I was interviewed recently by Simon Treen for his podcast Working Hours, which is a “series surveying the people of Leeds on their thoughts and feelings about the topic of work”.
As with the Light on Leeds podcast, Simon’s podcast adds to Leeds’ rich culture of debate, though in a digital form. So, I thought I’d return the favour to find out more about the podcast and the story of work in Leeds in the 20202s.
Simon, can you tell us more about why you started the podcast, and what you hope to do with it.
I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to do something creative, something political and to have something of my own. I needed something I could control and be responsible for. I do need to give credit to the late great American journalist, Studs Terkel, who literally wrote the book on what I am doing – Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. That’s what really gave me the idea to use work as my lens for exploring Leeds.
I know most of us spend most of our week around people we’re not related to and that we haven’t chosen to be around for ourselves. We spend most of our time doing things we probably wouldn’t choose to do for ourselves and then do it for other people – all so they can make money out of us! That’s really strange to me. Why do we spend all this time away from our loved ones? Why do we give so much of our energy away in this way? Why are we doing this at all when it’s literally making the world burn?
My main personal interest is film, but film making requires a crew. I enjoy writing, but writing anything properly requires discipline. Any fool can make a podcast though (and many do as I’m sure you know). I knew that. Some people make money out of podcasts. I knew that. Some people make money out of local interest stories. I knew that. I added all of that together and got Working Hours a podcast about work in Leeds that is loads of work and doesn’t pay me any money.
What I am hoping to do is, first of all, get paid. Second, I want to get to know more people in Leeds. That way when the lights go out for good I’ll hopefully have someone to huddle round a poor desperate flame with – if I’m even still around at that point. If I’m being optimistic then I would like it to be instrumental in the great change to a new liveable economy. I’d like to play a part in bringing cool and groovy jobs with not too many hours for all in Leeds who’d want them. I want to see a Leeds in 2050 where nobody reads lifestyle marketing in the Guardian and you never have to hear anything about wars or billionaires. That’s unlikely, I know. So, at a more pragmatic level maybe it could help someone find out about a job they might like to do and that might be of help to that person.
Is there anything in particular you are trying to find out?
Why? Why do we do this? Money is made up, right? Stuff is built, right? What happened to progress? Where did that go? Who wants to grind till they burnout? I mean, really? That’s insane, no? Our current vision of the future is “this until extinction”. Aren’t we supposed to work smarter not harder? What is this society, we’re trapped in? There’s no vision to any of it. There’s literally no positive destination in the journey The West is taking. Where are we going? In to the shale. And why? To make rich people more rich. To go work in a warehouse on the moon for Jeffery or Elon? Is this what we really want? Oblivion? Is humanity just spent? I just want to know what’s going and news content can’t give me that. I want to know what is going on outside our media’s false presentation of the world. I want to hear from real people.
Is there anything you’ve learnt so far that has either come as a surprise, challenged or contradicted your own thought about work today?
People like work. That actually surprised me, because I never have. Actually I got paid to make an animation once, that felt amazing, getting paid for something I was actually excited to do. So I suppose I get that to some extent. But yeah, I expected more whistleblowing and more people giving me the inside scoop of what it’s like working for International Tax Evasion and Exploitation Inc.
I expected, nay, hoped for more anger and agitation to come through in these stories. I think I imagined myself schlepping the streets for stories in a trilby and finding secret sources and getting big juicy hot takes from them and everyone having really radical ideas. Obviously the reality is me sat in a room just being glad to get to speak to anyone and then have a nice chat with them about some pretty deep things.
The things that are really interesting to me when I record now, are the everyday, the time at work, where people work, the tools they use, how they are regulated and so on. It took a while for that to click with me.
Has anyone else picked-up on what you’re doing, like in the media or academia?
I’m not really pushing it anywhere yet. That 1000 people number was initially so it could potentially have some academic value, but the podcast has a life of its own. It’s changing as it grows. I want the show to be known in Leeds and I would also like to see people elsewhere copying my format for the places they live. Podcast are internet based so legacy media isn’t important to me.
In all honesty I don’t think I really want it in a national spotlight and all the potential bad attention that could bring. Personally, I don’t really want to have anything much to do with any of the lovely media we have on this island.
I’ve realised there is a lot of hesitation in this country to talk in a public setting about what one does for money. People are scared to talk and there’s reasons for that – you can consider for yourself why they might be.
I do want to make people think, I do want to shake things up but, I want to do that by asking questions and by providing a voice for people in this country who didn’t go to Eaton and don’t get given a platform. I realise that all of this is dangerous talk and activity now but I feel like I don’t have any other choice.
Our society is collapsing right now, this has been known and talked about for at least 30 years and still and our media and our elites are simply just not addressing that. Is that because the public really don’t care or is it because the public aren’t really allowed voice? That’s really what I want to find out.
Listen to Simon’s Working Hours podcasts here.
And if you’d like to take part, get in touch with Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Thomas is the co-founder of The Leeds Salon public discussion forum.