When the need to take precautions becomes more important than the work itself. 

One of our regular long-term clients at Admiral pops in every other Tuesday, regular as clockwork (or at least as regular as a clock that takes in fortnights as well as seconds, minutes and hours), and adds more material to his collection.

He is not one of my customers who stops for a chat, and he always has a preoccupied look on his face as he comes in, unlocks his container, deposits something from his briefcase, and then walks out again.

But just recently he seemed a little lighter in his step, and there was a fraction of a smile on his face, so I took the opportunity and made so bold as to ask him what it was that he used the service for.

He gave me a long and penetrating look for a few seconds – the sort of look that is generally only delivered by those who spend an awful lot of time on their own – before finally replying.

“Imagine,” he said, “that you worked full time, five days a week, sometimes maybe even six or seven days a week, but didn’t get paid.”

“Why would I not be paid?” I asked, but he put his hand up, rather imperiously I thought, and clearly wanted to go on.

“Then after six or nine months, you might start getting paid for the work that you had done in that period, five, six, or seven days a week.  Not all the money you were owed, but a little bit of it.  And not even very regularly, but once every six months.”

“But why would I put up with such a situation?” I asked, not unreasonably I thought.

“Because the work was the only work you could do, and was the work that you loved,” he replied.

“And what is that work?” I asked.

“I am a writer.  I sit at home, alone, writing, day after day.  At the end of writing my book I hand it over to the publisher who might, if he is feeling generous, give me a small advance.  Thereafter every six months he gives me a little more, depending on how the sales have gone.”

“And if I may ask,” I asked, “do you get paid much at that stage?”

“If the book sells for £10 in the shops, I get 75p,” he said, looking doleful.

It seems an awfully small amount of money, and I suggested this, and a slight flicker of a smile passed over his face.

“Now imagine,” he continued, “that you could do all this work but then suddenly, just as you were about to finish it, it all vanished.  The work had gone, you had not been paid, and now you would never be paid because it simply wasn’t there anymore.”

“That would indeed be terrible,” I agreed, “to have worked and then lost all that work without ever being paid. But does this happen?”

“To me, no,” he replied. “But there are apocryphal tales of writers who do work for years on projects and then leave the only typescript on the train, or whose computer is wiped clean by a virus, or who carry the laptop through a magnetic field…”

“But these things never happen to you?” I asked.

“No, but that is because I take precautions.”  He looked at me with what I took to be a meaningful look, and then on feeling he had received the nearest approximation to such a look as I could deliver, he continued.

“Every day I make a backup of the latest addition to my work and I email it to my sister who lives in New Zealand, so that if the UK is swallowed by a volcanic eruption, there is still a chance of survival for the work.  Every other day, I make a copy of my work thus far and email to myself on my backup computer which I keep at my cottage on the Dorset coast.  And every two weeks I print out everything I have so far, and bring it here and add it to the folder in your excellent storage facility.”

“And have you ever had the need to access any of these backups?” I asked.

“Once, before the days of us all having computers I hand-delivered a copy of my work to the publisher, only to find that some three months later they asked me to send over another copy as they had lost the original.”

“And did you have another copy?”

“Yes, fortunately, but only one, and I spent the next three days photocopying that second copy in the public library.  Cost me a fortune and made my arms ache.”

“I had no idea that being a writer could be so troublesome,” I said, and he nodded solemnly, and took his leave back to his computer where I imagine even now he is adding another 1000 words to his latest volume.

Indeed it was only after he left that I realised I had not asked him what sort of books he writes.  I shall try to remember to do that next time around, and if I do, I shall report further.

A customer ventures close to the North Korean border and learns not to shake hands

One of my regular customers came into Admiral’s self-storage facility in Birmingham this week and as usual after adding a few documents to his collection came and sat down with me for a quick catch up on the news.

Now in the past I would have always offered him a cup of coffee, but since one of my other customers who deals in medical matters advised me of the issues that I might be storing up for myself through my consumption of the liquid, I have started to offer not only coffee but also English tea and green tea.

The green tea was the most recent addition, recommended by a friend, and I must say I find it quite tasty – although I have not given up the coffee altogether.  However my customer was not impressed.

“You haven’t been to Korea for the Winter Olympics have you?” he asked suspiciously.  I told him that sadly I hadn’t although it looked on TV like it might have been fun – if cold.  But then I asked, why did he particularly mention Korea?

“Only because they have quite an enthusiasm for green tea,” he answered.  “My company advised on some building work for the Olympics and so I had to go there are few times.”

“What’s it like?” I asked.

“What, green tea?” he asked.

“No, Korea,” I said.

“Very modern, rains a lot, everyone bows,” he told me.

“Bows when?” I persisted.

“All the time.  It’s their way of signing off a conversation, and their way of saying thank you.  In fact the only time they don’t bow is when dressed up in traditional costume as dragons and ancient gods.”

“Do they do that often?” I asked.

“Every hour on the hour in the airport.  It’s actually very good and makes a change from listening to piped muzak while you wait.

“So do they bow in the airport?”

“Yep – you hand over your ticket and you get a bow, you are shown your seat on the plane and you get a bow, you get given your meal on the plane and you get a bow.  I was even asked how I wanted my steak done, I said ‘medium,’ and then got a bow.”

“What on the plane?” I asked.

“All the time on the plane,” he said.  “They take your ticket and you get a bow, and you get proper food.”

“Must play havoc with their backs,” I observed.  “I don’t suppose you went to the North did you?”

“I don’t think there is a tourist trade to the Workers’ Paradise,” I was told, “although the capital of the south, where you land, is only about 30 miles from the border.  But we didn’t get to see much of the country – you never do on these business trips.  Straight in, lots of bows, have a meal, discuss the deal, bow and then back on the Korean Airlines flight.   Mind you the duty free is incredibly cheap.”

“Anything good in duty free?”

“All the usual but a lot cheaper than you get it at Heathrow.”

“I suppose I could do my Christmas shopping,” I mused.

“Bit of a long way for that,” he said.  “Twelve and a half hour flight through nine time zones.  One of those journeys in which you get home before you leave and still feel exhausted.  Interesting place – just based on exporting things so they make a big profit.

“What on earth do they export?” I asked.

“Integrated circuits and cars,” he said.  “You have heard of Samsung!?” and I realised that of course that was it.  Hyundi cars and Samsung electronics.

“So not worth it just for the day trip,” I said, and my customer agreed it was probably not.  “But you could go and learn a bit more about making a cup of green tea.”

I agreed that when I next had a spare afternoon I might pop over and take a lesson or two.  But I’d have to practise my bowing first.