Clinging on for now

Count Smorltalk does the math

Just recently, I was sent a link to an article from the FT about professional salaries in London. I was made to understand by my correspondent that I should read this article. My correspondent is not a woman to be ignored.



Damn, that’s why I don’t read the FT online, I remembered. I’m too stingy to pay the subscription. Then I noticed that by registering I could read a whole eight articles a month for free. Weyhey.


Email address, password, country, postcode. Ok gotcha. Hey, wait a moment: Position? What’s my position? Err, recumbent? Feet up on sofa, laptop on lap? Not an option. Serious multiple choice answers only: Associate, Senior Manager, Business Specialist. Sadly no option for itinerant language peddler. I chose CEO.

Job responsibility next. Boy oh boy, I’m not sure I’m going to pass the entrance exam for the free subscription. What are the choices? Risk management? Legal? Marketing? That’ll be broker then. Language broker.

Hum de hum.

Please select your industry: Retail? Energy? Health? Easy: Telecommunications – what better description could there be of our profession?

After all that I felt a bit shaken. It felt like my professional identity had been on trial. I don’t like that feeling. My professional identity is not in rude good health at the best of times.

And so finally the article itself. I read that an “über-middle” elite were reaping the rewards of globalistion while millions of “cling-on” professionals were struggling to maintain a middle class lifestyle. Cling-on professionals, I thought, that’s us! Me and my colleagues are cling-ons. Actually I’ve always suspected quite a few of my colleagues of being Klingons, but that’s another story. But seriously, we’re cling-ons aren’t we. I mean we’re scarcely the “über-middle” elite.

Well, if we’re cling-ons, who are the Übers? Who are the Captain Kirks and Commander Spocks of the London Starship? No prizes for guessing that it’s finance sector workers and doctors at the helm of the Enterprise, both of which groups are on intergalactic salaries.

I read that “… the average London financial services salary is about £102,000 including bonuses while academics are paid about £48,000, natural scientists average about £42,000 and mechanical engineers £46,000.”

Wait a sec, I thought, let me just calculate my bonus and see if I’m up there with the doctors and the bankers.

That’ll be a no then.

The point of the article was that forty years ago, academics were paid more than bankers. 30% more! Nowadays people would laugh at the thought that academics could be paid more than bankers. Well, except for Professor Brian Cox of course. No, that can’t be right – he’s definitely Klingon.

These days, to earn good money, apparently you have to live in London. The rest of the country is falling behind in the earnings league. Well, ain’t that a piece of luck. I have half of the qualifications: I live in London.

So I finished the article, grabbed a handful of peanuts and a slurp of beer, and reflected on how it had come to this. Me, a highly qualified professional, clinging on to respectability by the skin of my teeth, sprawled on my sofa with my beer and nuts, whilst my über-middle elite friends quaff claret in Michelin starred restaurants in Chelsea. Then I remembered that I don’t actually know any doctors or bankers. That made me feel a lot better.

As the beer slid down and I slumped lower on the sofa my thoughts clarified, or so it seemed. What would it take me to earn a ridiculous amount like £102,000?

Well, how many days could I potentially work in a year? Well there are 253 working days in the UK in 2014. Now let’s subtract holidays. So 253 less 5 weeks holiday – let’s not be too generous – that’s 228 possible days when I could be gainfully employed. Wow. That sounds like a lot. In any case, it’s a load more than I do work, or ever get offered.

Right, next, let’s suppose for the ease of the maths, that each day is paid at £450. So, now multiply 228 by £450 and hey presto.

Bloody Hell, that can’t be right. Well, that’s obviously why I’m not working in banking. Can’t do maths for toffee. Two hundred and twenty-eight times four hundred and fifty equals….

Bloody hell, I should be working in banking. I can do maths.

If I were to work 228 days at £450 per day I’d be taking home:

Wait for it!


But if I were taking home £102,600 I wouldn’t need to work in banking. I’d be an über-middle on my own terms. I would be a master of the universe. I wouldn’t a crappy cling-on any more. Hooray. I’m saved.

Through my beery haze I realized that salvation was at hand. All I need to do it get a shedload more interpreting days.

But you know what, even if I could land 228 days a year, I doubt I’d be able to honour the contracts. This job is stressy. And most of us who have done it for any length of time are totally bonkers even working half that or a third. And I wouldn’t be on my sofa with a beer this Friday evening. I’d be catching the late flight home from Munich. I’d be paying people to clean my home, launder my clothes, walk my dog, cook my food, live my life. All weekend I’d be preparing documents. And on Monday I’d be off to St Pancras or Heathrow or somewhere with my little wheelie-bag of a life. And my life would be nothing but a succession of hotel rooms, meals grabbed in canteens and at airports. I’d see life through the glass windows of the interpreting booth and through the retina screen of my MacBook. I’d do nothing but repeat other people’s stuff every single day of my life. And that wouldn’t be worth the candle, or the £102,600.

And what’s more, dear reader, who would write this column?

More by Count Smorltalk

Photo credits:; Stuart Miles,


About author View all posts

Count Smorltalk

is an English booth interpreter. He wishes to remain anonymous.

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