I don’t have one of those things on my phone that keep track of steps but I feel like I’ve walked 500 miles today. I’m on King’s House School sports ground in Chiswick. There’s an international consultancy firm that has an annual sports day. I googled them and the average salary is something like 80k. None of the staff are over 40. It’s like children of the corn. They probably burn out. Work hard. Play hard. Make money. Retire aged 40. Live on a yacht thereafter, hoovering up coke to recreate the feelings of stress that have become a way of life. Die a decade or two later of an overdose in a dark room somewhere hot.
They’re having fun today though. Competitive fun. It’s a big event. Extremely busy. Staff from 30 countries organised into teams competing bitterly at volleyball, touch rugby, 6 a side football and (with highest stakes), 11 a side football.
While they injure themselves and each other they are cheered on by living topiary, unicycle jugglers and Ghanaian acrobats. They have brought their own entertainment as well. Horns, helmets, cheerleader costumes, camel costumes, loads of flags, ridiculous mascots…
(I have no idea what this guy was even supposed to represent. I pretended I was his biggest fan. He followed me around afterwards asking for money.)
“I feel like I’m at Wilderness,” says Helen, my friend and fellow festival denizen who is working alongside me. It’s because we are exhausted and mildly confused in a field while a DJ plays music and random things occur.
People stand on each other’s heads. A strongman tests his strength with a mallet and rings the bell. Young women hand out free popsicles. “Chilli and Mango or Strawberry and Mint.” Two men encourage us to take pot shots at coconuts. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head! I need water and suntan lotion. The topiary asks me for a hug. My feet hurt. At some point I think I eat lunch. One of us lobsters in the sun. I’m in a black suit. Everyone not working is in shorts. I’m boiling. Oh look, The Red Arrows. Not for us though.
They are throwing their rubbish all over the place these people. It’s unbelievable. They’re scattered across the playing fields and every one of them is casually hurling their crap into the grass. There’s an army of caretakers litterpicking and we managers are joining in when duty allows, but still it keeps mounting up. Nobody gives a shit. We surround them with bins. They ignore them. They take one sip out of a water bottle and throw it on the floor. If they want more water they get another bottle and do it again.
By 5pm I desperately want a sports massage but the masseurs have been backed up all day. Four of them. They literally haven’t stopped. I go upstairs for five minutes to put my feet up. The door bangs open and in comes Robbie. “I’m the forklift driver. I need the keys to the forklift. Got to get the portaloos out.” “It’s five. The guests are on site until 6.30. You can’t move the loos until then.” He is not happy with this. He wants the key badly, I’m imagining him lifting up loos with clients inside them. My manager tells him no. The venue won’t give him the keys anyway. He gets very physically anxious. I go back on site just to walk around and ask people if they’re ok again as that’s a major part of this job.
An hour and a half later I find the key to the forklift and give it to Robbie. He is almost dancing with anxiety. I assume he’s just in a hurry. He goes and gets the the thing. Brings it round slowly. Then after an extremely uncomfortable twenty minutes where he very nearly upends a cludgie on himself he gets out red faced and sweating. “I can’t operate THAT forklift.” he announces like it’s my fault.
I end up sending him two big lads from the derigging team. They use leverage and bulk to get the loos onto the trailer without anyone getting spattered in anything horrible. No wonder “Robbie the forklift driver” got there so early and so anxious. He wanted to sit in his cabin and Google how to operate that particular forklift. We’ve all winged it from time to time.
I’ve been writing this piecemeal in snatched breaks throughout the day. The sun is almost gone now and it’s starting to rain. People are loading big piles of wood into vans. Brazil won the volleyball. London won the 6 a side, I think. I wasn’t really paying attention. I know Germany won the 11 a side because they all wanted a beer after the match and were asking me for one while the bar staff were shaking their heads and making neck-cutting gestures in my peripheral vision to the extent that I had to shrug my shoulders and fob them off with generic moaning about the arbitrary nature of licensing laws.
I thought to check the forklift and the keys were in the ignition. Apparently this site is regularly broken into at night. I may have just stopped a slew of drunken atm robberies. Although to be honest I doubt drunk South London kids would be able to operate the thing any better than poor Robbie.
When I’m finished I have to decide whether or not to go to a party. I’ve been walking since 7am. I can’t feel my feet. I might still go. Burning out at 40 is for chumps.
I sit and finish this during a snatched break. The cleaners are sitting near me. They’re done. “I’m not picking up any more shit today, we can do it tomorrow. I’ve never seen a group litter like them before. Apart from those South Americans in the yellow and green. They were lovely.” Well done Brazil. You won more than just the volleyball.