I have just been to the best job interview ever. Which is good, because I have had some real stinkers.
A job interview is not the kind of thing that makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning. It’s not like you’re going to be having lunch with George Clooney at the Savoy and, if you hit if off over the Poire Belle Helene, he’ll be asking you to write his next movie.
No. Job interviews, generally speaking, are a weekend spent with dentist in-laws, being examined on philosophy and arse-licking, condensed into an hour.
The weirdest job interview I’ve ever had? That would be the one in the advertising department of a local radio station. It didn’t go too badly. At first. I impressed the head of advertising with my choice of music for some processed cheese (Air on a Cheese String), but then he asked me, quite seriously, what famous actor I would choose to play him in a film. And what film it would be. What kind of question is that??? My mind, poor at the best of times in these situations, went completely blank. I stared at the guy, who was small, pinkly balding and perspiring freely, and then, in a splurge of sycophancy, I mumbled, ‘Oh, that would have to be Samuel L Jackson, of course, because he’s the coolest man on the planet.’
‘And the film?’ he pressed, smirking slightly.
‘Er, oh…’ and then I blurted, ‘Babe the sheep pig, because he looks like you.’
Most crushing job interview? That would be one I had in the seventies, when no one had really yet got to grips with equality. It was for the job of junior reporter on a weekly paper, and it all went swimmingly until, at the end, the editor said, ‘Well, it’s a choice between you and a young man. So, of course, I’m going to give him the job.’ Yes, he really said that. Mind you, he also said he’d call me back in six months, and he did. So, fair play. (ish)
Most time-consuming and ridiculous interview? That would be for a multi national bank. Not in the money department, you understand, but as editor of a staff newspaper. When I got notification of the interview, a friend said to me, ‘They’ll ask you what you like doing in your spare time.’
‘Oh, that’s easy,’ I replied. ‘Lying in bed and eating chocolates.’
‘Nooo!’ said friend. ‘You can’t say that.’
‘Why not? They’ll think I’m being friendly and humorous.’
‘Banks don’t have a sense of humour,’ counselled the friend. ‘Say, that whatever time you get home, you like to go out for a run. Otherwise they’ll think you’re sluggish and hopeless.’
And it came to pass that, during the interview, I was given several bizarre tests cunningly designed to reveal the inner me (including building the Forth Road Bridge out of plastic straws). Efficient people with clipboards watched my every move, and would ask at intervals, ‘How do you like to unwind after a day at work?’ (Oh, I have to go for a run. It’s absolutely my favourite thing). Or, ‘What’s your favourite pastime?’ (Running, of course, or possibly going to the gym. You can’t beat an hour or two on the treadmill – I mean, it did wonders for Oscar Wilde); or rank, in order of preference, your ideal method of relaxation: a, watching TV; b, lying in bed; c, eating chocolates; d, going for a five-mile run over muddy terrain in the dark (Yes, you guessed it.)
And, get this: I got offered the job. I didn’t take it though. It was too much like hard work.
Which brings me to my latest interview. This was for a job as an adult education tutor for my local county council. Zero hours contract, mind, and no cast iron guarantee of any work, but it was worth a go. So I jumped through most of the hoops online, and was called to interview last Tuesday at a former stately home in the depths of the lush spring countryside. They (whoever they were) started building the house about 900 years ago out of the glowing local stone, and the Victorians put an end to it with fancy bits of brick. It had gothic doorways, and crumbling turrets and lush untidy lawns with a stand of beehives at a safe distance. It was the kind of place that made you want to take a cup of tea out onto the terrace and conjure up a best selling romance, while the cook and butler got busy with the bacon and eggs. (Enough pointless description, ed).
Anyway, there I was with three other hopefuls, who teach music, drama and relaxation therapy. We all had to give a 15-minute lesson. The music teacher was first. She had all of us, including the county council types, up on our feet singing What shall we do with the drunken sailor and Oh, sinner man. She gave us tambourines and scrapy sticks and divided us up to so we could do part-singing. And it was truly joyful. (And mostly in tune.) Then it was the drama teacher, who emptied a bag full of masks on the table (I got the one labelled ‘confused’) and showed us how to mime. (Move over, Rowan Atkinson). My 15 minutes on how to write natural-sounding dialogue was a bit quiet after all that but, because I’d also had instruction on how to meditate from the other teacher, my nerves had flown away. I was having A Good Time. And guess what? I got the job! (And I’m hoping that the other three were taken on too, because they were really good.)
My classes are being time-tabled, and the leaflets are blowing out over the land. All I have to do now, is get some students. Music and mime, anybody?
Picture of Samuel L Jackson: commons.wikimedia.org
Picture of Babe the Sheep pig: simple.wikipedia.org
Today is Armistice Day, and I want to pay tribute to Reg Hill, one of the last of the Old Contemptibles.
He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star for conspicuous gallantry and I was sent to interview him when I worked on a weekly newspaper. Being a junior reporter and only 19 I didn’t really know much about anything, and that day when I arrived on his doorstep in November 1978 was no exception. My knowledge of the Great War was fairly sketchy and I had just pushed the doorbell when I realised I had nothing to write on and nothing to write with.
But by then it was too late. Reg had already opened his front door. He was 96 and he looked small and vulnerable. I couldn’t help thinking that he actually looked like a tortoise that had lost its shell. But in two ticks he had welcomed me in, brushed off my ineptness, put the kettle on and given me a pen and a fancy boxed set of paper and envelopes to write on.
Reg was with the British Expeditionary Force present in France up to to the end of the First Battle of Ypres on 22 November 1914. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, who was famously dismissive of the BEF, reportedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to ‘exterminate… the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army.’
Sixty four years later Reg settled into his armchair and said, ‘There’s only three of us Old Contemptibles left in North Bucks now. That’s what Kaiser Bill called us. So we thought, right, that’s our name then.’
Reg was a sergeant artificer in the Rocket Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916. ‘We were in the trenches after a bit of a do, and we were being shelled and I heard this voice shouting, ‘Blesse, blesse,’ and I knew that meant, wounded, see, in French. So I put my head above the parapet and I could see this bloke lying out in No Man’s Land. I couldn’t just leave him there, could I?’
Despite his mates’ best advice not to risk it, Reg scrambled over the top, under fire, ran to the man and heaved him on to his back.
‘We were heavily shelled – I had to jump into shell holes three times on the way back,’ said Reg. ‘Terrible places, they were. Full of water.’
And he carried that man on his back all the way to the nearest first aid post. ‘They made such a fuss when I got there,’ he said, in some wonderment. ‘And being French, they insisted on plying me with wine before they let me go back.’
Reg went on to fight at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and survived both, before being invalided out with a wounded arm.
‘I always go to the Remembrance Day services,’ he said. ‘Because I lost some good chums. No mistake about that.’
Reg died not long after that interview and was missed by many. I still think of him.
We all know about mad inventions. But this is my favourite:
Amazing to think this woman is smiling, even though her skirt’s on fire. Still, not to worry, somebody will be along in a moment, just as soon as they find the bloke who’s got the key.
With kind permission of The Daily Drone, from the collection of Peter Michel
Something to cheer us up on a Monday morning:
Bills are written by newspaper sub-editors. They are displayed by shops to tempt innocent passers by, and are part of that list of weird slogans yelled by street vendors (‘orrible murder, gitcher news ‘ere, standard! standard!) But, sometimes, the sub in question has an off day…
Images courtesy of Alistair McIntyre at the Daily Drone, the world’s greatest website
On Friday I posted a newspaper cutting about a guy who died while at work and none of his colleagues noticed for five days.
This morning I woke up and thought wtf?
The story claimed that a man called George Turklebaum, a proof-reader, had died at his desk on a Monday morning, and it took until Saturday morning before a cleaner tapped him on the shoulder and then maybe wished she hadn’t.
I mean, really, you’d have to be Mr Magoo with a heavy cold not to notice somebody in your office had been dead for a week. So, in the best traditions of investigative journalism, I went to NewYork turned to Mr Google.
Luckily I didn’t have too far to look. Those nice people at Snopes.com who specialise in debunking urban myths, had got there before me. According to them, the story is a complete hoax, first surfacing in America’s Weekly World News which is well respected for its considered take on global events.
The clipping I posted came from the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham, printed on December 17, 2000, (that’s Birmingham as in the home of Noddy Holder, Ozzy Osbourne and Joe Chamberlain, not Birmingham, Alabama), but the story is about a bloke in New York.
The Sunday Mercury claim they got the story from an NY radio station, but, according to Snopes, no newspapers in New York carried the story, and the Medical Examiner’s office knew nothing about the case. And there was nobody on the Social Security Death Index by the name of Turklebaum.
So there you go. Never believe everything you read in newspapers. Unless, of course, you agree with it.
Pictures courtesy of Creative Commons, via:
All pictures via Creative Commons.
I’ve always been rubbish at sports. If you gave me an egg and spoon at primary school I would drop them; enter me in a race and I would come in last, complaining of a stitch.
And I suppose I would always have been rotten at anything energetic, if it weren’t for the fact that when I was 12 my dad got a job in Jamaica. Everybody is good at sports in Jamaica. Even the cats there can swim. So I swam. Boy did I swim.
But even though I learned how to swim enormous distances, I remained scornful of anyone on dry land using their legs just for the sake of it. I mean, what was the point? Why jog anywhere, when you could catch a bus? Why pay money to walk on a conveyor belt in an airless room when you could just go for a walk? And why walk when you could sit down with a mug of tea, a packet of chocolate digestives and a decent book?
Sport was for earnest individuals who all overdid it and died young. As a journalist I was forever doing stories about squash players and joggers who had multiple heart attacks. Exercise was obviously really, really bad for you. So, naturally, I spent most of the eighties clubbing, drinking and generally behaving outrageously. Years passed, I got married, had kids and then I saw a video of myself at a party. OMFG.
There’s a field next to us with a farm track running through it. One day, while walking the dogs, and just out of interest, you understand, I thought I’d see how far I could run. I got ten steps. Ten! And I was wheezing like I had lung cancer. Maybe I had lung cancer!!! The next day I tried again – 12 steps. Hey hey! The next day I couldn’t be bothered. And so it went on. I began to run every day. Badly. I didn’t move my arms up and down because I reckoned it wasted energy. So I looked like a flapping zombie. My son found out what I was doing and told me, ‘Mum, nobody runs like that. Seriously. You look weird.’ Tah!
Came the day, my chest on fire, I got to the gate at the bottom of the field and hung on to the bars as if they were a life raft. The dogs, who had raced me all the way, hoping that I was going to do something interesting like throw a ball, sat for a second watching me, and then ran off with no effort at all, while I tottered home.
So then I started going to exercise class. It’s horrible. I have to make lots of physical effort, and my legs hurt, and my arms ache, and there is always a point where I am amazed that I haven’t died. Seriously. I mean, Sue who runs the class makes us run on the spot for at least three minutes to warm up. That’s cruel and unusual punishment, isn’t it? And then we have to do more stuff. Jumping up and down and stretching and press ups and so forth. For a whole hour. It’s really not natural.
But afterwards, I feel so bloody marvellous the rest of the day is a breeze. I might as well have a bluebird on my shoulder and seven dwarves juggling the crockery in the kitchen. In fact, it makes me feel so good, I’ve started boxercise too. A few weeks ago, Sue looked at me thoughtfully and said, ‘You could do a 10k run, you know.’
Pictures courtesy of Creative Commons, available at:
Some more weird headlines:
Florence Parrott was the first person I ever interviewed as a junior reporter. I was 18, the same age as she was when she joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1918.
I had been a reporter for about two weeks when I was sent to talk to Florence, who was then 79, and partially deaf (you’ll have to speak up, DEAR!). She was tall, rangy, ready to laugh, with great booming ho, ho ho’s, and she told her story with a sort of matter of fact understatement that I, as a teenager, just nodded at and wrote down, and now as a mother and grandmother, think of with rather greater imagination.
In 1917, the teenage Florence Maple was a wine waitress at London’s Liverpool Street Hotel, and part of her job was to go next door to the railway station to give lunch boxes to troops departing for the front.
She said: ‘The train and platform were packed with people that day. We heard a whistle and thought it was the train moving off. But we looked up and there was a zeppelin, dropping bombs. I don’t think there was much of the train left.’
In the midst of all this carnage, Florence, who was hit in the arm, shook her fist at the zeppelin, swore at the Kaiser and then was taken to St Barts Hospital. When she was discharged, she went straight to the Connaught Club and joined up. ‘I said to them, if I’m going to get knocked about, I’ll damn well go where I expect it.’
She was one of the first women allowed to join the women’s section of the Royal Flying Corps, which became the Women’s Royal Airforce in April 1918. She went to France with the first boatload of such women and was stationed in Cressy, near Vron in northern France. It was her job to pick up stores from Etaples (‘Funny names the French have. We pronounced it Eat Apples’) which had become a vast military camp and giant hospital and then deliver them to local depots. According to FirstWorldWar.com the hospitals were targeted several times by incendiary bombers, and many of the orderlies present risked their lives getting the wounded men to safety. Florence just said: ‘We had to run for our lives a couple of times, dear, and I’ve known days when there was nothing to eat but a piece of hardtack. Of course, you couldn’t drink the water.
‘I remember the morning that the news of peace came through –we got every vehicle that had a wheel, including wheelbarrows, and we put the men who couldn’t walk in those and we went round and round the green patch in the middle of the camp. The PoWs came and the people from the village. We just couldn’t stop laughing and singing.’
Florence eventually made it back to England, with the last boatload of women who had served in the corps, in 1919. She married and settled down in Buckinghamshire, where she spent the rest of her life. To my shame I have no idea when she died, and I regret that I never asked her the questions that I’d like to ask her today; about how she felt and how her experiences affected her. Although I doubt, even if I could ask her, that she’d want to answer those kind of questions. All I have is a faded cutting and an enduring memory of one of the strongest women I ever met.