it’s bad and London gets hit with a mini recession, you take what you can no matter what the job, who the people are and where the studio is. So in recent weeks, as I wait for London to pull its socks up, I have been working down in Bath. Oh poor me, to be forced to go to the West Country and work in the one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I know… things could be worse!!
You might assume there isn’t much difference between a studio in Bath and one in London but you would be incorrect. Firstly let me tell you about the commute. In London, most studios I work in are in Clerkenwell, the City. As the crow flies, Clerkenwell is a mere 6 miles from my house, however, in order to get to work for a 9:30 start, I must leave my house at 8:10am. Yes, that’s right, door to door it takes about an hour and a quarter. It is one tube and only one station change but the carriages are so overcrowded these days, that you have to force yourself to the front of the platform and precariously teeter on the edge as you watch four of five tubes go by, until finally you spot a teeny cavity of space as the doors open and you jam your body into it, albeit under an armpit or wedged against someones front or back bottom!
In Bath, the commute from my sister’s house in Frome to the studio (overlooking Bath Abbey no less) is 35 minutes. It is 15 miles door to door, and involves a drive, a bus and a walk. But let me tell you… instead of seeing the back of someone’s head in excruciating detail, or being smashed into a sweaty back or having someone’s handbag digging into your ribs, I am driving through green rolling hills, narrow hedge-lined lanes, beautiful bath-stone villages and having conversations with strangers. I don’t mean conversations like I would have in London, like, ‘Yes that is my foot you’re standing on, you moron’ or ‘Can I get out please, I’m going to faint or throw-up’… I mean people actually talking to you as they sit on the bus. People saying hello to the bus driver and thanking them as they leave. The first two mornings I was in such shock at this amiable situation that I could hardly utter a word when spoken to, and probably looked a little simple as I noiselessly opened and shut my mouth like a bobbing fish. By the end of week one though, I was on first name terms with the bus driver and knew most of the other passengers well enough to give them a friendly nod. Bizarre.
As well as the commute being utterly stress free, I have also been lucky enough to stay with my sister. I love spending time with her and luckily neither my nephews or my brother-in-law seem to mind this temporary living situation either. What is so strange is going from living on my own in a one-bedroom flat in South London to a household of 2 adults, 2 teenagers, 2 elderly cats and an excitable labrador. I thought it would drive me up the wall coming home to noise and chaos, but I love it. Not only do I get greeted with hugs and kisses when I come through the front door (from the humans as well as the pets) but I get dinner and endless cups of tea! My sister cooks proper meals every single night, and when you live on your own, this is an extraordinary luxury I assure you. Sometimes I come home from work in London and am so knackered I just have a bowl of cereal and a banana! So, good company, affection AND evening meals?? What am I giving back in return I hear you ask? Well I try and be a good kitchen fairy… stacking the dishwasher, doing the washing up and cleaning whenever I can. I buy my sister flowers and my brother-in-law wine, and I try and have scintillating conversations and amuse the house with anecdotes (this last one could wear a bit thin I think!) I already know I am doing certain annoying things… walking into a teenagers room unannounced is never a good idea, talking during a gripping moment in a film warrants irritable sighs from my brother-in-law and trying to chat to my sister while she is in a rush in the morning is something I should keep to a minimum.
The major thing I have had to adjust to is the incredibly bizarre morning schedule of my family. My brother-in-law usually wakes up at 4:45 and leaves the house at 5:30. There are human noises, kitchen noises, dog noises and car noises during this time. Miraculously I have managed to sleep through most of these hideously early awakenings, but as the house returns to quiet, then it is the turn of my sister, who gets up between 6 and 6:30, for a cup of tea and a pee. Footsteps, creaking floorboards, and dog noises begin again. At 7:15 she walks the dog. This is my cue to wake up if I haven’t already been staring at the ceiling since 5:30, wanting the world to end. There is something about drifting in and out of sleep that is utterly exhausting so with earplugs firmly in place, that issue has now been resolved-ish.
I have been back in London this week with a spot of copywriting and a couple of days in a studio and the commute is already hideous. When it’s hot in London the tube is the next step to hell, and I can’t wait to be back in the beautiful lush countryside. Just as I was daydreaming about a freshwater swimming hole my nephew has recently discovered, I got a phone call from Bath asking me if I’m free for work next week. How can I say no??