Few job specs can be odder that of the 19th century Parisian Quatorziéme.
Mentioned in The Spectator’s ‘Dear Mary – Your Problems Solved’ column recently, a quatorziéme was a sophisticated and presentable gentleman dressed up and poised to drop in on someone’s salon as a last-minute dinner guest to avert the bad luck associated with a table set for 13.
This line of work seems to have gone the way of the capital’s horse-drawn trams and cholera outbreaks, but another strange gig that is still very much alive is that of professional mourner for the dead.
Traditionally found in Mediterranean and Eastern cultures, but certainly not unknown in modern, protestant Britain, moirologists earn their keep by lamenting theatrically or delivering a eulogy before a family’s loved one is laid to rest. (They don’t always have to do much at all – just sit around looking sad and preparing their excuses for why and how they knew the deceased but not anyone else in the church.)
While dinner parties, perhaps sadly, are rare happenings now (they’re just ‘supper’), and dinner parties of more than eight people rarer still, funerals will always be with us and they are more than grim if there is only a scattering of attendees.
Naturally, “Hello, I’m a mourner/chocolate taster/chicken sexer” will always beat “I’m an accountant” as a conversation starter in bars, regardless of whether the job in question is one we’d like to do. Even so, being paid to be at a social or family event isn’t a cushy source of income, of course. I’m sure that the quatorziéme couldn’t just sit there eating escargots. He would have had to help make lively conversation and be charming to the dull lady next to him.
Odd jobs are two a penny these days. Given that conventional employment is not so easy to find, and no longer so secure, it makes sense that motley bands of serial entrepreneurs, career downshifters and redundant ex-office toilers – for whom self-employment is a necessity rather than a whim – come up with creative ideas for earning a living.
Odd will soon cease to be odd.