Tuesday, August 2, 2011

1988: Summer In The City

Two months into my stint at the central London bookshop and I was loving it. Working in a shop was so freeing, and always being busy and on your feet though exhausting at first was brilliant for fitness - I lost a stone in a month - and interacting with the general public had its upsides, especially competitions among us to see who could be the rudest. I often won. If they complained to management all the better as they never took it seriously.

We celebrated each day's petty victories in the pub more or less every night. I'd leave the house those sunny May mornings with this song ringing in my ears, jumping on the bus with my obligatory copy of The Guardian and heading for Charing Cross Road with a spring in my step.

I'd come off the back of a period of particularly miserable unemployment, having left the job my dad had fixed up for me by dint of being made redundant. It was the best thing that could have happened to me - I loathed it, was terrible at it and was bored and lonely and skint, but that's another entry.

Not that I wasn't skint now. In fact I was so skint I resorted to eating raw pasta and drinking longlife milk. My flatmate did what he could but he had his own problems. We were living in his sister's rather nice garden flat in Shepherd's Bush. But I didn't pay her any rent. That too is another entry, but I spent my days half-heartedly looking for a job, and applying for things like head of PR at the Town Planning Association and other things I was totally unqualified for, all the while with my parents trying to encourage me into banking or finance and other utterly unsuitable careers I had zero interest in.

Frankly I was enjoying watching Open Air and A Country Practice, and I got seriously into Sons & Daughters. But it couldn't go on. I was going to bed really late and getting up really late, lying in and watching Santa Barbara and Chain Letters and never going out. I was losing my self-worth. And I really needed some money.

I did find something I liked the look of, though I was unsure what it was. It was a trainee at a sales promotion firm in Islington. I got an interview, to my surprise, and drove up to trendy Islington.

On arrival a man who looked liked David Puttnam came down the stairs in the lovely open plan office to meet me. We went into a meeting room, he opened his hardback notebook and askedme what I knew about sales promotion.

'Well, nothing much," I said. "I was hoping you could tell me." And with that he snapped his notebook shut and frog-marched me out of the building. In a flash I was back on the scrapheap. Why hadn't I prepared? What was I thinking? It was all so hopeless.

As I headed home I decided that it just wasn't working out for me. In a self-dramatizing Mary Tyler-Moore-type moment, I vowed to give London one more chance. No job by April 1 and I was going back home.

A week later, the ad I'd seen in the Media section of The Guardian week in week out but never considered was calling me. I'd never have to eat Tyne Brand tinned mince ever again.

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