Caroline's Day Off

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Jun 7, 2024   —   7 min read


In which I take the radical step of "not working all the time".

I became a freelance writer in July 2017. I think I can count on one hand the number of days since then on which I have done no work whatsoever. The wonderful flexibility of having a job where nobody holds you to particular hours or expects you to be in a certain location has a less wonderful side. Nobody from payroll polices how much I work or locks me out of the office when it has to close. There are no paid sick days or holiday days, either. I have filed pieces from hospital waiting rooms and uploaded podcasts on Christmas Day. If you are an anxious person with much of your self-worth tied up in your career (hi!), it can be hard to see any reason ever to stop.

Until recently, when I started noticing that although I was "working" as much as ever, all those hours spent sat in front of the computer weren't producing the same level of output as before. Nothing like. Whole chunks of time were spent staring into space and, when I tried to return to the task at hand my mind would perceptibly flinch away from it, bouncing me into a different browser tab to look at something easy and numbing, like Instagram or a news website. It was frustrating: I had just come through several busy months of cramming extra work into every available minute as my book came out; why was it so hard now to simply write an email?

Lots of reasons come to mind — tiredness, burnout, stress, a general feeling of being at a crossroads both professionally and personally. All of these problems felt too large and amorphous to even begin tackling, but I did have one more manageable idea that I could try. I could have a day off. I really could not work for a whole day. The world might not end.

I'm sure this seems incredibly obvious, even silly, to anyone with a healthy relationship to their work. Of course I can have a day off! I used to have a staff job at a magazine where I got 25 paid days off a year, not including public holidays, and I used to take them all! But that was a different person to the one I am today, and now there is no contract with an employer enforcing my right not to work. I am the boss of me and I am not inclined to grant myself such perks.

But I forced myself to do it. In a rare moment of self-knowledge, I realised that this could not be something spontaneous. I needed to make plans, to put in place guardrails so I could not slip easily back into old habits. First, I made a list of everything I would like to do on a day off, which read like this:

  • take a long walk with my dog without needing to be back at a certain time for a meeting
  • watch television, just because I want to and not because I have to review the show
  • go out for a meal by myself
  • explore a place I'm curious about with no agenda or timetable
  • do an activity with some friends

I felt that this was simultaneously a very basic set of requirements and also quite an ambitious list for a single day off. I mulled it over for a few days. The next thing that happened was that the YouTube algorithm relentlessly targeted me with promotional videos for the new series of Bridgerton. I have read all of those books and I have watched the previous seasons, so I suppose that makes sense. From this publicity, I learned that for the first time the show was going to be released in two batches of four episodes a month apart (no doubt to keep people subscribed to Netflix for two months instead of one). On 16th May, the first four would drop.

For no good reason other than I find that show a fluffy, unchallenging diversion, I picked that as the date for my day off. I had no work obligations scheduled that would need to move. It also happened to be a day when my chamber choir was due to rehearse in the evening, and the weather forecast was decent. It all seemed to line up: I would watch some new Bridgerton, take my dog for a nice walk, go into Liverpool mid afternoon, wander around a bit, go out to eat, and then enjoy singing with my friends. A good plan.

I arranged with my colleagues at The Browser to swap duties that day and started looking forward to it. I even assigned blocks on my calendar to my different day off activities to make sure that I would have a timetable to follow and wouldn't waste the day doing household chores or scrolling on my phone. Again, absurd that this is necessary, but I knew how easily I could guilt myself into not doing what I wanted, and then I would berate myself for the failure. If there was already a schedule to follow and I didn't need to make any decisions, it seemed more likely that I would take the path of least resistance and stick to the plan.

My resolve was tested once in between making the arrangements and the day itself, when a podcast interviewee needed to reschedule and had a strong preference for this day. I even drafted a response to their email agreeing to it, appeasing my inner objections with the idea that "it'll only be 90 minutes out of your day off". But it wouldn't be, would it? I would have to prepare, set up the equipment, transfer the files afterwards, decompress from being "on" for a while before I could do anything else. I deleted the draft reply and proposed new dates a few weeks ahead, one of which worked. Nobody minded. The day off was saved.

The 16th May arrived. I followed my timetable and had a lovely time! I did feel a little foolish adhering to a detailed schedule that had things like "watch Bridgerton episode two" on it, it is true. I'm still very new to prioritising my mental wellbeing over my incessant compulsion to work all the time, I think, and like a small child I need structure to thrive.

After a pleasant morning involving some television and some dog walking, I took the train into Liverpool. I headed for a riverside area called the Baltic Triangle where, pre-pandemic, I had a little studio space. It has a post-industrial, slightly dilapidated feeling. As the name suggests, this is where timber and other imported goods from Scandinavia were warehoused in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and that industry then declined and relocated. I haven't really been there much since 2020, and the gentrification/redevelopment process has come on apace. There are some really nice new innovations, like this community garden with a view of the Anglican cathedral:

I wandered around there for a while, then went to a coffee shop I used to frequent when I used to come here to work. It has a pleasingly large dairy-free menu, which I used to full advantage:

Inevitably, there is something very "Shoreditch in 2007" to the aesthetic choices here, all plywood and string lights, but I'm old enough these days that this reads as nostalgic rather than annoying.

Next I went to take in some Baltic heritage, in the form of the Gustav Adolf Church, originally built in the late nineteenth century to serve the Scandinavian emigrants living in the area and still a cultural centre for the Nordic community.

I love the extremely pointy lead roof! At this point, I started really enjoying myself as a tourist in my own city as you can only do when you truly let yourself see a familiar place with new eyes. So, I went to the Chinese supermarket and bought the good snacks.

Liverpool's Chinatown is one of the oldest and best-established in Europe and it shares a boundary with the Baltic Triangle. Happily munching, I wandered around some more and took in the excellent graffiti palimpsest at the skatepark:

I don't even follow football and this mural made me tear up a bit. I guess that's what seven years of living here will do to you.

In between the shiny new buildings and warehouse conversions, there are still a few older businesses clinging on.

Very curious about this one:

Last thing before my choir rehearsal, I took myself for an early dinner at a street food market in an old brewery (I know, so hipster). It was a very good falafel wrap, though.

I ended the day singing medieval madrigals with my friends in an old church. And even though I had done nothing other than enjoy myself all day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It was a very good day off. Perhaps I'll have another one some time. I might even make a habit of it.

Until next time,


Thank you for reading this, the first instalment of my newly-relaunched newsletter! Any (kind) feedback or requests are welcome via reply to this email. Henceforth, I'm planning on doing broadly three kinds of posts, on no particular schedule: personal essays/updates like this one, lists of good links, and diary entries about my new book project. If you would like to manage which of these you receive, you can do that in your account menu here.

Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Twitter Send by email

Subscribe to the newsletter

Subscribe to the newsletter for the latest news and work updates straight to your inbox, every week.