Once there was a child whose name was Clive Staples Lewis. He was born in 1898 in the city of Belfast, Ireland. When Clive was about four or five he announced to his mother that he would rather be known as ‘Jacksie’ for he had … Continue reading My Journey into Narnia, beginning with a Biographical Tale
Yesterday I forced the husband to accompany me to a 3D screening of Beauty and the Beast. There had been so much brouhaha (this is a word) about this live action, updated version of the old animated, Oscar winning classic that I felt it would … Continue reading Beauty and the Beast
Polly Dawkins was taking an afternoon nap the day the world ended. This had been an unusual occurrence just a couple of years before (as was the World ending, if we don’t count the dinosaurs.) Back then Polly’s usual afternoon activities had involved drinking copious amounts of coffee (from icky polystyrene cups) whilst staring fixedly at a monitor on her workplace desk. Polly had been ‘something in the city’ and had been doing something in the city (even she wasn’t quite sure what, or who for or, more importantly, why – but it involved a lot of mind numbing number crunching) for roughly 10 years, before a sort of epiphany occurred, on one clear blue-skied day, when she had been staring out of an office window (the one nearest her desk) – her blue eyes all shiny and glazed over; her distracted mind dreaming. She had seen hills and trees and glistening waterfalls and, down in a little valley, the cutest, fairy tale cottage you ever did see. ‘Why don’t you go and live there,’ a kindly but sonorous voice had whispered in her left ear. ‘Ok,’ replied Polly (in her head) I just might. After all, my brilliant career is just more than a bit pants and I don’t feel like me anymore. It’s time for a drastic change.’
Polly had also failed to find love. She’d come close, once or twice, but perhaps she was too choosy, too unaccepting of human failings, too independent. She was now 35 and had dutifully followed the life plan of an educated feminist. She had a career, she believed she had choice and, above all, she was free. This was all fine and dandy until one bleak Saturday morning, when she had woken up to find herself alone in her London flat, with an absolute yearning (which she kept very secret, even to herself) for a husband who would bring her a nice cup of tea, and who would perch on the edge of her bed and say: ‘Look here, Polly, why don’t you just quit the office job, pop out a couple of sprogs and I’ll take care of everything else from thereon in.’
Therefore, when a strange, sonorous voice had whispered in her ear, Polly had been in the right frame of mind to listen (even if she thought it might mean she was a teensy bit mad.) And so Polly took all her money and ran; all the way to Scotland, to a tiny rented cottage at the foot of a spectacular mountain. A cottage from which she intended to engage in meditative practices, designed to soothe the soul and bring forth an inner sense of peace. A cottage where she eschewed all things technological – not that her phone or laptop would have worked up there anyway. This hermit-like situation meant that it would be very unlikely that she would ever come across another living soul (but she would secretly hope to come across unexpected, prospective husband material) for the foreseeable future. Polly was, you see, rather tired of the human race.
To aid the meditative process Polly decided to keep a diary. Had she been able to use a laptop she would, of course, have blogged about her new solitary life but no, Polly went with old fashioned pen and paper and besides, Polly was as tired of the internet as she was of the people that filled it. The slower, more time consuming nature of writing everything down, by hand, was oddly satisfying and turned out to be the only way to go, when the world came to a sudden end.
Polly’s first diary entry had been alarming in nature. It read:
9th March 2016
Christ, what have I done!!!!!! I’ve quit my job; I’ve actually quit my job. What was I thinking? Can I live on my savings – and for how long? I must be mad. I wonder if they’ll take me back? Maybe I am mad. Maybe I could plead temporary insanity and go crawling back on my knees. No, that won’t do, no one in the workplace is indispensable. They say the first sign of madness is talking to yourself, which I’ve been a doing a lot of around here. Well, not entirely to myself. I have been conversing with the birds, and the weeds, in what passes for a garden in this, to be honest, less than picturesque cottage. I’ve even started talking to the mice, who seem to think this is their home. At first I squealed like the mad woman I’m becoming, every time I saw a long tail sticking out of the pile of old newspapers by the door (quickly got rid of the papers) or saw them scuttling along the stone floor, but now we’re on first name terms – Minnie is particularly cute. Amazing how your definition of what constitutes ‘company’ changes, when you’re living in a damp forsaken house at the bottom of a mountain. The question is, am I mad?
There were more entries, running very much along these lines, until a year later, when we come to the ones about how well her veg allotment is doing, and how she was storing the surplus in an old garden shed, and how you couldn’t beat the quality of the drinking water, provided by the little stream which ran past her cottage. And how she was making her own jam and chutney. And how a little store in the nearest village (which was miles away but Polly did have a tiny little car) provided flour for bread making, the sort of bread which would keep for simply ages; not to mention the rock hard biscuits, which would also keep for ages. All of which, as you’ve probably already foreseen, came in very useful when the world ended. Why, it was almost as if Polly subconsciously knew something the rest of us didn’t.
And there Polly was on the fateful day (October 31st 2018) taking her afternoon nap on her comfy couch in her now cosy living room. A couple of mice had just scurried along the top of a nearby armchair (they’d become very forward those mice and not at all nocturnal) but we won’t squeal, we’ll ignore them and, after all, they are Polly’s friends. The couch was more like a double bed, it was so long and wide and filled with gigantic and soft cushions. Polly had nestled down in amongst those cushions, her head resting on a particularly large and fluffily pink one. She was lying on her back, one arm across her eyes. The rhythmical sound of gentle snoring filled the room. Polly’s other arm hung over the side of the couch, dangling carelessly, its hand touching the fur of a small dog (the dog she’d got for company) which lay beside the couch on a rug; the dog was also snoring.
What a peaceful scene that was, especially when we also note that there’s a crackling log fire, a mere three feet away from the slumbering Polly and her dog.
Meanwhile, roughly 3,000 miles away, a crackling fire of a very different sort was making its way across vast swathes of the Americas. For, against all possible odds, a 3.5 mile wide asteroid had suddenly appeared, as from nowhere, and landed in exactly the same spot as the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Upon landing it caused worldwide forest fires, several tsunamis and quite a few earthquakes but, crucially, there wasn’t enough soot and dust to completely block out the sun. This meant that the few living things that were left (which turned out to be mostly water based creatures) had a miniscule chance of long term survival. Of course, this didn’t apply to the humans, who were an absolutely useless lot survival-wise; being that most of them had never watched Bear Grylls and, even if they had, had never bothered to take notes.
Now, the news that the world had ended never reached the UK. This was because the Americas had been destroyed, so there was no one left to take photos of the asteroid on their cell phones, or to film it glowing in the sky, or to post ‘Christ, the World just ended LOL’ on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Now, the scientists among you will be adamant that this scenario is quite absurd, and will further throw your hands up into earth’s oxygenated atmosphere when I go on to tell you that a couple of the tsunamis caused a global flood (in very much the style of Noah and his Ark) and, when this flood reached UK shores, the only bit of the UK it spared was the bit of Scotland where Polly lived. And I mean just the actual bit where Polly lived.
The other bit the flood spared was the top of Mount Everest, where a group of climbers sat marooned. This group was made up of strangers, who had all been subjected to the same sonorous voice as Polly, which had instructed them, a couple of years ago, to get into training for a once in a lifetime trip up Everest – the group included: a doctor, a builder, a carpenter, a farmer, a herbalist, a chemist, a physicist and an engineer – four men and four women, all single and who had all been somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo.
Meanwhile, worldwide, there had been absolutely no time for damage limitation plans, or for any general looting, or rioting, or the stockpiling of tinned food and bottled water, or the buying of gas masks and the searching for anything which would serve as a weapon (cricket bats, table legs that kind of thing) in case Zombies appeared (the cricket bats and table legs would have been quite useless here.) No, everyone in the entire world (except our survivors) simply drowned en masse. And afterwards there was complete and utter silence.
Except for some rather lovely singing coming from inside Polly’s cottage (Polly could carry a tune, even if she said so herself) and various cries of: ‘where did all the water come from?’ and ‘what the hell are we going to do now,’ emanating from the top of Mount Everest .
But we must leave Polly, and our Everest crew, and travel upwards, as far as the eye can see. Up and up we go, past the second star on the right; past giant nebulas and swirling galaxies; past a couple of black holes, until we reach the bit of space at the point before Time began. For this is where all the Gods live.
I’d like to say that the Gods all lived on top of something which looked very like Mount Olympus, where they wafted about in floaty gowns tied with golden cords, and weaved their way in and out of Grecian pillars but no, they all worked for the God equivalent of the Council, and they all had boring desk jobs. And currently the end of planet Earth was their number one topic of conversation.
The God of Statistical Improbability (Calculus), the God of Inevitability (Doom) and the God of Chaos and Confusion (Havoc) were in a meeting.
“Well I think that went rather well,” Calculus was saying (this may seem heartless but you must understand that, to the Gods, we are but as ants to be crushed underfoot.)
“I agree, Earth was in need of a re-boot,” piped up Doom. ‘It’s been going pear shaped for far too long.”
“Of course, it’s all the Creator’s fault,” chipped in Havoc, “but nobody dared say anything for fear of getting kicked into the Nether Regions.” (Doom misheard this bit and thought Havoc said ‘kicked in the nether regions’ and instinctively winced.)
“You’re right, of course,” said Doom. “I mean, what did the Creator expect? Building the thing in just 7 days, sticking around for a mere 2,000 years and then buggering off. This might only be a rumour, but did you know that one of the Winged Messengers mentioned that things were going downhill fast on planet Earth and the Creator said: “which one is that then?” He’d completely forgotten all about it.”
“Well, we had to do something,” said Calculus, “Earth has been giving out a really bad vibe for quite some time. Those humans have been getting way above themselves (the Gods, it must be said, seemed oblivious to the fact that they shared a lot of human characteristics.) The human known as Professor Binzel of MIT confidently asserted that there was no asteroid out there big enough to obliterate the planet. So I taught him a lesson; after all spare the rod, spoil the child. By the way, did you get word to our survivors Havoc?”
“Yes, a bunch of them are on Everest and then there’s Polly, oh and her dog…..to be fair to the humans, the one known as Brian Cox did issue a warning that ‘there’s an asteroid out there and it’s got our name on it’ but, like the prophets of old, nobody listened. I think we should call this one ‘The Big Cox’ in his honour.’ (Havoc was the only God with a sense of humour, even if it was very, very childish.)
“Who’s Polly?” shot back Calculus and Doom.
“You were given a list of highly skilled, reasonable, environment loving people on which the future of a re-born Earth rests,’ continued Doom, “there was no Polly on that list, or a dog.” Havoc looked a bit sheepish.
“Well, I sort of fell in love with her when she was looking out of her office window, it was her blue eyes.” (Polly would later think that this was kind of typical, that the world had to end before she’d ever find herself a husband.)
“And what did Polly do?” demanded Calculus.
“I think it was something involving a lot of admin,” replied Havoc.
“For the Creator’s sake!” screamed Calculus. “Right, Doom and I are going to have a discussion, if you could leave the room please Havoc – now!”
After about an hour, it was agreed, and sanctioned by the God of Major Cock Ups (whose word was always final) that Havoc would be banished for the crime of saving someone who was of absolutely no use in a post-apocalyptic setting, and that his punishment would be to become mortal (in the manner of a previous God before him) and that Earth would be his new home. Havoc pleaded if they couldn’t do it the old fashioned way, like they used to do with those ancient Greeks. Couldn’t he go down there in human form but still be a God? He and Polly could then have loads of little demi-gods who’d save the planet and they could forget about that lot on Everest. The answer was No.
And so it was that, about a month later, Polly opened her cottage door to find that a personable young man was standing there. It was love at first sight (well, it would be, given that he’d previously been a God) and Havoc (now Hamish) told Polly all about it (the end of the world) and Polly said she’s thought something pretty catastrophic had happened, being that she now appeared to be living on an island but, apart from that, she’d never been happier. You might think that Polly would have been upset that her family and friends had all drowned, but she was ever an independent and pragmatic person and, besides, she’d begun to think that the dog was superior company, in that he kept his opinions to himself.
Shortly after that, Doom pulled the plug on the flood and the Everest lot climbed back down. Of course, everything was very wet and in a very bad way indeed – there were dead bodies littered everywhere – and the Everest lot had a real job on their hands, but that’s another story.
Meanwhile, Doom and Calculus hoped very much that this lot of survivors would do rather better than the biblical lot. In fact, Calculus was of the opinion that they shouldn’t have saved any humans at all, but should instead have waited to see what evolution would have come up, with what was left in the seas. What they did do was send a Memo to the Creator, reminding him to include Earth in any future Council directives.
Trying to get into the 30 minute a day walking habit again. The ongoing rain has made it difficult, but the past few days have been brighter and more cheerful. Yesterday I set off at 5 pm. My usual walking time is about mid-morning but, due to the late arrival of a courier, 5 pm was my new slot, and I didn’t realise what I’ve been missing. It was still daylight, but about half way round it was suddenly dusk and the sky was just as suddenly filled with birds circling around and around, making the most awful racket. Just the kind of unholy racket you’d want to hear if you were directing a re-make of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Swarming above my head they seemed to follow me, until I got near the local castle, when the entire flock swooped down towards a couple of impressively tall trees, silhouetted against the sky, and covered every branch, so it looked like each tree had spawned a new variety of evil black leaf. Behind the trees the sky changed to a sort of impossible purple, streaked with white, orange and red. Ah, silly me, thought I, to have been missing all this natural twilight radiance in favour of four walls and a set of drawn curtains.
Also, about half way round, I decided to do a sort of ‘face the fear and do it anyway’ type of exercise. I promised myself that if I came across anyone I vaguely recognised, I would accost them and try to initiate some sort of conversation, in order to practice stammering at people without feeling like a lesser species of human. This was an easy decision to make, since the odds of coming across anyone I knew (I know an embarrassingly small amount of people) was guaranteed to be nil; except that the God of Chance Encounters seemed to have got it in for me.
I saw three people I sort of knew. The first was my hairdresser, who I had only ever previously spent time with via the curious medium of hairdresser mirror world, every 6 weeks, where it seems perfectly natural to engage with someone in a sort of Alice through the Looking Glass kind of way. She was cycling down the pavement on an old fashioned bike, with a large wicker basket at the front, wearing a long woollen scarf. She looked just like a prettier version of Miss Almira Gulch, before she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West. In fact, I had a clear vision of my hairdresser and her bike suddenly taking off, pedalling madly into the centre of that Kansas tornado. Now, my hairdresser is voluble, funny and far more socially adept than I could ever be but I accosted her just the same. It turns out she recently moved into one of the grade II listed buildings near the castle.
Lesson number 1: forget further education; leave school at 16 and go into hairdressing.
Person number two was a friend of my next door neighbour, a lovely 70+ lady I had been fleetingly introduced to twice over the garden fence, a few years ago; but I have a good memory for faces. As she came towards me I hovered and then moved in for the kill. ‘Hello,’ I said (none of the obligatory Hi! for me.) She took about four paces backwards, a look of abject terror on her face and managed to gasp ‘do I know you?’ ‘I’m M’s neighbour,’ I said, with a big smile on my stupid face. ‘Oh yes, I’m surprised you recognised me with my grey hair’ – like me she must have stopped dying her hair. Surprisingly, grey hair doesn’t turn you into an entirely different person. I showed her my crop of white hair (I’m about half and half now in the non-dyeing process) and she asked ‘how are you?’ Uncharacteristically I resisted the urge to regale her with every one of my current ailments and said I was fine. She said she’d had a terrible cold for 2 weeks but thought she was getting over it, and hadn’t it been a lovely day but it was now turning cold. We chattered for about a minute more about absolutely nothing, then cheerily waved goodbye.
Lesson number 2: Take special care when accosting ‘old’ people, lest you give them a stroke.
As I hit the home stretch, person number three appeared, as a vision from the past. A woman I have not spoken to for close on 15 years. We both peered intently as we got closer. I said ‘hello,’ and she cried: ‘Haven’t seen you in ages.’ Person number three was the mother of a child son No.2 used to know, whose husband owns the garage where we’ve had our cars repaired for donkeys years. How opportune, thought I, being that my car is currently in said garage for the 4th time in 2 weeks, having developed further troubles due to the fixing of the troubles it was put in for. I rapidly gave her the lowdown, asking if it was likely we’d have to pay, when a faulty part had been installed by the garage. (Later that night the husband admonished me severely for this barefaced cheek.) However, the lovely lady (she had been one of the nicest young mothers I ever met) said she’d quit her desk job at the garage ages and ages ago and couldn’t tell me anything. She then said I’d met her coming off the train, as she was now studying for a degree in x and x at x university. ‘Wow,’ I said, ‘did you have to study for A levels too, to get in, and how old are you?’ I realised later that the A level bit could have been insulting (as was the age bit) – as how did I know that she didn’t already have masses of A levels, but no, she’d gone to evening classes for 3 years and got the necessary qualification to get in. And she was 49. ‘You don’t look it at all,’ said I, which she didn’t, she looked about 35. There was then rapid talk about the sons and that she’d had some difficult years, which she was about to explain, when I suddenly remembered that son No.3 was walking home from work and I had the door key. ‘I’m sorry, the son will be locked out and I have to go,’ I said, really wanting to stay and hear more about her brave new life.
Lesson number 3: People are full of surprises, and it’s never too late for anything, really.
Knitting-wise I’ve started a tearoom bear from mary jane’s tearoom, using the most lovely wool. It’s by Debbie Bliss and is like knitting with butter, if there was such a thing. The texture is so smooth and silky and so easy to knit, therefore the knitted pieces are flying off the needles. Here are a couple of bear legs with boots.
Sylvanian-wise, I’m renovating the log cabin in a very slap-dash, haphazard way. I painted the walls cream, the windows red, hand stitched some curtains (which are really terrible) and am painting the furniture. It’s all done in lurid primary colours, which doesn’t really suit a log cabin in the woods. I’ve also wall papered the ceiling and partly re-upholstered the Sylvanian chairs, using felt and cheap off cuts of material available at the shop around the corner.
Blog writing-wise, I’ve noticed that the ‘reader’ page I’m linked to gives a daily one word prompt, with which to inspire the writing of a post. Current words have been ‘juicy’ and ‘squat.’ No thanks, thought I. Writing something around just one word might be a good idea though. The word ‘sometimes’ came to mind and, as the word ‘sometimes’ seems quite poetic to me, I decided to inflict readers with a poem. This exercise might be repeated.
The art of poetry is dead, as we all know, I mean who actually reads the classic poets, except those engaged in an English degree. And you’re never going to make shed loads of money being a poet. But then it dawned on me that a more ‘ordinary’ poetic type is out there, one that doesn’t go in for strict iambic pentameter or convoluted words, for which you require a dictionary. It’s a ‘poetry’ present in those awful Facebook quotes, that I wish people would just keep to themselves; in those new Nationwide adverts; in Eminem’s ‘rap’sodies; in the lyrics of any pop song.
I don’t write poetry, except once for a school competition when I was 12. I’ve italicised my poem to make it look like a proper poem and not something I knocked up last night. I showed the poetic effort below to the husband and he said, ‘I don’t get it,’ which is the highest sort of praise for a poem, don’t you think?
Sometimes, when the sky is velvet black,
and the stars are diamond bright,
and the faithful moon is full,
I wonder if there might be something more.
Sometimes, when the sky is cobalt blue,
and the clouds porcelain white,
and sunlight glints on a songbird’s wing,
I wonder if there might be something more.
Sometimes, when time is standing still,
and I walk upon a distant sea shore,
as the foaming waves come rippling in,
I wonder if there might be something more.
Sometimes, when I walk among the trees,
and hear the earth breathe,
while unseen creatures move under leaves,
I wonder if there might be something more.
But then I remember that long, long ago,
your tiny life’s spark momentarily glimmered, then disappeared,
and the cold, cold heart, at the centre of this unknown universe,
didn’t miss a beat
Son no.3 is currently learning about real, adult life. Little gems like: the people who you thought were your ‘friends,’ ‘muckers,’ ‘mates,’ were just there for the interim; that that Friends theme tune mostly errs on the side of misplaced optimism. That the workplace has a lot in common with Limbo, one of those nine circles of Hell; the one where you’re not actually in Hell but pretty close to it; except you also appear to be in Dante’s little known tenth circle of Hell, the one filled with Excel spreadsheets and mind numbing boredom.
I’ve experienced one-sided friendships. The kind where you put in all the effort, where you make the phone calls (no texts or messaging back then), where you turn up on their doorsteps, until you realise that none of it’s reciprocated. That if you stopped making the effort, you’d never see or hear from them again. And the old clichés don’t work. ‘It’s their loss,’ the lovely husband will tell you (as I will tell the son) but it’s so clearly not their loss, or they’d still be your friend.
And you wonder if you’re at fault. And, if you don’t give yourself a break, it can sap the confidence. These days I’m done with Good Friendship Hunting – the husband is, after all, my BFF. But the son is at a difficult crossroads. School and college friends have drifted away. Ditto the uni friends, who are all miles apart. And the scary world of Meetup.com, and the joining (alone) of various clubs and societies is coming into play.
Here’s a twenty-something tale I’m not proud of. I was 24, married and working at the Council as a typist. Halloween came around and my then new neighbour, 16 years older and therefore ancient, asked the husband and I round for a get together. I accepted, which meant she would have catered for, and organised, to include us, but that thought never crossed my mind. Then the boss at the council decided to throw a Halloween party and the typists got an invite. Based on nothing more than the fact that the boss was considered ‘cool,’ and that I might be seen to be in with the ‘in crowd’, I went to his party instead, telling the neighbour (on the day) that something unexpected had come up. That moment has oddly played on my mind ever since, now that said neighbour is a very good neighbour indeed. Because the boss’s party had been an exercise in how to aimlessly stand about, wine glass in hand, watching various married staff members engage in extra-marital shenanigans, whilst concentrating on keeping up the pretence that you were having a good time. I quickly realised that ‘cool’ social gatherings would never be my kind of thing.
I and the husband scarpered after about an hour. And the next day I discovered that the old and uncool neighbours had spent their evening apple bobbing and scoffing hot dogs and generally having a much better time. I learned that lesson well and never again snubbed invitations for the prospect of something ‘better.’
I don’t like to rant and rave on the blog that no one reads, being that my personal bugbears are only of interest to me – but why not, I’ll occasionally ask myself; why not make use of the internet’s cloak of invisibility. I mean, what better place to spill your metaphorical guts and dissatisfaction with the way things are.
Because sometimes, as an overprotective, over anxious, housewifely mother, I feel the need to vent re: the rotten vagaries of Life (capital L) and, in this case, how impossibly difficult and stressful the life of a reserved twenty-something can be. Some famous author, or other, really knew what he was on about, I can authoritatively tell you, when he very nearly said: Youth is wasted on the young. Because, just at the time when you’re at your supposed physical and mental peak; just at the time when all those botoxed middle-aged actors envy you your effortless youth; just at the time when you should be carefree and full of joie de vivre, you instead find yourself beset by self-doubts, fear, loneliness and the demands of a society which sort of values all the wrong things.
At the tender age of 21 (and it is tender, like a little stick of fluffy baby celery, which is one of the husband’s favourite snacks) you find yourself having to get a job (well, your parents say you have to get a job.) Suddenly you have to magically know what career route to take (unless you’re one of those rare focused individuals who already know) and you have to instantly readjust to being back home after three years away. And, because you have a degree, your parents will scour the internet for graduate jobs, and they’ll force you to scour the internet for graduate jobs, so that hopefully you’ll end up in a ‘career,’ and not in a bog standard job, or else that degree was well and truly wasted wasn’t it? (No – Ars Gratia Artis) It’s enough to make you want to regress back to childhood, curl up in front of the TV and watch endless re-runs of (insert favourite kids’ show.)
You may also find yourself bereft of an SO (internet speak for significant other) whilst Facebook tells you that everyone else is hooked up. And this will cause your mother to focus her obsessive thoughts on the possibility of an SO. This is because she knows that the right life partner acts as a shock absorber against all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Oh, and you should also be surrounded by an entourage of cool and faithful friends. That’s a big ASK, of anyone, at any age.
The son has already been through three graduate scheme interviews in search of the elusive holy grail, in job speaking terms. The graduate scheme interview…..now there’s a nightmare for the sensitive; for those just this side of shy, for those not used to putting themselves out there. And all three times the son didn’t make the grade, with no recognition of the fact that he deserved some kind of medal of bravery, just for turning up. Do I care (a little bit) that three interview panels and an assortment of HR representatives rejected the son……..but hang on, let’s focus on the minefield that is HR and Recruitment.
A MAJOR employer decided that son no.3 didn’t make the grade a couple of months ago. The road to rejection had been a time consuming and rocky one.
Step 1: Write a cover letter. This cover letter would then allow you to reach step 2 (or not.)
Step 2: Fill out an online application form, including a personal statement and CV. Should these pass muster then you’re on to step 3.
Step 3: A fiendishly timed online psychometric test (maths and probability), for which you spend roughly 2 weeks swotting, it takes over an hour to complete, and then you check your email, daily, praying that you passed.
Step 4: A phone interview, should you pass step 3.
Major digression here, as I ask the internet ether, how on earth do people who stammer (I stammer, as I’ve whinged on about before) or with any other non-socially acceptable handicap, EVER get a decent job, when the dreaded phone interview is nowadays par for the course, taking away any chance of winning them over via body language, eye contact and a winning smile?
If you manage to stumble out a few coherent sentences in the phone interview, this is followed by a marathon interview process, taking in role play and group activities. e.g. HR person chucks a biro at you and yells: ‘SELL ME THAT PEN! and a little bit of your soul’ (yes, even for science jobs the sales pitch is considered de rigueur) before demanding that you build a working model of the International space station; using paper clips and a couple of sheets of A4. This is because HR want to analyse your performance in all kinds of psychometric-type settings; whilst they sit there at the sidelines, calmly making notes, like scientists watching lab rats run through a maze (I’ve gone all 1984’ish.)
Ah…. the psychometric test. The husband; who is courageous, loyal, hardworking; has never missed a working day, despite suffering from a severe degenerative illness, once had an application instantly rejected on the basis of his first ever online psychometric personality test – for a job he was already doing. That’s what HR and recruitment do; condense the sum of a human being down to a computerised form. And you’re hardly going to tell the truth, are you, when your psychometric personality test asks: do you trust people, or are you a misanthropic old git/are you a leader, or a namby-pamby follower/can you work under pressure, or are you to be found crying in a corner of the office loo, sticking pins into a knitted effigy of your boss; the one you made when it suddenly dawned on you that you’re stuck in Limbo, one of the nine circles of Hell.
Oh, and a recruitment agent unusually called the husband into his office, about a year ago, for an assessment, as the husband was doing a spot of job hunting at the time. The agent’s considered opinion was that the husband lacked animation (this couldn’t be further from the truth) and needed to improve his interview technique. The husband has only failed one interview in his entire 32 year career, has never been out of a job and doesn’t have an interview technique. It was the husband’s considered opinion that said agent was a w****r, but you’ve got to play the game haven’t you?
Back to the son. I get that there will be personality types out there who thrive in graduate assessment type settings. I get that some people possess all the forceful attributes so valued in the workplace. And society needs driven, ambitious, self-confident people, but it makes the recruitment process so much more difficult for the ‘wallflowers,’ who have a hard time standing out, but who are intelligent nonetheless, with qualities that will surface over time – the Clark Kents; waiting for somebody to give them a shot at being Superman.
The son passed all the nightmarish stages in the lunatic graduate recruitment game and then endured four hours of further hell, at the MAJOR company’s graduate assessment centre. He turned up on time, he looked smart, he gave what he thought was a good interview (in fact came home on a bit of a high) and what I thought was an heroic interview, considering the son’s natural disposition but no, a few days later an (automated) email arrived from recruitment to say thanks, but no thanks.
An automated email (three lines) telling him that, after perusing his CV, it didn’t fit the job’s criteria; and which made no mention at all of the mad graduate assessment caucus race.
Pause. Takes a deep breath. WHHAAATTT?!!!!
If you remember, the son had uploaded his CV in step 2 of the application process. Back then HR and Recruitment had deemed his CV worthy of passage onto step 3 but now the son’s CV was considered useless. Why hadn’t they told him that at step 2, before putting him through the absurd circus hoops of the graduate scheme assessment?
Let’s talk about workplace skills, more specifically the skills on show within the MAJOR company’s HR department who, I assume, have all been employed based on their stunning CV’s and winning personality psychometric tests. Son no.3 had received an email at step 4, requesting a phone interview on x day at x time. He rehearsed for this interview, he spent further time researching the company. On the day, he sat in his room waiting for the call, on edge; the time came and nothing happened. But he waited a further hour, in case the caller had been held up, in fact he wouldn’t move from his seat – nothing, NADDA.
The next day he waited for the call again, in case they’d got the dates wrong (because, unlike HR, he gives people the benefit of the doubt.) Silence. Three days later he called the HR contact to be told she’d completely forgotten about the call, and also the fact she’d ever emailed him; they’d all been so busy, you see, with graduate interviews, it had slipped her mind (ha ha ha.) So, right there, we’re lacking time management skills, organisational skills, communication skills and basic commitment to the job – because ongoing graduate recruitment IS her job.
But there are thousands of applicants for each of these coveted graduate roles, so what does it matter to HR that they forgot you even exist. It doesn’t matter to ‘them’ that all you get is an AUTOMATED email, in exchange for weeks of preparation, practice, and the filling in of gigantic forms.
I would have made HR and recruitment aware of my feelings, re: the missed call, in a curt and to the point email but, sadly, the sons are past the age when it is deemed socially acceptable for their mother to intervene. So I’ve vented it here on the CMB instead and does it feel as good as if I’d emailed the MAJOR company? Yes, as it happens, it does.
So, forget grad schemes (they’re probably not at all what they’re cracked up to be). Forget short-term friends. Get yourself an ‘ordinary’ job (the son now has one and even they demand a degree) and hope to occasionally, magically, come across like-minded friends, because that kind of thing is mostly down to luck.
This mind-numbingly long post ends with another Audacity song. My weedy-voiced, folksy, middle-aged version of Avril Lavigne’s Alice.
One thing Lewis Carroll did know: we’re all down the rabbit hole, trying to make sense of a mad, mad world.
(Don’t read if you’ve not been on the tour, but then reading is never the same thing as seeing, so read on if you don’t mind spoilers.)
We went to Leavesden Studio yesterday for the Harry Potter tour. I’d been meaning to go for ages but never got around to it. Something to do with dreading the drive – it taking in the M25 as it does. Not that I had to drive there; my driving forays take place within a strict 5 mile radius, to places that I know how to get to. Should I encounter unexpected detours on these routes, then the heart rate goes up, my pupils dilate (probably, if I could see them) and I start talking to myself – something along the lines of: ‘Oh sh*t, what am I going to do now?’ saying it over and over again as though this will guarantee a miraculous answer.
So, the husband graciously does all the lengthy, stress filled driving to unknown places. However, this does nothing to calm my car-based anxiety, for the husband might be in the actual driving seat, but I’m in the back-seat driving seat, living vicariously. I sit by his side in a state of absolute rigid panic; clinging to the door handle, monitoring the wing mirrors, monitoring his speed, monitoring other drivers. Thankfully the road to Watford was pretty clear and involved only three drivers intent on manslaughter. The journey took 2 hours. According to the AA route planner it should take 1hr 28 minutes from our neck of the woods, but the AA people didn’t take into account the fact that the husband stopped off at a tip, for a bit of a rummage and then there was a slight holdup on the M25.
I had checked the AA planner and written down instructions for Leavesden studios, in case the SatNav played up. I informed the husband that we had to come off at Junction 19 (M25) and we’d be at the studios in a flash. ‘No, it’s junction 20, I googled it,’ he replied with absolute certainty. Fearing the worst, I whinged in top class fashion that it was 19 and I didn’t want us to get lost. ‘Look, I’m driving,’ the husband barked, and then 10 minutes later casually mentioned that it was 19, as though he’d been right all along.
Our tickets came with a time slot, which is brilliant for crowd control, as I assume they allocate just enough spaces for each slot, to make going round the tour a pleasure and not an ordeal. The tour was still in Christmas mode on our arrival and we were greeted by a gigantic Christmas tree in the main entrance, covered in fake snow.
Moving rapidly (the husband is not much of an HP fan and I got the feeling he wanted this thing over and done with) we joined a winding queue and then passed through double doors, into a sort of darkened holding area surrounded by oblong screens on all sides. The double doors closed and I immediately felt trapped, being that our guide blathered on about how the tour had now begun and there was no going back. I also felt in desperate need of the loo, in the knowledge that a woman outside had told us that it was roughly 2 hours to the next loo stop. The oblong screens suddenly sprang into life and various Potter luminaries began giving us a very potted Potter history of how the movies came into being, and then another set of doors opened and, like magic (very appropriately), we were suddenly in a cinema.
Sitting down in front of a gigantic screen, a guide appeared and asked if there were any Harry Potter fans in the audience. Being British, this attempt at jollity was met by absolute silence, except that me and a bloke cried ‘Yes!’ in a very weak and ineffectual manner. ‘Ok, just a couple of you then,’ the guide said, before remonstrating with his audience that we all could do much better. After a resounding ‘YES!’ from the audience we were allowed to watch clips from all the films (the cinema guide joked that we’d be watching all 8 films back to back) before Harry, Ron and Hermione appeared to tell us that, as actors, they were just the frontmen and we were about to see the work carried out by all the unsung heroes involved in the Potter movies. Finally Daniel Radcliffe disappeared behind the doors of the great hall, motioning us to follow, and suddenly the giant screen rose and we were facing the real entrance to the actual great hall.
This moment was incredibly effective and a real surprise. Another guide appeared and told us to gather round the doors, whilst we all gawped and gazed at the bit of Hogwarts that had magically appeared before our eyes. The guide gave a short talk before guiding us through the doors. And there we were, standing in the middle of a fake stone floor, the long dining tables at each side and Christmas trees lining the walls. Looking up the ceiling was a dark cavern, full of scaffolding holding studio lights. And you began to understand the work that goes into creating something that looks so real on screen, but is actually a ‘dead’ set, stored in a giant metallic shed somewhere just outside London.
The great hall guide gibbered on nineteen to the dozen (you got the feeling her job had become just this side of monotonous) as she rapidly talked us through everything on show before announcing that this was where the guided part of the tour ended and we were free to do our own thing at our own pace. The husband could barely hide his joy. ‘Come on, we can probably get round the whole lot in an hour,’ he cried, whilst practically running out of the beautiful great hall. ‘I’m doing this properly,’ I warned, as I ran behind him, ‘the guide said it takes roughly 3 hours!’
The hall led into an enormous room containing anything and everything from the films. There were props (beautifully handmade), oil paintings (hand painted, some of which were likenesses of people involved in the films, which you’d never notice from watching the films – I spotted David Heyman in one.) There was the Weasley’s kitchen, complete with magically moving utensils (you waved your hand over a screen to get them to work.) There was Hagrid’s house; one of the great staircases; wand waving lessons; a chance to be filmed on a broomstick, with model quidditch players flying overhead.
Too much to take in really in one visit. And then I found the loo (hurray.) And then a short walk down a corridor (filled with original artwork from the films) took us to platform 9 ¾ where the Hogwarts Express was standing. Here you can ‘push’ trolleys that are midway through the walls; buy gifts from the railway themed shop and be filmed on a carriage mock-up. But most people queued to get on the Hogwarts Express (which periodically whistled and blew off steam) to walk down the very narrow cramped aisle, where you can peer into the carriages, each one dressed as Ron, Hermione’s and Harry’s carriage as it appeared in each film. By this time the husband was getting more and more into HP mode, reflecting upon how he used to travel in carriages just like this one in his long ago youth. Son no.3 mentioned he was thinking of getting himself a house hoody from the shop. ‘Gryffindor?’ I asked, ‘No, Ravenclaw.’ ‘I’ll be Hubble Bubble,’ the husband immediately said. I swear this is true (I still haven’t stopped laughing) whilst also asking me if that was ‘hairy minnie’ when we paused to look at a headless model wearing Hermione’s clothes. To be fair the husband has an idiosyncratic way with words which borders on the genius.
Wending our way out of platform 9 ¾ we turned a corner to be met by a model of Hogwarts. To call it a model is a bit of an understatement. It was sort of breathtaking and all lit up by a mysteriously blue glow; it was also covered in a layer of fake snow. We strolled round the model and then sat down on a bench whilst a group of young people (and not so young) wandered past us dressed as various characters from the books.
Now, I loved the HP books; I devoured them at breakneck speed. I also loved The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In fact anything fantastical or ghostly, as a teenager, was just my cup of tea, so maybe I qualify as a sort of Nerdy type but it would never occur to me to dress up as a literary character. So I’ve had to look up the definition of the word Nerd, because the people who turned up in their cloaks and wands were on a whole other level of Nerdship.
Nerd: a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or, a single minded expert in a technical field (which is kinder don’t you think.) Clearly the word Nerd is bandied about too much these days. I’m thinking a more proper term would be ‘unhinged fan’ (I jest.)
Early on in the tour I mistakenly though these individuals were tour guides because, quite frankly, who else would cover themselves in white face paint and pretend to be Lord Voldemort? I asked one of them (a young lady dressed in a cloak and a waistcoat and a blue cravat – not sure who she was meant to be) where Daniel Radcliffe’s name was in the wand room. The wand room was chock-a-block with wand boxes, each with a name. The young lady showed me his name and went into extraordinarily lengthy detail about the other names, before her friend came over and said she wanted to see the next room and they disappeared. I then realised that she was on the tour and, after following her around, it was clear that this was her umpteenth visit and the glee and unadulterated Nerdiness/fandom that shone forth from her Nerdy face was astonishing. It was like one of those painting of the shepherds gazing at the baby Jesus; the ones where they’re all lit up with a heavenly glow.
So, one thing my visit to the HP studios taught me is that I’m definitely not a Nerd (aka enthusiastic fan.) The other thing I learned is that I will never take to Butterbeer, well at least not the stuff they serve up in the studios Backlot Café. To say it’s DIRE doesn’t do justice to just how peculiarly DIRE it is. We forked out £6.35 each, to keep the plastic replica movie mug it came in, and we had to throw these away because we couldn’t drink the stuff. And we didn’t even mind throwing away roughly three quid because the thought of actually drinking the stuff made us collectively heave. The husband (who will eat and drink anything) finally managed to heroically down his butterbeer, but had to do it rather like you’d take medicine – all in one go and with a lot of scary gagging.
After gorging ourselves on an equally revolting hot dog, we exited the backlot for a quick tour of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and that arched bridge – all in the dark, as our time slot had begun at 4 – and finished up in the enormous gift shop, where son no.3 also bought a chocolate frog in the movie type packaging.
Upon opening it at home he discovered a surprisingly large frog made of dense, heavy duty chocolate, so heavy you could use it as a door stop – he’s still trying to eat his way through it without breaking his teeth.
The Final Problem may be the last ever episode of Sherlock and, in a way, that’s a good thing, because the papers have suddenly got it in for old Sherlock. The Guardian and Mail, in particular, believe that Messrs Gatiss and Moffat have lost the plot and … Continue reading Sherlock – Problem Solved