The last time I almost got fired, I was dressed up as Amy Winehouse, two days after she had passed away. My manager had already warned me after he’d heard I’d dressed up as a Spartan Soldier and chased customers with a spear. I’ve also KO’d a number of paying customers, and knocked a substantial amount to the ground deliberately, without any repercussions and actual praise from colleagues and management. A key part of employability is your appearance: I always dress is tatty rags and am often covered in blood and bruises, and never get told off for it. I make people lose control regularly, with fear and laughter, and instead of reporting me they thank the manager. One time, I was introduced to one of our new staff whilst improvising yoga at the entrance to our staff room dressed in a green Borat mankini and wearing a giant troll head, looking like some weird backing dancer to a sadomasochistic Labyrinth tribute show. I also managed to make a woman shit herself, literally. I would have felt bad; except the cause was that I was doing my job to maximum effect. She did grip my arm with a tightness that implied shock, respect and disgust all in equal measure.
It’s odd when people ask you what you do. I am always under the impression that if you’ve only got a certain amount of seconds counting down on this planet until you die (and the majority are spent undertaking activities that pay you the money to make it until old age) you might as well enjoy as many of those seconds as possible. I can’t understand people who dedicate 48 weeks of each year to self-induced stress so they can 'detach' for four weeks in a far off exotic place (you're not really detaching, you're just worrying about getting back). The average human will work for 50 years of their life. That’s 2,600 weeks, of which you’re only enjoying 200 of them if you follow the above pattern that I've seen so many people do. If you’re going to dedicate to that working ratio, why not just enjoy yourself for the next 200 weeks in a row and then cash in your chips and end it all after four years of bliss? The right stress through life is fine (the kind you get from doing things you love, which doesn't deflate you but actually invigorates you) and it’s taken me 10 years to understand that basic employment principle. I currently juggle 5 different jobs, all are freelance projects of which the hours vary weekly.
Since I left higher education, I've had about 15 different types of jobs. Some I truly hated, some I truly loved (I bit like my experience with girlfriends. My favourite saying is a Confucius quote: “do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. People see life as a sprint that has to be run in competition with everyone else around them, in a race that’s been created by the media and their stereotypes about how life should and must be run: obey their rules and stick to your lane and identity, or you’ll be disqualified. Of course life is a race, but it’s a marathon, and one with no fixed route. The only things you are given if you really strip down life is a starting point and a finishing point, and the finishing point is one that you won’t know or see until you get to it. In other words, enjoy the race because the journey is the real destination. If this all sounds like a pile of cheese softer than a Babybel that’s been left out in the sun (try peeling that wax off at your peril) then the irony is that it’s probably because you’ve already realized it, and can’t imagine what all the fuss is about when people complain about the majority of their waking (and earning) life. The pursuit of crappiness is in large part an acceptance that no matter what you choose to do with your life, there will be large amounts of exhaustion, stress, fatigue, frustration, fear, unpredictability…all sprinkled with a little happiness (basically any Disney film in a subverted alternate universe).
A love of crap is a willingness to be truly content. And a love of being content means a willingness to factor in a joyful anticipation of crap. It is a beautiful thing that forms your personality and gives you a constant measure of what you will and won’t stand for in working life and pleasure. In other words: experiencing crap helps your principles. Yes, zombying is often extremely crap: on your feet all day, running around in the dark, health and safety nightmares at every literal step, and I’ve been punched and poked in the eye more times than Nigel Farage in Brussels. The Tombs has taught me an incredible aptitude for which I will always be grateful: I’ve learned how to channel anger - when to hold it in, when to breathe and let it go, and most excitingly when to let it out full pelt (in a legal way). Also, in living with a tick disorder, a job this physical and improvisatory actually eliminates the mental desire to twitch by letting me do it whenever the hell I want, in whatever way I want (performance has always helped, and boy is this constant performance). When it comes to anger management and stress, there’s a myriad of therapies that have been proven successful, and I’d vouch for the simplest of methods: screaming and flailing around like a madman (or genius) in the faces of strangers really does get any of life’s frustrations out. You may leave after close to 10 hours underground with a few bruises and a hoarse throat (not from Tesco lasagne), but the truth is that in terms of casual part-time work I wouldn’t want it any other way.
From working in a dusty underground environment on 8-9 hour shifts with a severe lack of vitamin D (there’s no sunlight down here – just the sound of zombies and the faint vibration of the London tube) I’ve thought more about the importance of my health and fitness then sitting in a sunny office eating custard creams every break and having regular alcohol-topped work nights out. Also in the Tombs, the crap-o-meter hits it’s high point when you’re reminded that as soon as you enter the building, there is zero phone reception for the rest of the day. This means a lack of email, personal updates, alerts from friends and loved ones, and all-in-all a lack of contact with the fast-paced world filtering through the streets a above. Yes, day’s get crap – especially if you choose to take 5 shifts in a row in ‘high season’ (when all the tourists, foreign and domestic, come out to play) and if this falls in winter you may only see two hours of sunlight in the morning and then no more natural rays until the following day. I should also point out that this job is, due to my current financial circumstances, an optional one. I could choose to spend more time “enjoying myself” in glossy past times that magazines and social media may force down my throat, but often when I get to undertaking any of these I find myself merely ticking off a box of “been there, done that” whilst looking over my shoulder and realizing the 150 other people there who also fit my marketing demographic are thinking the exact same thing.
Putting yourself constantly in the firing line of crap is the reminder that all you really need in life is someone to ask you how your week has been (and actually mean it), a little food and drink you truly appreciate possessing, a sense of missing loved ones who aren’t directly in front of you, and a mutual respect for everyone who is also down in the dark with you. The Tombs reminds you of the few things in life that actually matter, and a lack of phone signal blocks you off from instead being told what you should think is important in life from others, from the media. If you want to realize what your priorities are in life, incorporate a little more crap in your life. I choose to do it in the form of makeup, tatty smelly clothes and shoes with holes in. Others choose to take part time jobs as police community support officers, in retail, as a naked butler (I've also done that), a door to door Aloe Vera salesmen (I've also done that), a secret shopper, or volunteering in A&E from 11pm - 6am. Everyone can find their own crap, you just need to be willing to look outside the pretty box called “what I think my life should be”. I must be doing something right, because whenever I work a zombie shift, I have a better night’s sleep then any other. If you’ve been through crap there’s a sense that you’ve achieved something. Perhaps that’s the real test of a job: how much worth do you feel your day has really been? The more you’ve given of yourself, the more worthy you are to detach in selfless slumber. Maybe that will be the ultimate test of whether we’ve truly lived a contented and accountable life: how well do we finally sleep when we enter the infinite and wonderful nothing from which there is no wake. If only we could ask how well those people are finding the big sleep, but even though I'm writing about the walking dead here, the afterlife is a theme for another blog. I will however say this: the contradictory twist with being paid to be a zombie is that I have to pretend to be dead in order to know what it means to feel alive.
There are some incredible characters down here. And they’re not from a costume kit, or list or obligatory guide. People down here create their alter egos. With each shift we slowly come to form our own masquerade ball, where our identities are still in check but the elements of our personalities that we are interested in exploring are forced forwards, in view of tourists, who are the scientists observing our latest psychological experimentations. There is one friend (who shall not be named), who has created a dark cloaked character with the name ‘Sheker Baba’. He is a Turkish kebab owner, and often walks around with a squeaking puppet puffin. It’s terrifying. The real test of how well these alter egos suit each person is that they often walk out to get lunch through the bustling collective that is London Bridge and Borough Market (often on a weekend) without getting a second look. We never do. There are people who work here for all different reasons, for all different backgrounds, and it truly reflects in their dress. When I’m not dressing up as a zombie Amy Winehouse, a Spartan or the lovechild of Borat and Papa Smurf, I ‘play’ Dr Fun. He is a gloriously horrible concoction – a doctor who wears a tatted trilby, with fingerless gloves and 2 badges: the first of which says ‘The Fun Factory’ and the second which says ‘trust me – I’m a zombie’. The shoes are ripped old Nikes. Trousers are optional. Dr Fun forms one part of ‘Station’ – conjoined twins (now separated in body, but still one in mind). Another of my esteemed colleagues (who again shall not be named) plays ‘Charlie’, who’s face is a cross between Scarecrow from Batman Begins and a soggy chocolate digestive in mid-melt. We’ve often wondered what would happen if we did take a running jump into one another and form a giant singular Station – in true Bill & Ted style, then we decided for the good of humanity we better now (since being the most intelligent being in the universe may have the tendency to make everyone else feel small). Finally, everyone creates their own version of 'Guardian Angel' – a character designed to accompany young children and their parents through the attraction, who are either too young or too scared to go it alone in the full attraction. It constantly reminds you that childhood is a wonderful illusion that shouldn’t be shattered, and how as an adult you must never lose it. You may see a plastic monster, but the child you are showing around sees a ghoul that lurks in their wardrobe and only comes out between 1am and 4am.
Maybe dressing up in your own Kickass-style super-you attire is a reminder that you don’t have to be on your lunch break from a part time scare attraction job to find yourself lost between the millions of other Londoners: every other citizen is wearing their zombie-outfits too but we just don’t see it. We don’t double-glance at anyone in this city. We are people trying desperately to be individual, yet we choose to group together in a city of nearly 10 million. If you really wanted to stand out, go to wilds plains of Mongolia dressed as Dr Fun. The Tombs are a window to the world even though there's zero windows: a view on the life of the 10,000s that pass through the attraction each week from all over the world. It's crucially a window on yourself too. We should think of choosing our jobs as house hunting: after all it’s the place we’re going to reside in the majority of the time. It needs to be a space you enjoy, an environment you feel comfortable in, and it needs to have a clear sense of clarity in it’s layout, so you can truly see what direction you’re heading in, and make sure your windows are mighty big and mighty clean. You’ll probably have a window cleaner employed weekly, and if you ask him how content he is, I’m sure he’ll be able to give you a better judgment of his own character than people who spend years in a job they hate, at the cost of losing who they are. The window cleaner isn’t happier; he’s more content – how confident am I of this? I’ll bet you a free ticket to The Tombs, and I'll dress as a Borat troll and do a little yoga dance for you. Don't ever think you're better than a part time job or volunteering, even if you're earning enough money to not have to do them. In conclusion, they're a window to the soul, because it's not about doing what you think will make you happy, it's about doing what you think will make you crappy.