The day to day life of a technician is very varied, which is what I love about the job but there is one thing that governs our day, possibly more than the tasks we need to achieve. And that is break times!!!Although the normal working day is 9am until 5:30pm, our hours are actually quite flexible due to the long commute that some of us have. I personally have over an hour long journey into work in the morning battling the M1 so if the traffic is good and I get in for 8am then I’ll leave a bit earlier but equally if there’s been an accident involving two lorries and there’s a “shed load of jam” on the motorway (this actually happened) then my day shifts accordingly.
The one constant in our day though is the breaks. Tea break is at 11am, lunch at 1pm and afternoon break at 4pm. And woe betide anyone that tries to schedule a meeting for any of these times. At morning break we always take our tea and coffee over to the staff canteen and there’s a little group of us that always sit together. And we’re probably quite rare in that the group is not just our immediate colleagues, it’s made up of technicians, Post Docs and senior scientists across a range of disciplines from insects to statistics, weeds to genetics. And we discuss anything and everything, often within the space of one break time. It’s not unusual to segue from hunter-gatherers to space travel in 30 seconds, topics are very wide ranging and often result in laughter which I believe really helps to spur you through the next couple of hours before lunch. I often use this opportunity, during our very busy times, to ask whether anyone would fancy helping us measure 3000 plants for example but strangely everyone suddenly seems really busy……….
Lunch breaks are usually spent at my desk unless an errand into town is required. Up until recently I didn’t have a TV or decent internet at home so the lunch hour was a vital time to catch up on the latest episode of Bake Off, having banned the subject at morning break until I’d watched it. Otherwise I usually check the news or spend my time dealing with the emails, accounts and general stuff that seems to accompany being a Brownie leader (which I love doing I hasten to add). I will also venture out of our technician office to visit the Post Doc office, usually to bother them with some random, useless information such as “did you know they are moving the British Antarctic survey station and it’s built in pods with skis to move it and that will take two years”.
But then some of these interactions, as well as being vitally important for our team building within the black-grass group of course, produce sparkling gems amongst the monotony of the lunch hours. How else would we have been introduced to the Crystal Light National Aerobic Finals of the 80’s or ski ballet, a sport sadly now dropped from the Winter Olympics!! Most of this light entertainment is watched on my computer because mine is the only one amongst us that has a sound card and therefore we can watch these videos in their full glory. Mmmmm likely story…… The only awkward moment in three years has been when our boss was wondering why we were all crowded round my computer one lunchtime and this was because we were looking up the Hamburgler, obviously.
Afternoon breaks seem to be spent mostly in the office these days, writing blog posts such as this one. Sometimes work does continue through, depending on how much I am in the zone whilst entering data. Or else they are frantically spent coming up with a craft or activity that my Brownies can do, usually later that night because I pretend I’m organised. Then I bother my colleagues showing them paper plates I’ve made into birds and paper cups I’ve made into snowmen and Easter bunnies (thank goodness for Pinterest) or post-it notes I’ve folded into pianos. It’s ok though, they’ve all known me long enough now to know I’m a bit odd.
All of this looks like we’re creatures of habit, and we are. But when you’ve just weighed out the plant from the Nth paper bag and the tray of bags doesn’t look any emptier than when you started that morning, knowing it’s only 10 minutes until tea time is what helps you through the day. And if you only do one thing today during your own break, whatever time that may be, please look up ski ballet on the internet, you won’t regret it.
NB during busy periods such as extreme sowing, spraying or harvesting events, the whole of the above goes out the window and you grab a break whenever you can get it. The technicians often bring in cakes/biscuits/doughnuts to help through these traumatic times for which we are very grateful.