My excitement at showing off the all new workspace is tempered by the worry that every Tom, Dick and Harriet will rush to take advantage of my newly discovered secret. This is the members area of The Southbank Centre, a minimalist, retro-tinged and creatively reassuring environment with what can only be described as breathtaking, world-class views of the Thames. This alone makes it utterly fantastic, but what really clinches it is the fact that- and I hope I don’t live to regret this- it can be yours for a mere £40 a year. There, I’ve done it now; do your worst. Turn up in your massed hordes and stare excitedly at the view whilst forgetting to write a screenplay on your MacBookPro. Drink coffee whilst toying with your iPhone, regard your neighbours furtively, wondering if they actually might be doing something productive on their laptops, or whether they too are really wondering if it’s too early to eat their packed lunch. (It’s a remarkably self-disciplined lot here). Do all this, for forty-motherloving-quid a year. Ye Gods!
It only took me a day to realise that, although the isolation and monotony of working from home had been replaced by the stimulus of being surrounded by quasi-industrious creative types, there would inevitably be inherent issues with the new found nirvana. The first day brought with it the thrill of the new, and the excitement of discovering a unique space, and within that space, the ideal spot in which to work. The second day brought the inevitable anxiety that someone else might be occupying said ideal spot. Convincing myself that it didn’t matter, and that I was ridiculously puerile to be even entertaining such thoughts, I watched my fellow workers lurking outside the locked doors of The Festival Hall at a few minutes to opening time, and scrutinised them for signs of any similar territorial instincts. They are, to a man and woman, studiedly civilised and rational people, so it was difficult to ascertain anyone’s state of mind. We entered the lift with lots of “after you”-ing, and gazed serenely at nothing in particular in a cultured sort of way as the lift rode up through the floors. And then, at the sixth floor, the doors opened.
The sight of half a dozen middle-aged creatives scuttling across the carpeted corridors, desperately clamping man-bags and handbags to their sides, all trying to create the impression that they were not making a mad dash for their respective favourite tables/chairs/sofas as they did just that, was a revelation. The utopian tranquil environment with unparalleled vistas of the city had been transformed into a toddler’s bedroom treasure hunt as we waddled frantically into the member’s area with looks of mild-mannered determination, hoping but failing to exude an air of artistic sang froid.
The consequences of witnessing this scenario led to a somewhat stressful first week, as I vainly tried to convince myself that I didn’t care where I worked, and that if I couldn’t get my optimum position I would deal with it with equanimity. I even tried leaving a bit later each morning to prove to myself that I was so unbothered by it all I didn’t even need to be outside the main doors before ten. Even so, I still caught myself gazing up at the seats by the window as I walked across Hungerford Bridge, trying to determine if someone had sat in my favoured spot; until I realised I was missing out on one of the highlights of the day, which is the view along the Thames towards Waterloo Bridge and St Pauls, and made a mental note to well and truly let go. There was a real danger that the new found and much-loved space was about to be invested with the very habits and perceived limitations that had caused me to seek a new working environment away from my own studio in the first place. How soon we forget, how quickly we turn the rose petals that litter our own blessed path into thorns.