Monthly Archives: January 2012

unspoken boundaries

Until now, it never occurred to me how working the night shift is like being on Big Brother.  I refer in particular to Celebrity Big Brother 2012 (CBB 2012), where the social dynamics are so similar to those I witnessed and experienced on the Night Shift that it leaves me feeling slightly relieved at having survived all the drama.

Before January, the team that existed was small, and despite numerous changes to the cast and their so-called politics, you would still end up with people like Kirk or Georgia, no matter who the company eventually hired.  As you are isolated from management and rarely even met members of the day crew, this type of intimacy is inescapable; you become like a family, like a village.  Everything that happens is everyone’s business, and God help you if you ever decide to be something like honest!  On the Night Shift, nobody wants rejection, nobody wants any arguments, but with a team so small and intimate, it is hardly an atmosphere you can guarantee forever…

I once met a Georgia, and like the Georgia in CBB 2012, she didn’t come across as especially interesting when you first meet her.  You would see her working quietly at her desk or standing outside on the balcony, smoking with the others (we have a penthouse for an office).  However, you couldn’t imagine really talking to her unless you smoked as well or somehow caught the girl during lunch time.  As a non-smoker, my chances of interacting with Georgia were pretty abysmal.  I could have hung out on the balcony, it’s true, or tried to take my lunch at the same time, but we preferred to pass the Night Shift in opposite ways; thus, it was not meant to be.

But I wouldn’t have written her off for lame reasons like that.  It was more to do with this quality she and Georgia had in common.  While Georgia is a model by trade and likely very guarded due to her profession, the Georgia I worked with was like this for speculatively different reasons.  There is a point in everyone’s lives, I think, where they inherit this fear of other people and become so highly selective over who they think is ‘safe’ that they will reject a perfectly good friendship for their own peace of mind.

Now I’m not saying we would have made the best of friends, skipping off into the sunset and all that malarky, but the confusion you see amongst the contestants in CBB 2012 is the same way I felt about the Georgia I used to work with.  She was probably nice and didn’t have a bad thing to really say about you or anyone in the office, except you could sense this aloofness about her that you couldn’t understand, an aloofness which would gradually eat away at you because you just couldn’t get it.

So, in the end, I didn’t really like her.  We had nothing much in common and we ceased to hang out as the months went by.  When she finally left, there was nothing to say.  Just like that, we were out of each other’s lives without giving a damn, and to me, it was the strangest thing.

With Kirk, it was more or less the same.  People like Kirk don’t normally enter my friendships as I don’t approve their behaviour and generally don’t trust them.  Nevertheless, contact with such a person on the Night Shift is inevitable, and for a time, I did what most girls these days are expected to do: put up with it and hope they’ll respect the unspoken boundaries.  I mean, how else are you meant to deal with these over-zealous emotions?  If you protest straight away, like any sensible female should, you are seen as frigid, no fun, whereas calmly enduring a barrage of affection – without making a fuss – gains you a place in numerous good books and maybe less bitching from others who are watching.

Believe me, it was a very delicate balance, trying to be this guy’s “friend” whilst trying not to look like the supervisor’s pet or potential new girlfriend.  (Yes, Kirk was the supervisor!)  And before anyone goes off on one, I’m not saying that I’m the hottest girl on the Night Shift and that guys fall for me left, right, and centre, only that I’m a girl working with a team full of single guys who seem to have an interest in Asian women.  Given my past, I found this attention both discomforting and cloying; I would come into work feeling watched from all sides.  I’m used to avoiding attention, not gaining it, so all this ‘positive’ regard felt too much like a burden, nowhere near a compliment, and work, for me, became a little unbearable.

What happened with me and Kirk in the end wasn’t great.  There were arguments on the floor where people would cringe in their seats, not knowing what to say, and soon enough, we had stopped talking altogether, unless it was something related to work.  Like the twins Karissa and Kristina said, there comes a point where every Kirk will give up and start treating you like shit because you just won’t respond to their advances.

And thus, my dear, it was so.

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the unconsoled

This was one of the first Kazuo Ishiguro novels I read, and believe me, it is not a book I would recommend to anyone on the Night Shift.  To go into detail would baffle you.  A possible synopsis would leave you feeling concerned.  While the novel in itself is not badly written (or badly translated), the fact that you never find consolation throughout the entire journey is reason enough to call it, as I’m sure many reviewers have, pure and utter badness.

None of the characters are likeable.  The main character is supposed to be this grand pianist invited to a town in the back end of nowhere in some indistinct region of Europe who never quite delivers on being a great husband, step-father, professional or person.  He slides from one indiscriminate scene to another, making promises he never keeps to people he keeps meeting over and over.  Sometimes these people treat him with as much reverence as a turd in the street whilst others place him on pedestals without seemingly good cause.  If I had to pick out moments of triumph, those would lie solely in the fact that the novel finally ended, and with it ending, you realise what a truly foolish endeavour it was to read the novel in the first place.

The novel is called The Unconsoled, and the reason why readers don’t seem to like it is because of that element which they so often take for granted when reading any kind of story: the right to be consoled.  In every chapter, in every moment, the characters and readers are ruthlessly deprived of any consolation, potential or imagined. If you have the slightest ambition to escape the Night Shift, don’t ever read this book: it will drain your hopes and dreams of doing so.  However, if you know someone detestable who does, and who also shares your stubbornness for completing any novel they happen to lay eyes on – whatever the cost – then The Unconsoled is by all means a novel for them!


and all that follows…

Having spent the first three months unemployed after moving to this country, getting into the Night Shift, for me, was not that difficult.  I was already used to staying awake until 4am-5am, typing up fiction to my heart’s content or proofreading stories for like-minded writers, so when my time to be employed again finally came, the prospect of working at night didn’t seem to phase me.  There was only so much writing you could do, and with your partner made freshly redundant, it clearly made sense to take the job on.

My shift is currently 10pm-6.30am, Sunday night to Friday morning.  I wake up in time for shows such as Masterchef, Criminal Minds, and Mr Bean, and consume evening meals like everyone else instead of toast and cereal.  When I leave the apartment, the moon is overhead and I can tell if it will rain just from sniffing the air.  For safety’s sake, my partner walks me to the bus stop, kisses me “goodnight”, then opens the door in the mornings when I buzz the apartment.

All in all, no different from a day job, depending on how you look at it.

~ * ~

The Three Concerns

an introduction to the night shift

1. SLEEP

If you’re not a night owl, it’s the worst possible shift; you’ll be tossing and turning for hours then constantly drowning in caffeine as soon as you hit the office.  To tackle this nocturnal challenge, I slept an average of 9 hours before every shift until my body clock gradually adjusted.  Doctors say it can take two or three months for your body to adapt to different timezones, so give it a try and see what works for you.

From observation, fellow night-stalkers tend to sleep the moment they get home in order to do things during daylight, whereas others, such as myself, try to muster as much normalcy as they can by treating their mornings like an eve on the Day Shift.  Whatever works for you!

Tips for sleeping well:

  • install thick curtains or blinds;
  • wear ear plugs and/or blindfold;
  • no caffeine 1 hour before bedtime;
  • have a warm, relaxing bath;
  • sleep at the same times;
  • set two alarms.

2. APPETITE

If your body clock is struggling, so is your stomach, and you’ll have to train it to work at times it normally wouldn’t.  To begin this process, you’ll need to build your appetite gently, starting off with small portions of breakfast foods like cereal, porridge, and yoghurt, before moving on to more complex offerings such as microwavable meals and homemade leftovers.

From experience, I found breakfast foods were the easiest to consume at lunch-time (roughly 2.30am).  As my appetite began to wake along with my body clock, I also had to supplement my breaks with dried mango, cereal bars, and biscuits to keep the hunger at bay.  Without these additional snacks, I would finish my shift feeling nauseous, which had nothing to do with the bus journey home, so it’s best to steadily consume throughout your shift.

Food I’ve seen my colleagues eat:

  • tuna and sweetcorn from the can mixed together;
  • cous-cous with Reggae Reggae sauce;
  • instant noodles or bento sushi;
  • sandwiches or buttered bread;
  • microwavable pastas and soups;
  • Pop Tarts.

3. SOCIAL LIFE

“What social life?”  Despite this common response by night-stalkers and day-walkers alike in relation to the Night Shift, it is quite possible to maintain a normal social life.

Of couse, this is marginally easier if your partner doesn’t work opposite shifts.  You avoid the whole argument over who does the cooking and housework, as well as other predicaments such as boredom, affairs, and all those problems people end up having when they’re rich, famous, and working the Night Shift.  In my case, the prospect of an opposite shift is still far away, or not getting any closer.  (My partner is presently unemployed, so their day literally revolves around me!)

It’s even easier when you don’t have relatives who call you on a weekday afternoon – the time you’re meant to be sleeping.  My mother resides overseas, and to her credit, she has only ever done this once, but once was enough, and long has it stayed in memory, that awful moment when you hear the phone ring after forgetting to put it on “silent” the evening before a hectic night at work.  It’s a small thing, yet so unforgivable.  And it’s little wonder why no one calls me.

As for meeting up friends, within or beyond the country, this has probably been my greatest challenge.  For months I was under the spell of adapting to the Night Shift and the weekends just whizzed by before I even knew it.  Being new here, I made the slight mistake of relying too heavily on my colleagues for adequate company, and when things came to a head (I may go into this later; I may not), it was down to me to seek out new friendships that had nothing to do with work.  Thus, if you’re working the Night Shift for the first time, especially if it’s your first job in a different country, make sure to concentrate on interests that will introduce new people.  Try the gym, a part-time course or attending local events.  Whatever it takes, make sure your friendship base stretches out in other directions as things can get pretty intimate on the Night Shift and you’ll run out of release if there’s no one else to talk to.

~ * ~

So is it safe to conclude how me and the Night Shift are meant to be? I don’t have children or pets, and as much as a cat would do me just fine, the landlord simply won’t allow it.  Therefore, when I say that it’s quite possible to maintain a normal social life, I mean it in every sense when referring to free-spirited twenty-somethings with no valid reason to complain.  While I’ll admit that it took me an age to get over that (the best part of ten months; please don’t laugh), I must say that the Night Shift is okay and the people aren’t any stranger than the ones on the Day Shift.  Then again…

What do you think?