Havens

The life of a researcher can be terribly hard at times. There’s the travelling to ever so glamorous locations – like Doncaster, the patience needed while you wait for the right people to fill in the right questionnaires, and most of all, the joy that is coding…

We have a rather special computer programme that does exciting things in the field of qualitative research (oooh, look at me getting all technical & geeky!), but in order for it to work its magic, you first have to have inputted all your data (often transcripts of very long focus groups or interviews) and then code it. In this context, ‘to code’ means to tag relevant bits of text with a corresponding ‘node’ or theme. It takes hours and hours and is fantastically tedious, not to mention rather hard on your mouse wielding hand.

For it to pass as pleasantly as possible you need to be somewhere free of typical office distractions – the person who sits opposite and asks random questions or tries to get you to work on something different (at this point, even working on stats becomes attractive), colleagues who like to sidle up to your desk and talk about Glee (always welcome) or their latest research dilemma (not so welcome), people who like to hold impromptu meetings and, of course, the ever present phone calls from our ‘helpdesk’. A trip to Starbucks works for a couple of hours, but for a good all day session, you need to get out somewhere with plugs, free wifi and an inspiring atmosphere…

I’ve tried a few. The British Library is good for some serious work in a serious environment with serious scholars, but it can quickly get a bit too intense. The Royal Festival Hall has a creative atmosphere but can be limited on plug access and it’s wifi gets temperamental from lunch onwards. However, the location that wins for me is another South Bank cultural mecca – the National Theatre (or ‘the National’ as I like to refer to it, as it prevents comments from being made regarding my pronunciation of ‘theatre’…). Lots of space, plenty of plugs (though they’re well camoflauged), great toilets, good wifi, and (I’m told) drinkable coffee. My particular fondness stems from the fact that it’s often inhabited by creative types, bearing Macbooks and writing plays or actors discussing their latest auditions and roles. I like to surround myself with such people in an effort to feed off their talent and make myself look like one of them (one day soon I’ll have a Macbook of my own).

The last couple of weeks I’ve had a few days of working at the NT and it’s been highly productive. Yesterday was going particularly well, until an elderly trio of matinee goers arrived and – despite a virtually empty second floor balcony – chose the table next to mine at which to eat their picnic and talk loudly to each other. Fortunately, their conversation was quickly amusing enough not to be annoying.

Elderly lady to her two male companions: “Last night I sent my first e-mail. I was actually going to print it off and take it round, but John told me it would be more convenient to e-mail it, so I did…”
“…thing is, I was telling her about Rummikub and the word kept getting underlined in red. I couldn’t work out why, so I rang up John to ask. It seems that the computer didn’t think that was how it was spelt, so I checked on the box and it was and so John added it to the computer’s dictionary for me. Now, next time I use it, I won’t get the red line – isn’t that clever!”

At this point I re-inserted my headphones and got on with my work. If you’re not fond of elderly people or their conversation topics, I would recommend avoiding the NT on matinee days when the restaurant is open. For some reason this eaterie draws every pensioner within the central London region to it. However, if you can cope with them, they can come in ever so handy. If you’re working alone, refilling your water bottle or heading to the loo can be annoying interruptions – what are you meant to do with your laptop? The above elderly lady very kindly watched my stuff for me while I nipped off for a comfort break, so I felt kind of bad for having relayed her e-mail antics to all my Twitter followers. Oh well.

Final fabulous thing about the NT? Quite often you get to work amongst art – currently it’s the ‘Angelheaded Hipsters’ photography exhibit which mostly consists of black & white shots of moody hippies. In fact, it inspired me to take (another) series of reflection shots last week as the sun was setting – this is the iPhone version sadly, as my ‘proper’ ones are on the other computer:

Of course, being a theatre, there’s also the chance you’ll find yourself next to someone terribly famous and exciting. It’s not happened to me yet, but I hold out hope…

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