A question which every seasonnaire must have heard at least once. Once a week, that is. I’ve been tempted to tell people that I run gangs of trafficked under-age communist bloc prostitutes in all the major European capitals, but I never quite got round to it. The next remark (which possibly I would not have been subjected to had I explained about the people-trafficking), would be something along the lines of ‘I wish I could do what you do’. No you don’t, because you’d have to give up your comfy house, living wage and predictable daily routine for a life of impoverishment and uncertainty, and you don’t dare. Now, go back to the bar and keep the managers off my back by buying more beer.
So what do we all do in the off season? I once spent several months temping in the plastic surgery department of an NHS/MoD hospital doing what was alleged to be the work of two admin assistants, my oppo being off with a ‘bad back’ for the bulk of the summer. Most of the job entailed tootling round the building looking for patient casenotes, which were never where the database thought they were. Accepted procedure was to stick my head round the door of the most likely department and ask could they spare a second to see if they had patient X’s file. Admin assistant would then consult the database and inform me that said file was tracked to plastic surgery, at which juncture I would point out that were it actually lurking in our filing cabinet I would hardly be wasting my time asking about it in orthopaedics, would I? I did this on behalf of the two of us for about six weeks and still got everything done, including the backlog of filing and the Telegraph’s crossword. When my lead-swinging colleague eventually decided to put in an appearance I had to sign up for a bunch of unnecessary database training sessions just for something to do. There you go, now you know why you’re all in hock up to your eyeballs and about to be used as a sex toy by the IMF and the World Bank.
I landed the hospital job via an agency, and did it for two summers on the trot. Temping agencies are the seasonnaire’s friend, as they cut out all the pain of having to pretend to some lifetime commuter that you really are inspired by the idea of frozen food retail/IT helpline work/call centre customer ‘service’ and of course you aren’t going to disappear the minute it starts snowing again, why ever would you do a thing like that?
Winter temping is marginally easier to get, especially in retail. In between summer seasons I once did six weeks Christmas cover on Marks and Spencer’s customer service desk, which was quite fascinating. There are women out there who use their bedrooms as an M&S fitting room. They buy everything they might possibly want, try it all on at home and then return the rejects a week later for a refund, usually with a still-packaged man’s shirt which they are bringing back because husband bought it and it’s the wrong collar size. Really chaps, how can you not know what size your own shirts are? Get a grip.
One thing these uber-organised women don’t do is read washing instructions. I washed it by hand, they tell you in a martyred fashion, handing over some unrecognisably distorted garment. Well, that would explain it, madam, since the label clearly says machine wash only. Or they buy something expensive, wear it for some occasion or other and then try to return it. I took the labels off it but I’ve got them here look, I haven’t worn it, they say. That’s right, we sold it to you with a bus ticket to Corstorphine in the pocket. Pull the other one.
The alternative to minimum wage interseason temping in Blighty is some kind of summer tour operator work, usually fraction-of-minimum-wage temping somewhere sunny, which brings me to the joys of campsite couriering.
Family camping, as anyone knows who has merely watched it, is more of a military operation than a holiday. People turn up in huge 4×4 pantechnicons towing monster trailers and spend all day putting up an enormous multi-bedroomed marquee in the rain while three children and a dog get in the way and spread mud all over the sleeping bags. So it’s hardly surprising that rolling up on site to find that someone has already put your tent up for you is a popular option.
The role of the campsite courier in this is mainly to clean and prep accommodation after each departure, (hardly taxing, and if you’re really lucky your outgoing guests will leave you their spare olive oil and washing up liquid – I didn’t have to buy washing up liquid for a year), tell people about the weather and indulge in random chitchat while being plied with wine. The downside is that you are required to wear some ridiculously loud uniform (bright orange with the inestimable Canvas Holidays, proud purveyors of the biggest and best tents in the business) designed for people working on beach sites in the south of France and therefore about as practical as a lace negligee in the Alps in May when we still get frost overnight.
But leaving aside the unfortunate uniform malfunction, couriering with Canvas was by far the best of the interseason is-it-snowing-yet options. As soon as they get round to the idea of paying their staff in France rather than sticking to the usual tour op modus operandi of paying tuppence a week into a UK account we shall be first in the queue for an orange T-shirt and a cleaning bucket.