One evening in 1976 my then-wife and I were leaving a movie theatre in west London to walk back to our car parked nearby, when I noticed that a drab-looking fellow in a raincoat appeared to be following us. We took a detour around the block and sure enough, he was still there. Being a belligerent sort, I marched up to him and demanded to know who he was and what he was doing. He didn’t answer, just turned and walked away.
At that time my wife had recently been in hospital, where she made friends with the woman in the next bed, who happened to be married to an officer in the Diplomatic Patrol Group of the Metropolitan Police. Over drinks, we mentioned that we seemed to be being followed everywhere. The next time we met up, the husband confided that we both had a Special Branch file. That was the end of the friendship, but the following seemed to stop.
The only thing we could think of that the surveillance could relate to was an incident earlier that year at my wife’s work. A journalist, London-born of Irish extraction, Trish was Chief Reporter at London’s Capital Radio. One day, the newsroom got a report of a security alert at Heathrow airport, to which for the first time in decades on the UK mainland the army had been called out. Trish was despatched to the airport, where she commandeered a taxi to drive her round the perimeter road.
Finding no army or police presence anywhere, Trish returned to Terminal One to try to get an interview with the BAA’s press office. At that point, armed police arrived on the scene and arrested her, accusing her of having breached a security cordon. Her press pass was taken away, and she was interrogated for two hours before a colleague turned up and rescued her, the editor having pulled strings at Scotland Yard to get her released.
This nasty and unnecessary incident had absolutely nothing to do with me, as I was off working in another part of the country. But I was still clearly suspected of some kind of terrorist link, if the surveillance was not merely heavy-handed police intimidation. (Interestingly, I have recently discovered that my grandfather was a senior officer in British Intelligence before, during and probably after WW11.)
Not long afterwards, I tried to get my old job back at the BBC – I’d gone off to work in the commercial sector – and was told nothing doing – don’t even bother applying. Was there a connection?
Over my rather strange career since, I have often found myself looking for work, and got to the interview stage with positive signals all round, only to find that my application has been quietly buried shortly afterwards.
And while I was until recently listed with no fewer than SEVENTEEN agencies specialising in recruiting people with my specific experience, I was offered only one interview in four years. That too seemed to go well, but I heard nothing afterwards, either from the employer or the agency, who ignored my email. One of the other agencies did arrange an interview for me with a client, but cancelled it the night before with no explanation.
Most recently I was actually offered a job, and accepted it; but shortly afterwards, having briefed a solicitor to draw up a formal contract of employment for me, the employer seemed to change their mind and there was no contract. What contract? What offer? No, no, we must make sure you are a ‘fit and proper person’… Was that some kind of hint? Why wouldn’t I be ‘fit and proper’? I’d just had seven years’ experience in a similar job.
It surely cannot be the case that a dead-end police investigation thirty-seven years ago is still hanging around to haunt me? I have tried asking employers who have turned me down if they would feel able to tell me why, but have never received a reply. It’s like there is something in my background, something they can see when they check on me, that isn’t immediately obvious to me. What?
Of course, it is illegal to tell an applicant, if you have obtained information concerning their criminal past, just what that information is. Only a Chief Constable has the power to do that. Is it why I can’t persuade anyone to tell me why they have quietly dumped me? But I have no criminal past! My only convictions are vaguely Centrist. I must be one of the few people in the country who has had a clean driving licence for over ten years – and I’m not on any banned lists, as far as I know.
So could it be a problem with a credit check?
Nowadays, I don’t carry a load of debt. While the average family debt in Britain is £54,000 (a truly shocking figure amounting to £1.4 TRILLION!), the little that is in my savings account would about cover everything I owe. I own my house outright, so the banks don’t have a headlock on me. But I don’t have a regular job to provide a regular income. And I live a pretty simple life.
So my credit score is only poor to middling: my consumer economy is too far below the radar to earn a triple-A. Would an employer wanting to fill a position of trust back away from someone who repaid a £20k bank loan over six years without defaulting, even though doing it damaged their credit rating for that length of time? Maybe, if they didn’t look closely enough. Easier just to say no.
And who is the other me? I mean, the bloke on Facebook who has my unusual name posted next to the photograph of a younger, darker-looking man who is definitely not me? Are we looking at a possible case of mistaken identity? Is the mistrust a result of the disparity between my account of myself in my CV and the online Profile of someone with my name, who isn’t me?
I believe there can be only one of me, because the spelling of my family name is unique. I know of no relation of mine with the same Christian name. But a casual fly-by check on social media could produce the wrong impression, why not? I once Googled myself, only to find that I’m a black Baptist minister in Georgia, convicted of child abuse…. People need to be careful if they are running checks, to get the right guy – I don’t have a Facebook account, by the way.
Possibly, I am paranoid. A classic symptom of depression is a powerful feeling of guilt, a neurotic foreboding that you have done something terrible in the past that will one day catch up with you, for which you deserve to be punished. (See Larkin, Philip: ‘Your mum and dad, they fuck you up…’)
Whatever the reason, I don’t seem to be getting anywhere in my life at present, and it’s irking me. Wake up, world of work, you’re wasting my talent and my time, sitting here having to write this stuff.
Just sell the house. Retire. Go.