Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hakuna Matata...

So on Friday morning I hopped out of bed, skipped down the stairs and proceeded to sing 'I'm Every Woman' at the top of my voice as I prepared my breakfast. Today was going to be a good day.

With my car insurance valid again, two promising interviews lined up and the prospect of a whole day out of the house, I was feeling confident that things were about to get better again.

Walking serenely out of the house exactly two minutes earlier than I had scheduled, I hopped into the car and- my mum's car was parked directly in front of mine.

Five minutes later, having successfully manoeuvred mum's precious Beetle off of and back onto the drive without damaging it (phew), I jumped back into my car and was promptly smacked in the nasal passages with what can only be described as The Smell Of Boy.

For the past few months whilst I have been away my baby brother Chip has been learning to drive in my car. Unfortunately, it appeared, the delicious cherry smell that I had left in there when I moved to Greece was not manly enough for Chip, and had therefore been replaced with one far more to his taste.

Breathing deeply with one neat-interview-blazer sleeve over my nose and the other opening the window; I eventually managed to type the address of Interview Number One into my Sat Nav and prepare to drive again for the first time in six months.

My Sat Nav didn't accept the address of Interview Number One.

Phoning my dad for an alternative address and re-tuning my radio from Smooth FM to Heart (do learners even listen to the radio?), I was finally ready to leave: exactly eight minutes behind schedule.

Fast forward fifty minutes and I was driving down a two-way lane with barely enough room for the horse that I was following let alone another car; hoping to miraculously stumble across, among all the fields and farm houses, the tall, modern office building that I had thought that I was driving to.

Calling the company combined with a conversation with a cheery looking postman confirmed that I was in the right place, and that the tall, modern office building was, in fact, the garage of the pretty pink house on the corner.

Relieved that I had finally made it- eight minutes behind schedule therefore only seven minutes early- I parked my little black car on the pavement and tentatively walked around the pink house to the garage in the back garden.

I spent approximately ten seconds in the tiny office that had taken so much effort to find, before the patient lady behind the desk explained that she could do nothing for me without the documents that she had listed in her email. The email that to this day has not arrived in my compulsively organised inbox.

So with that I was shuffled out of the tiny office in the little garage of the pretty pink house and sent back into my heavily-perfumed car and on my way empty-handed and job-free.

Determined not to let it get me down I remembered the wise words of my favourite writer:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. 

I will not be another unemployment statistic. This will all work out. Keep positive. The next interviewers aren't going to be interested in a miserable no-hoper full of self pity.

I drove toward my next interview singing passionately along to Taylor Swift (you've got that stuck in your head now, haven't you....?) and mentally preparing myself for the afternoon ahead.

I had no idea what to expect.

I knew that the job was in Sales and Marketing, and that the interview would involve observing an experienced team member at work; but what the work was appeared to be a secret. All I knew was that the money was good.

That was all I needed to know.

Walking into reception, slightly out of breath from the three flights of stairs I had just skipped up, I introduced myself cheerily before being asked to sit down and fill in a form.

I bounced across the room and sat down in the only spare chair: ready to meet the people sitting either side of me and get to know them while we waited.

Apparently that's not how grown up interviews work.

Every interview that I have ever been to before has been for an entertainment position. My last interview ended in bruises as it involved throwing myself onto my hands and knees and howling like a Snow Dog. The one before that included pretending to be a dwarf of my choice (I went for Bashful- for those of you that are interested), and the one before that involved putting on a Pirate accent (the best pirate accent they'd ever heard- so I've been told. Just saying.)

So sitting among these serious, silent, suited-and-booted grown-ups I suddenly felt out of my depth.

Had someone walked out at that exact moment and asked me to do a cowgirl impression in the middle of the  grey office I'd have heaved a huge sigh of relief and happily obliged.

They didn't.

As I silently cursed myself for my life so far- what had I been thinking? Getting an English degree and life experience was useless, why hadn't I been doing Sales and Marketing all this time?- I looked around the room.


Actually, they weren't grown ups.

The 'posh man' directly opposite me was wearing a suit jacket at least three sizes too big. The one next to me had his tie huge at the top a la year nine. The girl beside me was wearing festival bands, and the man that just walked in was wearing a...full wedding suit? Purple satin tie and matching waistcoat included.

I suddenly had the opposite sinking feeling: I was the oldest in the room.

Oh no.

Should I just walk out now?

Why was I doing this to myself?

"Money!" Jiminy Cricket shouted in my ear, "you need the money for Florida, think of the money!"

"Not to mention the enhanced CV. Wasn't it only five seconds ago you were wishing you had Sales and Marketing experience?" another voice, which sounded uncannily like Zazu, added.

"You've got brains in your head. You've got feet in your shoes..." Dr Seuss began again.

"Ok if I could have Rebecca please?" What? Oh. That was out loud. Time to go.

Feeling how I imagine the contestants of The Apprentice feel in the annual last-week-scary-interview I followed the pretty, blonde receptionist (who I now realised was at least three years younger than me) through to the boardroom, where I was introduced to Tigger.

Yep, for all my worrying, Tigger- the bounciest, bubbliest, most excitable character of them all was the professional that I would be attempting to impress today.

Relieved that my annual last-week-scary-interview was actually going to be with a short, smiley, blonde girl who was born around the same time as my baby brother and was already super excited because we had the same middle name (WHAT are the chances of two English girls with the middle name Ann finding each other?!), I began to relax, despite still being totally in the dark with how to impress her or what we would be doing.

We (Tigger, another interviewee also named Rebecca: cue disbelieving excitement from Tigger again, and I) then travelled together on the train to Southend where we were due to spend the afternoon. On the journey, Tigger explained what targets we were expected to reach, how we could move through the company (which- I found out at this point- was owned by a girl four years younger than me) and what she was looking for from us as team leader.

But we still didn't know what the actual job was. 

Stepping off of the train into the pouring rain, we walked for around fifteen minutes before we stopped at the corner of a street.

Soaked through and freezing cold by this point, Rebecca and I were both visibly relieved that we must almost be there.

The knowledge that the job was in Sales and Marketing had made me wonder whether it might involve stopping people on Southend High Street and trying to get them to sign up to a charity or phone company.

But we were nowhere near the High Street and surely we wouldn't be stopping people outside in this weather.

Enthusiasm not even flickering, Tigger happily put down her bag in a puddle; squealed in excitement at the prospect of finally showing us the job that she does every day and loves, she pulled out a deep purple tabard from her bag and pulled it over her head. She then skipped up the pathway of the house beside us, and proceeded to knock on the door (explaining that we were to ignore the Please Do Not Call Here sign and pretend we hadn't seen it) and attempted to get the lady on the other side to donate to the charity.

After about five houses, Rebecca was ready to give up. It was freezing cold, people were annoyed at the knocks on their door, nobody had signed up and we had to do ten before we were allowed to leave. The prediction was that this would take us until half past eight in the evening, and Rebecca didn't like the prospect of knocking on doors in the dark, or of eventually doing this on her own six full days a week.

Seven houses later, Rebecca made her apologies and left.

I understood.

I related.

But I still had Jiminy, Zazu and Dr. Seuss shouting in my ear. Money. CV. Competition- prove to yourself that you can get it and be good at it!

I stuck at it for around two hours after Rebecca left.

Now her reasons for leaving were all perfectly reasonable. But they weren't the same as mine.

My afternoon in Sales and Marketing taught me many things, but the main one was this: I was not designed to work in sales.

Every time that Tigger bounced away from a success, delighted that she was one step closer to her target of ten, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Both women that Tigger signed up while I was there were living in houses far too small for their five children, three cats and two dogs. Neither of them were employed. Neither of them had any help.

Yet they were willing to spend what little money they did have on those less fortunate than them. They were willing to take time out of their manic days, put the dogs in the kitchen and gather their children around them to listen to everything that Tigger had to say.

And each time we walked away my mind was filled with three thoughts:

1. People are lovely really. I'm aware that there is a culture of suddenly being very busy and important when there's a person with a clipboard in front of us, but actually I think that people are designed to care about others and do want to help. I was on a campsite once when a child went missing. Every single person that I saw during the time that he was missing stopped what they were doing, no matter how important, and joined the search until he was found. Children In Need 2011 raised £26, 332, 334. When I was attempting to get home via Paris and London underground stations with a suitcase twice my size; not once did I have to struggle up or down the steps before someone bigger and stronger jumped in to do it for me.
And these are all examples of caring for people we don't even know. 
It's things like this that keep my faith in humanity going strong, and despite the (surprisingly few, actually) people that did just slam the door in our faces, the majority were willing to listen to what Tigger had to say, and to at least take a business card even if they were unable to donate.

2. Maybe having to give up Costa coffee and Moonpig isn't the end of the world. My recent lack of incoming money and increase in outgoings in the build up to my big move to Florida have meant having to give up a few luxuries; but if these genuinely struggling women can manage to find the money for charity, then I can definitely put up with a home-made caffeine fix and shop-bought cards.

3. I would be useless at this job. If I had been in Tigger's position just then I would not have managed to make donating sound so easy and glamorous. I would not have managed to make it sound as though everybody else on the street had donated. And I am fairly sure that, having chatted to them for around ten minutes, I would not have been able to resist telling them not to worry about it. In fact I'm quite confident that I'd have told them to keep the money for their own children and that I'd find some donors elsewhere.

It has been three days since I went out with Tigger. And I can still clearly see the faces of every single person that we spoke to. I remember the stories they told us about their lives, the names and ages of their children, and their plans for the weekend. But each time I picture them I imagine them sitting down and trying to work out how they are going to afford this extra money going out.

Tigger had explained to them that it would cost them just 20p per day.

Well that sounds perfectly affordable.

In actual fact the charity take £8.50 per month. I've done the maths. That isn't 20p a day. It's not far off, but for someone who has no money and a lot of mouths to feed: £8.50 per month is quite a lot.

So as we walked away from the beautiful mum with the gorgeous five children and little dog, who had explained how she had just been made redundant and was currently looking for a new job but struggling because they could no longer afford childcare, I knew for definite that her smiling face would haunt me for at least the next month, and that if I kept going I would have hundreds of faces haunting me: and no amount of money would protect me from that.

I explained to Tigger that sales simply wasn't for me, and proceeded to make my journey home in the rain.

Having walked to the station in the pouring rain, waited there for fifteen minutes, sat shivering on a train for ten minutes before swapping onto another train to shiver on for a further thirty minutes, all thoughts of 'faith in humanity' and 'my-situation's-not-so-bad' went out of my head, and I was feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

I shivered down the steps of the station, teeth chattering and fingers numb as I pulled out my soggy ticket from my drenched bag.

I stopped at Costa to order a free cup of hot water to hold to warm my fingers up, before attempting to get through the barrier.

My ticket had been bought in bulk by the company, therefore I needed to continue to travel with the rest of the group if I didn't want to purchase another ticket.

I didn't have the rest of the group.

One had gone home hours ago and the other was still bouncing around Southend knocking on doors.

So I had to buy another ticket.

"That'll be £8.50 please."

You have got to be kidding.

My life has become a farce.

As I stood there gripping on to my little cup of hot water, ridiculous tears of self-pity streaming down my face, pulling out my pathetically empty little debit card, I could see the man serving me hesitating as to whether to comfort me. Of body-builder size with a big, round head and flaps of skin between his eyes, he reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me. Not exactly the comforting type.

He didn't provide me with the big hug and shoulder to cry on that I needed.

But somehow my ticket only came to £3.00.

It seems that even big, scary body builders are designed to care.

My faith in humanity once again restored, I made the long walk back to my car.

Guess how much I owed for parking?

That's right.


Rolling my eyes and smiling in disbelief, I paid the ridiculous sum and made the journey home.

I spent that evening curled up watching Chalet Girl and eating (lactose-free) ice cream, reflecting on the past few weeks and the farce that started out as my search for a job.

I came to several conclusions....

1. I have always landed on my feet before. Until now I always thought that luck played no part in it: that I had made my own luck and had always managed to find the perfect job exactly when I needed it because I always worked so hard at looking for the perfect job exactly when I needed it. Positivity, hard work and a good CV are important but unfortunately they're not everything...

2. Everyone has to go through hard times. I knew that. I've read/seen/talked enough to know that very few people have a really easy time with work and money. And I am lucky enough to be having my down time in the comfort of a beautiful home with loving parents and hilarious brothers to keep my spirits up.

3. I will get a job. I heard somebody on the radio last week saying that he had been searching for a job for fourteen months. For a start I know that won't be me because I have a job to go to in February (in Walt Disney World, Florida, for those of you who were unaware. I don't like to talk about it too much.) But also because I do already have a weekend job (as a Princess. Seriously.), a positive attitude and a good CV, and more importantly than anything...

I have brains in my head. I have feet in my shoes. I can steer myself in any direction I choose :)

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