What I do

Me at my desk at work

“What do you do?” is a question I frequently fear being asked. The timing of my response is critical, so too the terminology. If you want to guarantee an impact when you’re meeting new people it’s probably best to avoid these questions at all costs.

It was worse three years ago. Back then I worked in IT support and had done for sever before then. Replying with the stock, simplest phrase “I work in IT” or “I work in IT support,” left me feeling cold. If I was feeling cold then it was a pretty safe bet that whoever was expecting a response was going to be disappointed.

The problems came in how to explain the finer points of my role. My job title back then (Senior Network Analyst) gave no real indication of what it was I worked in. Referring to some generic description of the kind of work I did only led on to the most irritating of questions. “What’s the best laptop to buy in your opinion?” Like I give a fuck what the best laptop is or trying to assist you with a stress-free laptop. I don’t know what the best laptop is to buy. “I usually ask someone in the desktop support team. Do you have someone in your desktop support team you can ask?”

What it reveals is that I am (and I suspect a considerable number of other people) are essentially defined by the jobs I do. If it is that your job doesn’t necessarily reflect your true, core personality then it could well be the case that talking about it is nothing more but an irritation. That’s not an indication of my ability to do the job, I hasten to add.

Three years later things are a little different although, surprisingly the definitions still present some difficulties. If I tell people my job title now I am, rather disappointingly, greeted with guffaws of laughter. “No, a webmaster doesn’t wear a cloak like Harry Potter. No, I don’t wear round John Lennon glasses and no I don’t have a big floppy wizards hat.”

A webmaster, in case you’re not up to speed, is someone who manages either a website or manages the systems which allow others to manage their website. That’s it in a nutshell. To be a webmaster I need to know about websitey-stuff, I need to be able to server-type things from time to time and, from time to time, I have to do pesky admin. Don’t be misled. I’m not complaining. I can feel the grotty world of IT support long behind me. Things are easier on the mind now.

There’s still an etiquette challenge though. And for this you need to know one small fact. As a webmaster, I provide a service which supports the BBC website. The most widely website in the world (which also happens to be part of an insitution I’ve wanted to work for since I was a small boy) is the one, in a sense, I “work” on.

Anyone who works for the BBC-proper will back me up when I say that if you mention you are in any way connected with the BBC the most predictable questions then start flowing?

“Oh .. do you know ‘such and such’? He works on News 24”

“No,” I reply, “the BBC is staffed by 20,000 people and I can’t get into the newsroom.”

OR

“I really hate the fact that the BBC’s Listen Again function keeps failing whenever I’m listening to the Archers.”

“I can’t do anything about that I’m afraid. I don’t work in that department.”

OR

“I really love the BBC website. I use it all the time. I think it’s fantastic. I really love the CBeebies website”

“That’s great. I use it to. It’s terribly good.”

It’s all quite ironic really. For years I’d wanted to work for the BBC and now, for the past couple of years, I’ve been working the closest to the corporation than ever before. Now I find I don’t want to reveal my association with it for fear a string of predictable questions will start flowing. It is, perhaps with justifiable reasons, BBC people tend to keep their cards close to their chest about their employer.

If that wasn’t enough of a problem, the company I work for isn’t part of the BBC. It used to be but now its a separate entity staking its claim in the commercial sector. Explaining who actually pays my salary leaves the listener as cold as when I used to explain I work in IT support. What, exactly, am I to do?

The answer is to be found in the things which many people have said to me over the past few days, completely unprompted I hasten to add. Based on their comments, I offer up the following explanation as to what I do ..

I am a writer who can do techie things with websites and computers. I have an eye for design although I don’t really consider myself a designer. I’m told I’m a good communicator. I’m fiercely loyal, team-driven and yet, ultimately goal-orientated. I’m a creative individual who has a dream and, wherever possible, I try to follow it. I work for a company who provides services to the BBC and am fortunate enough to work at the BBC, in amongst wonderfully creative and supportive individuals across a variety of different departments and disciplines.

You know now. If we ever meet each other at a party please don’t ask me the question, OK?

If you’re ever in the area

Moro Restaurant

Moro, Exmouth Market, EC1, London
(Closest Tube: Chancery Lane, Central Line + 10 minute walk)

Be sure to indulge yourself in the understated glamour that is Moro. I was there this evening to celebrate my old Suffolk friend Caroline’s “unofficial” birthday. I sat at a table was a former winner of Cardiff Singer of the World, a singer from Glyndebourne, a chap who works at the House of Lords and couple of musicians squashed at the end of the table.

The food was indulgent, the waiter service effecient and the dress code informal enough for me to feel comfortable sitting in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

Not only that, but the biggest surprise of all was to be found when I went to go and pay my share of the bill. “Hello Jon!” said a very tall waiter with a firm handshake, “it is Jon, isn’t it?”

It turned out that the person who recognised me was none other than someone I’d been in contact with via another relatively unknown person I’d made contact with … on Facebook.

Be sure to go there. The waiter service is marvellous.

Spare a thought for The One Show

One Show studio

I’m a sucker for live television.

I know it may not seem like a big deal but if I know that I’m watching something as it’s being “done” then I do tend to get a little bit excited regardless of the actual problem. That’s almost certain why I love listening to the Proms, why I nearly had a heart-attack actually attending a Eurovision Song Contest and rather enjoyed watching Blue Peter “go out” a couple of years ago.

The other thing which almost always gets me excited is the prospect of “an occasion”. Tell me that there’ll be some kind of royal event (a death preferrably) and I’ll be glued to the TV screen. I can’t explain it. It just is.

Tonight sees a smallish “ocassion”. It’s the start of a new series on BBC One called “The One Show”. From what I can make out it’s a return to the classic magazine programme 30+ somethings will almost certainly remember, Nationwide. The One Show was “pilotted” during the summer last year and now, finally, it makes its return.

I don’t think I ever watched it and suspect I probably won’t be watching it past tonight (mostly because I don’t normally get home in time), but tonight is different. I wander past the building where it’s broadcast from every single day and having experienced the personal thrill of working on projects where there’s a definite start and end time, I can’t help thinking of everyone who’s working on it. Will they be excited? Will they be worried? Will they all share a collective sigh of relief when the first show is over at 7.30pm?

If you’re in UK and you’re around at 7.00pm show your support by tuning in. I’m sure everyone who works on it will appreciate it.

The One Show, 6.30pm BBC One

Leaving the kid at the nursery

My bike

I didn’t do the usual cycle route. The thought of traffic careering past me in Acre Lane at that fateful spot was sufficient to undermine my previously resolute determination. Instead I followed the quieter route past the Cutty Sark, through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and past Canary Wharf this morning. I finally emerged in central London around Tower Bridge.

Quite justifiably, London Transport don’t allow people like me to take their bikes on to the tube network. (If I was cycling on a fold-up bike then I would be able to, but really, I do want to preserve what butch-image I have and cycling on a fold-up bike isn’t going to achieve that.) My remaining options were either to pedal the rest of the way from Tower Bridge to White City (it’s an additional 6 miles which would make my total for the day a staggering 24 miles – that isn’t going to happen) or to chain it up somewhere.

Despite having spent £30 only the day before on a second lock for my bike, paranoia still kicked in. I needed to find somewhere where my bike was seen by as many people as possible. Perhaps outside a reputable City company, I thought. In a position like that no opportunist thief is going to entertain the idea of trying to break both bike locks and walk off with my slightly damaged bicycle.

I still felt a little bit of fear. With lorries and buses thundering past and this being a relatively unusual part of London I started to feel a little bit sorry for my bike as though it was a member of the family. I didn’t like the idea of my bike being in an unusual place. I didn’t want it to be on it’s own. I didn’t want it to be intimidated by some thug looking for a thieving opportunity.

I checked the locks four times and then shuffled off in the direction of the tube station, feeling for the first time ever like I had left my non-existent child at the nursery for the day.

Time to dig out my therapist’s telephone number, I think.