The boxy big cars chased each other into the disused place. Something was burning in an oil drum. A man in a vest looked out of the window of a caravan as the bonnet of the Jag flew up and the back end of the Granada slid out sideways on the oily ground. Parts of London like this you couldn’t tell if the Luftwaffe did it or the LCC. Certainly the second one did more damage. In black and white the men with the big tie knots and lapels hit the men with half a pair of tights off her indoors over their faces, flattening flattened noses. Iron jemmies slid from parka sleeves and someone shouted about a shooter but we knew who would win long before Reagan sneered “Shut it” and “Tell him, George” and the man with longer hair glanced sideways before he said “You do not have to say anything. If you do say anything it may be taken down and used in evidence” before he was faded out into something more interesting. Cuff him. Get in the car. They want us back in the office.
Last time I went to Paddington Basin that’s what it was like. Well, not really, but it looked like that. Derelict, like a lot of London when I first went there and for a long, long time after that. What the bombers had missed (most of it) economics and the paid, trained planners had finished off. The docks were derelict apart from St Katherine’s toy boat harbour and they filmed huge parts of The Sweeney film there. You can see exactly where, just by the bridge.
I went for a job interview. The train was late coming out of Wickham Market. The Tube got stuck in a tunnel. When I got to the interview the girl on Reception told me the company had moved, although this was the address the recruitment agency gave me. I Googled them on my phone and called the company. I tracked them down on Google maps and found that if you type in their address the GIS thinks they’re in East London, seven miles away, but if you give it the postcode it tells you they’re less than five minutes walk. For a company that’s been here in the UK for ten years I don’t understand why their website is all American references and hardly anything at all about London or the UK.
There wasn’t time for the one hour interview when I got there. They asked if I wanted to come back and do it again but I told them things happen, that it’s how you deal with them that makes the difference. That if they were happy to do the interview then I was. In fifteen minutes they asked me back for a second interview and asked me if I was happy with that. I said I’d be happier if they just gave me the job now but that’s what I’d come to get as an outcome.
The agency said they’d asked for confirmation of the meeting and hadn’t been told the office had moved. In the middle of the week I had a phone call to tell me there was a test for the second interview and that would be next week. I got the text emailed to me at 17:26 on the Friday, with a deadline of 11pm Sunday.
I very seriously thought of simply not doing it. At least I’d have one when they said in the interview, “Do you have any questions for us?”
Well yes, I do actually. What did I have to cancel this weekend? What arrangements had I already made? Oh sorry, you can’t answer that, can you? And you don’t care either.
They were using a version of Word my version couldn’t understand, because the whole point of Microsoft is to keep you buying things you don’t need at £300 a go every time Bill Gates fancies another one of his secretaries. It took hours finding free software to convert one version into another before I could even read what the test actually was. That took me to 01:00 Saturday and I had a course booked all day Saturday starting at 08:00 and running through till six that I couldn’t get out of and didn’t want to anyway. I’d booked it weeks previously.
I got the test mostly finished around half-past one Sunday morning. I didn’t have time to do anything to it that morning because the course started again at 08:00 and ran through till lunchtime. Then I had to be on a train to London to do something on Monday I’d also arranged, another job. One that hadn’t messed me around. I had time to do a little editing on Sunday night before the deadline but I couldn’t get the bullet points to line up whatever I did.
I wasn’t happy with the flow of the piece but given I didn’t know what it was about anyway I didn’t entirely see what I could do about that. We talked about all of this at the interview on Tuesday. They said the email should have been sent earlier in the week. They apologised it had been sent so late. They said that wasn’t part of the test. I think they lied.
I didn’t get the job because they wanted a typist. They said I should do more than this, but not for them. And I agree. As I left the interview I accidentally took the picture at the top of these words on my phone. I’d thought I was in a good mood. See my face? That’s my face, that is. I think I wasn’t happy.
Wild West End
Then I saw the sandwich stall being trundled away by two men. Argentinian pampas-raised beef in a wrap £6.50. And £650 for a no-cooker bedsit one room halfway to Heathrow. It wouldn’t have taken long to get tired of this. As the train took me back to Suffolk I remembered the Sweeney, the grime and the sense of things abandoned that used to be London and the glass and chrome and chip wrappers that it is now, with TK Max standing proudly where there used to be a music gear shop in the Charing Cross Road. It’s not quite the same, somehow.
On your left as you pass down the street you can see, ladies and gentlemen, the site of the place where in the song Wild West End, Mark Knopfler got a pickup for his steel guitar. Now you can buy last season’s Ralph Lauren in a peculiar colour and something a bit wrong with the zip in the very same place.
About a million years ago one August I cycled through the back streets of Kings Cross, through piles of rubble. A kestrel hovered overhead in London’s hot diesel sky. There was nobody around as far as I could see. I don’t even know where that is now. You can’t go back. The past is another country. They do things differently there. And I’m not doing this again.