I just spent a year working in a cellar room with no windows. I grew to like the place, even though the walls were naked concrete, and my organiser resembled more one of those metal tool holder stands in a car mechanic shop.
In this age of the paperless office, and with the ubiquity of the internet, each day an inch thick wad of print-outs would appear in the letter box attached to the stand, and my work-day could begin. That wasn’t the first sign of the split personality of my internship.
That room in the cellar became my place. That’s where I could put my headphones on, start a playlist, and dive into the wilds of the academic archives that we subscribed to. It was “Colin’s office” to everyone, including me. Even when one of the interns ran out of time, and another took his place, and joined me in that room.
But there, in that room, one by one, the errors and the gaffes and the weak ideas fell to my research. The horrors of a long, hand-written letter from one of the crusty academics who subscribed to our journals were, I have to say, rare. At least the ones who had a case.
For a fellow that laugh at how little I know about most things, this suited me just fine, because I could pretend that I knew everything. And people listened. All I needed was to spend an hour in the archives to demolish every wrong fact, every opinion disguised as fact, and every fact that was irrelevant to the matter at hand. Sometimes, I could even, almost, believe that it was me, and not the archives.
Every weekday morning, I would take my little backpack, and I’d go down to the trainstation. An hour’s journey into London every single day, with the added frustrations of late trains and delays and cancellations. It became a point to leave early enough for the vagaries of this country’s public transport system to work, sort of. One just had to allow it an ample margin of error. I went to that pretend world where I was important, and not just some temporary body meant to save the journal from actually hiring someone to do the work.
Even now, just two days after I left, knowing that I’ll never go back, I miss it. I imagine that had this been a hundred years ago, I would have sat in the cellar of a great library. I would have been surrounded by tomes and annals. My fingers would have been stained with ink each day. I would have loved it, I think. A job for a somewhat anti-social person like me. The guardian of knowledge, or the hoarder of it.
That modern version sits in a cellar in a 1960s office building with potted ferns for company, a Macbook chained to the desk, and the whole wide internet to roam around in. Or to guard. Or to observe. Could have had a worse job.