It was our office Christmas party last night. It's a good evening normally. They're pretty generous, so there are drinks with sparkly wine, and then a proper dinner and dancing. Oh and the revue. A highlight of the office calendar, when the junior members of staff put on a sketch show about the last year. Sounds horrendous, and kind of is (and I'm extremely glad I never have to do it again), but also normally very funny.
Last night was no exception. Everyone looking their best (apart from some of the longer-standing members of staff who hold it a point of principle not to have fun at something that is, essentially work. As though dressing up were an indication of unwarranted frivolity. Christmas? Bah humbug!) The food was good, the wine plentiful and the revue well rehearsed and, in parts, hilarious.
But I felt totally out of place. And I suddenly feel that this job, this building, these people who have been an enormous part of my life for the last nearly ten years, are no longer where I belong.
I walked into the room, was handed a glass, looked around and realised I knew barely half the people there. I don't know who these other people are, or where they've come from, but I do know that this time five years ago there wouldn't have been a person in the room I didn't know and who didn't know me, and it's an office of 300 or so. I had a lovely time chatting to the people I do know, and of whom I am very fond, but I'm not at the centre of things any more. I'm on the outside, looking in, and I'm not sure I even want to be there.
The revue was, as I said, great. But I didn't get most of the jokes. Topical comedy only really works if you know what they're talking about, and having only been in the office for ten months of the last three years, I'm like someone who returns from a weekend break in Bhutan and is then surprised when they don't find Mock the Week terribly amusing.
And it got me to wondering: is this because I'm getting older and more set in my ways? Is it because of all the maternity leave I seem to have wangled? Or is it just that, in my head at least, I've moved on? That I have more important things and people in my life now, and work, which was once so central, is now less so.
I talked a lot to the people I was sitting with about our plans, and our scheme to move to Middle of Nowhere and for me to work as a consultant from there. All of which still feels miraculously lucky and like I don't deserve it, and they all said how much they'd miss me and how it wouldn't feel like the same place without me, but I know that's not true. They will miss me, I'm sure, but I also know that in three years time many of them will be hard pushed to remember who I am. It's like leaving school. The institution is bigger than the individuals that make it up, and when one person moves on, the water closes over her head. Some people make bigger ripples than others, but eventually everyone is forgotten. The firm I work for has been going for over three hundred years. My ten don't amount to a great deal in comparison.
I've been struggling with my job since I went back to work: finding it terribly hard to be a good mother and a good worker. But I've found the idea of giving up my job (and, it feels, my identity) equally hard to contemplate. The things is, maybe my job is ready to give me up too. Maybe we all have places, people or things that are right for us at particular points in our lives. And I'm beginning to think that at this point in my life my job and I don't belong together any more
And in other news: off to Canada this afternoon. Wish us luck... And if I can't post from there: Merry Christmas one and all!
Happy is the Guide
2 hours ago