When people take a call at work they might twirl the phone cable, or drum their fingers on the desk, or play with the spring on their desk lamp, or doodle. Doodles can be abstract patterns, random lines or boxes, or sometimes elaborate floral motifs. But my doodling sees me accessing a part of my brain that I have never satisfactorily employed.
Before I fell into the all consuming void that is car sales, I graduated with a degree in car design. It was something I always wanted to do, and I assumed that four years of hard graft at Coventry University would catapult me into a world of design meetings, top-secret conferences and black turtle-neck sweaters. I imagined that, come graduation day, there would be crowds of corporate talent-scouts teeming outside the university gates, waiting to spirit me off to a new life in Stuttgart, Pasadena, Tokyo or Seoul. Instead, all there was outside the gates was rain and charity collectors.
I never had the first idea how to get into the industry, so the learning I had done and skills I had accumulated essentially withered on the vine while I concentrated on making money in any way I could. I became a car salesman with BMW, which fed my petrol passion for a few years, gave me a series of expensive cars to grace my parents driveway and earned me a few quid, none of which would I save or do anything vaguely sensible with because I was young and single. And not very wise.
When the phone rings at work I will typically have a biro in my hand so I can take notes and capture vital information. Chances are that, mid call, the pen will absent-mindedly touch the paper and a doodle will result. And as soon as that happens the redundant machinery in my mind, that last saw action in 2004, whirs into life.
With every doodle I play “chase the line”. I have no idea what’s going to happen, the pen runs around the page and lands where it wants. Typically I will have come up with a car of some description or other, sometimes a boat, but each doodle becomes a mini project. It’s only ever ten minutes work, but every time I end up with a completed, resolved design for something, albeit basic and comparatively rough.
I must here point out to my employers, who might be reading, that I don’t waste your time doing any of this. I like to think I work hard, and you certainly get your moneys worth out of me. If you want, I’m sure I can reimburse you for the sheets of A4 paper and Bic biro ink I have frittered away during my ad hoc design sessions.
And then what happens? Well, when I’ve declared the doodle finished, I put it aside. I probably look at it a few times, enjoying my handiwork, but then it’s invariably lost forever in with the bulk of my paperwork, gets shredded and disposed of; a creative outburst, living for the briefest of moments before being snuffed out.
Before today, before I sat to write this, I never really thought about it. If I had kept the hundreds of doodles I had produced at work over the years, I would probably have a bulging portfolio by now. I could have developed some of them into full colour renderings like I would have done in the studio at Coventry University’s M Block. But no; they’re all gone.
And sitting here, having driven to work this morning in my car worth a few hundred pounds, with my daily routine for the day having literally nothing to do with any of my qualifications nor any of my skills, and only loosely being based around the cars that cause blood to pump around my body, I feel a deep regret and rather sorry for myself.
I apologise to bring you down like this, but ironically this piece of writing, the stuff that you’re presumably reading right now, is likely to go the same way.
For as long as I’ve been able to read, I have always loved writing. I love reading the writing of others, drinking it in and feeding on the detail, the imagery and the atmosphere. It inspires me to do more, to think more and it puts a broad smile on my face. I can always find time for writing. It’s just a shame that I can’t readily find an outlet for either the drawing or the writing in the real world; in terms of gainful employment.
This is my hundredth post on ROADWORK. In the time this ‘blog has been online it has received in the order of eighteen thousand page views, which is nice to know. It tells me that there are people out there somewhere who see some degree of merit in what I write. People keep coming back. Being totally honest and candid with you, this goes a long way to soothing my insecurities.
If my career isn’t going well, I can always escape to the written world. Whether this means picking up a Bryson and exploring some dusty end of Eastern Europe with him, reading in Boat about the unattainable new Sunseeker and how it responds in a fast, carving turn, or taking an hour to write up my own experiences in Cornwall; I get equal satisfaction in each.
Same goes for the drawing. With a pen and a piece of paper I can escape to a world where I have total creative control. On that A4 sheet I make all the decisions, live by my own rules and employ only my own ideas. It’s a metaphor for how life would be if it wasn’t for outside factors- on paper you can do anything you want.
This was why I loved design so much. In the conceptual exploration stage of a university project, we were encouraged, no, required to have total creative freedom. Ideas were born on paper, ready to be developed, sidelined or ignored. You could watch how a design proposal would evolve from a flight of pure fantasy to an elegant, resolved solution before your very eyes. Starting a design process off was like stepping aboard a rollercoaster. I absolutely adored it.
Sadly, time is always against you. I’m now thirty, I graduated over six years ago. My lack of development in the design field owes a lot to my own fears and lack of direction; the fear being of my own work not being good enough to cut it, and the lack of direction being, well, just that. Where the hell does a Transport Design Graduate go to get a job as a car designer? Sadly you can’t start as a salesman and work your way up.
It’s the same thing, really, with writing. Experience is king and the holy grail is your name becoming known. This is why there are myriad bloggers out there who know absolutely everything and can put it down in ways that are wonderful to read, but will never, ever be recognised for it. Likewise, there are celebrities who can barely string a sentence together but get column inches thrown at them; because a famous columnist will sell papers and generate clicks regardless how thin the journalism.
The hours I pour into my ROADWORK give me absolutely zero financial reward and I don’t care, because that’s beyond my control. I have to live with it and call it a hobby. In an ideal world I would be paid by somebody for doing what I do, except they’d call the shots on what I write about.
“Mercedes have got a new fuel-injection system for the B-Class. Can you drive to Milton Keynes and cover it?”
Yes! I’d be all over that! How damn exciting. No job too dull for Chris Haining, as long as I get to write about it and see my words in print, or on the screen. The splendid chaps at Hooniverse let me run a piece every now and again, and I thank them for it because it really feeds my ego seeing stuff that I’ve written being read by a large audience. It gives me some of the satisfaction that I’d get from achieving a career in Journalism or as a designer.
And I know the money’s no good. Unless you become a superstar reporter or a head of design, or a household name, you’ll earn bus-driver coin and this only partially matters to me. I can aim for either money or job satisfaction; at the moment I have neither. Money is easy; I’m sure I could get another job as a car salesman tomorrow if I wanted to, but job satisfaction is a little harder. Becoming a journalist or a designer would achieve it instantly, but I’d have to wait a little longer before any money began to show.
ROADWORK will continue exactly as it is until either of two things, either all my fingers fall off or somebody somewhere gives me a job where I can do what I love and get paid for it.
It will also continue to be my place of refuge; I can go on doing monkey work from eight ‘til six, safe in the knowledge that I can be a car designer when the phone rings, and, after work, I can be a motoring journalist when I get home.
Thanks for reading.