Heat by Rob O’Neill

The Girlie downshifts

There’s been lots of talk over here about “downshifting”, moving out of high-pressure corporate jobs to adopt more “flexible” employment arrangements (read that as contracting). Telecommuting, usually from some central coast or Blue Mountain beauty spot, is growing fast.

It’s an international trend, of course, but given added impetus here by abundant lifestyle opportunities. Do some work, pop down for a surf, do some more work, go for a walk. It’s a winning formula. According to international pollsters telecommuting has doubled since 2000.

Anyway, I think the Girlie has been reading the papers, as she’s given Michel’s Patisserie the bad news: she’s only going to work on Monday evenings, having previously done Monday to Wednesday. Management took the news badly, of course. It is rumoured they considered closing down totally, such would be the impact of losing their star table-wiper. However, despite this strategic set-back it now looks as if Michel’s will soldier on, and the Girlie is already working on her new “flexible” lifestyle.

Rather than going surfing or out for a walk, this involves eating everything she can find in the house and then going to bed. Fair enough. That’s exactly what I would do. In fact it’s exactly what I did at her age.

This was my set-up: I lived in an old silver caravan half way down our garden in Ranui, in West Auckland. The caravan was parked under a willow tree, to keep the temperature just so in summer.

From my caravan I had a little intercom running up to the kitchen. When I woke up, say at three in the afternoon, I’d buzz on the intercom and ask for a cup of tea and toast … and maybe some biscuits, chocolate if there were any. A few minutes later, my Irish Mum, bless her cotton socks, would come wandering down the garden with a tray.

Then, ever so slowly, I’d ease myself into what was left of the day.

As with most strapping kiwi lads in the 1970s, it was my job to mow the lawn. Needless to say by the time I got up and ready, well, it was almost dinnertime, wasn’t it? Or I’d have to go out…

Come Saturday I’d blearily hear the lawnmower roaring closer and closer to the caravan and then feel it thumping angrily against the tin sides.

“Jeez,” I’d think, “keep the racket down, some of us are trying to sleep.”

My Dad would mow the tricky bits around the edge of the caravan, dwelling there noisily, much longer than he needed to. I’d eventually poke my head around the door and say something lame like: “I was just about to do that.”

Despite this, I certainly don’t make a practice of delivering brekkie or any other meal to the Girlie. She acts, as teens do, sullen and permanently hard-done-by. But the Girlie has a TV in her room, and a computer, and access to the internet, and a digital camera and a Walkman.

That’s serious cargo.

So don’t talk to me about hardship, Girlie. You don’t know how lucky you are. In my day we did it tough.