We're on a road to nowhere,
Come on inside.
Taking a ride to nowhere,
We'll take that ride.
Talking Heads 1985
Work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat... Round we go: Work, sleep, eat, work, sleep,
eat, work, sleep, eat....round we go.
Actually, it must have started with Eat. A fairly solid nine months of it – let's
be honest, with perhaps a bit of dozing thrown in for good measure. Certainly nothing,
that with any real conviction could be described as work. Ultimately of course, Sleep's
gonna win out – the sleep eternal, that one we spend our entire lives inching towards.
If you're really lucky there might be a period somewhere in the middle where Work
holds the upper hand – if only by just enough to ensure that you can continue to
Eat without having to worry about resorting to Sleep too early.... but essentially
– that's it: Work, sleep, eat. On we go... step by step... mile by mile... one foot
in front of the other... no looking back... Unless...
“What's that? A tour, you say? When? OK. What's the money like? It's what? Oh – it's
like a system whereby you exchange tokens with a nominal value for goods that you
need – Oh well, fair enough. Yes – we have something rather similar where I'm from
The Freelancer. One more to add to that list of comic book superheroes with a special
ability to surpass them all. An ability that protects them from the harsh realities
of the world. You can keep your x-ray vision, your mind reading, your ability to
fly. Not to be used lightly, the short term physical drain is considerable but at
the merest mention of the word “tour” the Freelancer can feel the strength gathering
until that ability is ready to be unleashed upon the world: the ability to regress
to the cradle. Somewhere along the way the knowledge is acquired that the word “tour”
is roughly defined by the words “absolved of responsibility”... and you're off.
On Tour you follow a very different road, one without care. Without the signposts
of practical concerns. Hotel rooms where you leave the heating on all day – just
because you can. Your family and your world are those on the bus around you. Everywhere
else is nowhere.
Most importantly however, one must avoid falling into the trap of setting “Touring
to On” too soon. A mistake I only needed to make once. Struggling desperately from
freelance date to freelance date the Tour represented an oasis of calm and tranquillity
in the midst of a period of (in retrospect) astonishing self governance and maturity.
Only one task remained: get to Stansted for 8 a.m. Unfortunately my multiple personalities,
in particular Freelance man and Sensible man, were not at that time on speaking terms
with one another and had neglected to draw the (one might presume obvious) conclusion
that the principal reason one's presence is required at Stansted is to catch a plane.
Imagine my delight, my triumph, my relief to step through those sliding doors at
7:59 stroll confidently up to the tour manager and state in a bold clear voice: “I'm
just going home to get my passport.” Hope remained that I may yet sneak through the
departure gate with moments to spare and so my colleagues and my luggage went on
ahead. Ironically the airlines chose that moment to have a period of ruthless efficiency
and punctuality and so I was forced to accept the inevitable. Some while later after
hitting the bar my head hit the bar. The next available flight was not for some four
hours and time had to be passed. Finally I resumed my journey with nothing but beery
breath and a copy of the Times with which to beat back those who might wish me ill
as I made my lonely way across Europe.
Ultimately I was reunited with my colleagues, or at least as many bits of my colleagues
as they themselves had managed to maintain in vague working order. Clearly they had
spent the hours of our separation sympathising with my plight the only way they knew
how and my prodigal return was celebrated in similar fashion. By show time many were
running on their last reserves of energy. All remaining concentration was focused
on the more basic motor functions: walking; breathing; that kinda thing. Instruments
clutched feverishly to bosom or slumped over according to preference, any playing
that took place did so courtesy of muscle memory and pure instinct. The only redeeming
feature of the scene was that Andrea Bocelli could not see the state his orchestra
was in as he took to the stage – a case of the blind leading the blind drunk.
Of course it would be misguided in the extreme to imagine that the freelance lifestyle
is simply one long round of drunken carousing.The freelancer is no stranger to fear,
doubt and uncertainty and because of the frequent childlike regression is singularly
ill-equipped to deal with any of them. After weeks on tour under the gentle guidance
of a tour manager offering instruction one action at a time - the bus leaves at eleven;
the show starts at half seven; breakfast is at eight; put the spoon in your mouth;
put the traffic cone down - the requirement, imposed on you by reality, of standing
on your own two feet comes as something of a shock. I once returned home after six
weeks of extensive Special Ability exercising. Having snatched a quick fifteen hour
nap I was informed by my flatmate that food was required. I was in no state to argue
with his assessment and so it was that minutes later I was standing in the supermarket.
And some thirty minutes later I was found standing exactly where he had left me with
a look of quiet bemusement and an empty trolley. Faced with making my first truly
independent decision for weeks I was utterly defeated and would spend the ensuing
days wondering why towels I had thrown on the bathroom floor were still there when
I returned hours later and how I was expected to use the toilet when no one had folded
the end of the roll into a little “V”.
In time, the freelancer readjusts, as they must. Yet they remain something of an
exotic mystery to society at large. It's a “lifestyle choice”, they explain, though
personally I don't remember having laid down at the age of twelve any hard and fast
ambitions that I wanted to spend the first five years after graduation existing largely
on hope, baked beans and any leftovers that I might scavenge from a summer's evening
But there's no need for me to try to explain when the words of the heir to an exceedingly
fine cake empire put it so much better. After early aspirations towards writing and
the theatre foundered he returned to the family business but not before he had given
these words to the world:
If you can sustain a career when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all work forsakes you,
But make allowance for its paucity too;
If you can wait (often at table to make ends meet) and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating
And yet don't look too poor, nor talk too needy:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with Leading Roles and Crowd Scenes
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the part you've spoken
Handed to those from the Sylvia Young School.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken.
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your earnings
And compare favourably in columns of profit-and-loss,
And after tax start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To continue for love when money is gone,
And so work on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them “Work on!”
If you can work weekends and keep your friends,
Or endure the days – nor lose heart,
If you can recite the daytime TV schedules,
While all about you pursue their art;
If you can fill the unforgiving days
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And – which is more – you'll be a Freelancer, my son!
For all its trials and tribulations... the starvation, whether artistic or actual,
the dodgy gigs, the antisocial hours, the endless travel, the uncertainty, Freelancing
is redeemed by its continual promise of change... That same uncertainty spurs you
on. There's no knowing when the phone might ring; where you might be led next. In
a word your journey can change. Once again that offer of a holiday from reality is
before you and for a while at least you can walk a very different road.