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Thursday, 18 August 2016

Jumping Jack Flash

God it's "A" level results day. How I hate it. At a time of year when there's bugger all in the news, just a few gold medals in the Olympics and the usual murderous conflict in the Middle East, we're treated to stories of mega brained 15 year olds gaining 6 A*s and a professorial post at some prestigious Oxbridge College.

That and interminable pics of nubile teens jumping in the air waving their result sheets. Not content with boring the arse of most of the less academically equipped citizens, we have to listen to smiley mummy's kids telling us how cool it is to be billions of pounds in debt, with a place at Bugdon in the Marshes University of Graphic Arts and Hand Waving.

You can guess from the above that I'm a member of the older generation. Which is ironic. I was in Grovenor Square in, whenever it was. I was in support of the LSE sit in, and I fought the law but the law won. I was revolting when it wasn't cool. Tripping out - I was your man. All along the Watchtower (not to confused with Jehovah Witnesses) man. Anyway all this emphasis on "A" level results freaks me out, because....

I feel incredibly guilty. My "A" level results were piss poor, yet I was able to study Maths & Physics at King's College, London. I didn't pay for my tuition and I received a living grant. I didn't have to work as well as study. My degree meant that I could walk into any job; even though work and me were totally alienated.

I ended up in the Civil Service after trying computing, insurance, copy writing and social work: all hugely unsuccessfully. Accommodation wasn't a problem: cheap rents, nice areas - Hampstead, Belsize Park and Gospel Oak and then a mortgage on a three bed house in Hackney.

It was all incredibly unplanned, unthinking and easy.

Poor "A" level results: poor degree: lots of opportunities to find the right job slot and a home owner. It sounds a bit unfair when you hear what today's kids face.

Except I never expected any of it; I didn't think any of it was what I deserved. I felt lucky and grateful. I didn't believe I was entitled to anything.

Which makes it all such a gas.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

"Being married gives one one's position like nothing else can." Queen Victoria

I went for an interview yesterday: at the Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A to those in the know). No seriously I did. A couple of weeks ago I filled in an application and last week received an interview date and time. Tuesday 16th August, 14:00 to 17:00 hrs. Impressive don't you think?

Well to be honest, it's not a full time salaried job, it's not even  part time paid. It's as a Volunteer - a Visitor Experience Volunteer - half a day a week for a minimum of 6 months. In the interview e-mail one was encourage to visit the Museum and experience a "Visitor Experience" before the interview which seemed a good idea.

Monday morning found me at the underground entrance to the V&A: you reach it by the tunnel from South Kensington tube. And a splendid entrance it is, all very bright and shiny and full of Victorian promise. After having my bag searched by a very nice young man I headed for the galleries  and on the way came across this vision of beauty. She looked like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and she had a V hanging from her neck. "Are you a Volunteer Welcomer?" I questioned, "I am", she replied. "I hope  you don't mind me asking", I continued, "I've an interview tomorrow for a volunteer job like yours can you tell me about it, please?" And she did. I learnt that she worked every Monday from 10 to 13:15. That she arrived at half past 9 so she could be briefed ahead of her shift. It was a very satisfying job, with people asking you all sorts of questions in all sorts of types of English ( I recalled the job ad did say knowledge of a second language would be an advantage). The people she worked with were fab! ( I put that down to the new exhibition at the V&A in September about the late 60's). It was a groovy place to work in, all those galleries and stuff. She thoroughly enjoyed herself. I thanked her and made my way into the body of the V&A.

It was extremely busy, everyone snapping at this statue or that piece of silver. Artists studiously sketching the many busts and statues. The shop full of hugely expensive replicas and items that appeared to me  to have very little connection or no with the Museum or its works of art. I suppose the management know what they're doing.

I didn't go to the cafe - been there before it's very, very smart, so went into the central garden where they were selling teas, cakes and beers. I decided that rather than spend a huge amount on some flaky beer there I'd pop into a local pub later. But before leaving I perused  the "Rise of the French" gallery. The Sun King, Versailles, Madame Pompadour - that sort of thing. Pretty impressive I can tell you. I was especially interested in it all because the previous week I'd seen Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" which was set around the same period.  That's a great, if long film. As I watched it I reflected on life. When I first saw it 40 years ago -it was too slow and too long. Now when my allotted years are rapidly diminishing, it was neither too long nor too slow. Strange that: you'd have thought it should have been the other way around.

Yesterday afternoon arrived and I arrived at the Main Entrance. I went up to the enquiry desk and asked directions to the interview suite - sounds so much more classy. The volunteer Visitor Experience person took out a map and showed me the way. When I asked if I could keep the map I sensed a reluctance to hand it over. It was only later did I recall that part of the job description was to ask for a £1 donation for the map. Well, she'd not passed muster there: but I didn't report her.

The interview suite was crowded with loads of people, all of whom were to be interviewed. They were mostly women, mostly young and mostly to my eyes at least extremely attractive.  We were ushered into a large cavernous room. A stout Spanish lady with a pronounced accent then told us the order of play. I'm afraid I didn't catch a single word - the echoing room and the heavy accent defeated my aged ears.

I quickly realised that the first thing we had to do was to talk to our neighbour and find out all about them in two minutes and then tell the rest of the gang all that you'd learnt about that person. How I hate those games. Anyway it passed off without a hitch. Then we were told to split into four groups. When we'd arrived we'd been given a name tag with a number on it. I was a number "2" and all the "2"s went into one corner and the "1"s, "3"s & "4"s to the other three corners of the room. There one of the interviewers presented the group with a problem - a problem visitor to the Museum. How would we deal with them. We had 4 such exercises. How I hate such games. As far as I could figure out - no matter how obnoxious were the visitors you had to be really nice to them and strongly resist the temptation to slap them across the face and kick them out. I thought I constrained myself pretty well, although one of the interviewees did appear to adopt a hospital matron approach which I didn't think the interviewer thought was quite right.

After that torture we went back to our seats. The final exercise involved the four interviewers each interviewing each candidate for one minute at a time. Think speed dating without the drink or sex. It did however give us time to chat to our fellow interviewees. One was an ex solicitor, she'd worked for the Treasury Solicitors, got married, had kids and became an artist - usual career path. She did her art at home and also volunteered all over the place. She lived in Muswell Hill so we were onto house prices and loft conversions in no time. The guy on the left Joe was a computer expert having graduated in that science, but hadn't found full time work. He appeared to spend all his time volunteering. It was his way of interning and getting to be indispensable: hoping that would lead to a full time permanent job.

And so to the speed dating: out of which I don't think I did well. No chance of a second date. We'll hear in 2 weeks time and  if we're successful a training day and thence walking the floor, smiling and being extremely helpful.  Well the V&A is a lovely Museum   

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Yes, I remember Adlestrop

If pressed I tell people my wife's a Buddhist. This response is usually occasioned by comments about our veranda and the profusion of cobwebs that hang from its roof.

The missus is not a follower of the Buddha; although I suspect she would be made an honorary member of that sect once the  Dalai Lama reads her CV. She just can't bear the thought of killing anything - not even big,fat,hairy, dangling spiders.

The veranda - the model's called "Carmen Veranda" was erected six years ago. It turned our back yard into an inter war railway halt - we even have a street sign - "Milton Road" which we had intended to place on the wall. "Milton Halt" is the station's name.

Under a large expanse of glass, surrounded by greenery and colourful plants we would while away the long summer evenings lifting a glass of cool Sav Blanc to our lips and nibbling on pecans and cashews waiting for the 18:30 stopping train to Adlestrop. We would reminisce and plan while the evening's summer sun would create shadows of fig, olive and bay...

That was the vision: the reality is somewhat different.

The mock cast-iron chairs on which we would sit contemplating soon were covered with cat blankets and up to four cats would lounge away the days while we looked on from the kitchen as spring passed into summer and then to autumn and onto winter. Safe from autumn's storms, winter's ice, spring's showers and summer's heat the cats would pass the hours occasionally stirring to drink out the bowl of water regularly replenished or tap on the window to be let in so they could feast on freshly cooked chicken, newly opened tins of tuna or munch on catty treats.

As the cats occupied the ground level, the spiders colonised the veranda's roof. Year on year, they spun and spun building candy floss castles which hung in the air. It was at night they were at their busiest, weaving new traps to snare any dozy fly that comes by...and us humans who venture out unaware.

Over the years the veranda has played host to many visitors, including collared doves and mice (unsuccessfully attempting to set up home in between the pots of plants that now form a green wall facing the kitchen window).

A small bay has grown tall, a young fig matured, as has the olive and grape vine. This overhanging vegetable growth provides new homes and anchors for all things creepy crawly and more spiders. Recently foxes have taken to stopping off  at "Milton Halt", resting on the chairs and snapping up any of the cats untouched meals.

We do occasionally sit out under the veranda, with a glass of something alcoholic in hand and a large ginger tom on lap. We have even held lunch-time drinks and nibbles with friends and neighbours - giving them fair warning of the Amazonian undergrowth and the continuous traffic of cats that use the veranda roof as an invaluable bridge to venture from one garden to another.

It has also witnessed potato "chitting" and   medlars  ‘bletted’, seedlings potted on and cuttings rooted.

This evening; if there's space we'll sit out with a glass of something red and Californian and wonder how we ever managed without "Carmen Veranda."