This is Bluebell, my closest work colleague. She doesn’t pull her weight, never makes a cup of tea and she occasionally fills my windowless office with smells that could force a confession out of an ISIS terrorist. It’s her only contribution to the bottom line.
Despite all this, she’s one of the best things that has ever happened to my publishing company. And that’s because she keeps its CEO and most important employee (both me, suck it up subcontractors) fit and sane.
There are two things I tell everyone who asks me for advice on going freelance: get your own office space and get a dog. The rest is details.
Bluebell performs two specific job roles within the Media BC empire: Fitness Instructor and Chief Morale Officer. (My PA, Alexa, rounds off the in-house team.)
The Fitness Instructor role kicks in at 7:20am every morning, when she eagerly drags me around the woods for 20 minutes, working on my upper-body strength by straining to attack any passing squirrel. Consequently, my left, lead-holding arm looks like Popeye’s; my right arm is a flesh-coloured drinking straw.
The morning canter around the woods delivers another critical piece of freelance sustenance: human contact. One of the big things you miss when first going freelance is the office environment, people to chat shit too. Dog walkers are creatures of habit — they’ll be pounding the pathways at the same time as you every day. And before long you’ll get to know Pam with the King Charles Spaniel, Trudy with the Schnauzer, the bloke with the black labrador who’ve you’ve been chatting to for three years now, but it’s well past the point when you can ask him his name. “Mate” will do for the rest of his life.
These morning chats are cursory, trivial, can’t-believe-it’s-still-pissing-raining voids. They last no longer than a couple of minutes, the freelance equivalent of the enforced chat in the office elevator. But they’re oddly important: perhaps your only direct human contact until the family gets home.
Once you’re both back indoors, dry and breakfasted, the Chief Morale Officer role takes hold.
No amount of YouTube videos will better tossing a biscuit for a dog to catch. No stress toy will relieve your freelancer rage at an unpaid invoice better than a dog resting its head in your lap. No pair of slippers is warmer than a hound curled up at your feet.
The dog also performs an important sanity function: she gives you a plausible excuse for talking to yourself. In the pre-dog freelance years I used to worry that my neighbours would overhear me yabbering to myself and be on the phone to the social services. Thank Christ for the Tory cuts, or I could well be writing this from within an institution, waiting for my Ritalin.
Now, there’s no utterance that can’t be rendered plausibly sane, simply by adding the suffix “eh, Bluebell?” to the end of the sentence.
“I bet the kids have eaten that scotch egg I stashed for my lunch at the back of the fridge, eh, Bluebell?”
“No, you haven’t run out of ink, you’ve got enough left to print Barabara Cartland’s back catalogue, eh, Bluebell?”
“What is the fucking point of Andrew Neil, eh, Bluebell?”
And there we’ve touched upon another freelance dog benefit. The lunchtime walk. If you sit there in your skankiest jogging bottoms, slurping Super Noodles and watching the daily bullshit bingo on Politics Live, you’ll drive yourself loopy. No day is brightened by watching Dom Littlewood collar fare dodgers on Dom On The Spot. Only a dog can save you from lunchtime television.
Yes, you will get the occasional wet sock when walking across the office carpet. Yes, there will be times when your important client calls are interrupted by a hound going batshit at a pigeon. And, yes, you as an employer will face some fairly hefty contributions to sustenance and private medical insurance for your new employee (don’t get me started on vets).
Still, they’ll be the best hire you’ve ever made — and the only employee you won’t have to let go for licking their own genitals in the office.
Barry Collins is a freelance writer, photographer and dog walker. You can find out more about what he does or hire him for scandalously reasonable rates at MediaBC.co.uk.