Offices – and especially offices belonging to trendy tech companies – increasingly aspire to be homes-away-from-home. It all started innocuously enough. A ping-pong table would appear in the old photocopier room, surrounded by some colourful bean bags. Then came the doggy crèche and the employer-funded Ocado deliveries.
Several years ago, my partner left a job at a high-flying firm after being asked to sleep underneath the desk following a gruelling all-night paperwork session. Would she still have quit if, rather than tell her to kip on the floor, her then-employer said: 'Why not take a nap in the Wellness Room hammock?' I suspect so, but this doesn't stop some companies trying it on.
Meanwhile, barely a day goes by without a fresh headline warning of the anxiety caused by being 'on-call' at all hours. The advent of email on smartphones has forever changed the nature of free time – it is still there to be enjoyed, but preferably enjoyed somewhere that has good 4G reception. All of which is to say, modern jobs often seem like 24-hours-a-day affairs. Personally, I am lucky enough to work in an office where this is not the case and the length of the working day is kept relatively civilised. Instead, my concern is not that I am trapped in the office, but more that I can't seem to escape the vicinity
of the office.
Admittedly, I live in Brixton – hardly the heart of office-land. But when not at home, I always seem to end up near work again. The Square Mile exerts a sort of gravitational pull that requires jailbreak levels of forward planning to leave. One obvious reason for this is purely practical: going out with friends from work, or who work nearby, is much easier if you meet at the closest possible venue (which has always worked out reasonably well, given that it's a curry house renowned for the sort of meals one lies about regretting, but actually plan to do all over again within the week).
But this doesn't fully explain my inability to break loose. My theory is that – in the same way anthropologists suggest the human brain cannot cope with more than five intimate friends and no more than 15 good friends – we are only able to truly familiarise ourselves with two or three different environments at any one time.
After five years living in London, I still feel wildly ignorant about vast swathes of the city. When called on to suggest good restaurants for visiting friends, the conversation starts and ends with a recommendation for a great wee curry house near Bank. Having previously lived in St Andrews, the entirety of which can be traversed in 15 minutes, the allure of a metropolis full of unending possibilities was compelling. But the allure was illusory, not because the options aren't there but because it is impossible to partake in them all.
For example, a recent day trip to Richmond felt like a mini holiday, the surroundings completely alien to the London I know. Sitting on the bank of the Thames watching the small wooden boats gently row past, it was hard to believe this is the same river as the polluted waterway that berths a warship a few miles downstream. Of course, this novelty is a big part of the appeal of going somewhere off the beaten track once in a while. But the fact that the experience is so alien, despite being in the same city I live and work in, seems to confirm the rather comforting old adage that London – despite sprawling across more than 1,500 square kilometres – is really just a series of villages connected by the Underground.
In David Goodheart's 2017 book, The Road to Somewhere
, the author argues there are two types of people in the modern, globalised world. The Anywheres, comprising the well-travelled prosperous liberal classes, and the Somewheres, who are rooted in one 'home' location, are likely less educated and more tend to be more conservative.
By many of Goodheart's criteria, I would no doubt fall into the Anywheres category. In the days following our outing, back amid the comforting bustle of Brixton or navigating through the grumpy suits in the City, I was reminded of the distinction he draws between the two groups and started to feel it may not quite hold true. Despite being, an 'Anywhere' person according to those categories, I am most definitely also rooted in a 'Somewhere'.
My 'villages' – for better or worse – are the place I've made my home and the place I earn my crust. And perhaps it's okay, even if I can't rattle off a list of the latest hipster cocktail clubs or pop-up street food stalls to spring up across the city, if it means taking a holiday is as easy as riding the tube somewhere new.
David Graves is a journalist from Edinburgh, living in London. His reporting is mainly focused on finance in emerging markets