Is it a record, I wonder?
There will be those who have somehow escaped entry to the World of Work throughout their lives, and their forefathers afore them.
But among those actively pursuing work, I wonder, is it possibly some kind of record that I have been applying for jobs directly related to my qualifications and (senior level) experience for, now, seven and a half years, without reward?
The approach of my 66th birthday the day after tomorrow is clearly giving me pause. Is it perhaps time to give up scouring the Wanted ads on the Interweb thing; cease to investigate the back-end of The Lady; cancel my subscriptions to various job alert bulletins, and just accept that the Universe, my ‘Committee of Discarnate Entities’ who order my existence, is not going to come up with the goods any time now?
It seems a bit ridiculous still to have ambition at my age, an age when most people seem either to take up bungee-jumping in New Zealand or just lie down to die. I have friends who are white-haired, wrinkled, paunchy and sto0ped; short of breath, teeth, gall-bladders and marbles. Some of them are younger than me. Many are already dead. Yet I have barely begun to go grey and am still possessed of an upright, muscular physique, a razor-sharp intellect and catlike reflexes. (Okay, so occasionally I piss myself, but that’s under control. The sex isn’t too great either, luckily I don’t get asked too often.)
Technically (biologically and legally) qualified in years to be the great-great-grandfather of a fairly newborn infant, I am nevertheless not even yet a single-generational grandparent.
And I want to work. We are forever being admonished by those fucking Conservatives, everyone must work. Easier said than done, my unpleasant little friends.
So I keep applying, whenever the rather rare opportunities arise to go after the somewhat specialised role in which I envision myself. A role that slots-in to my projected lifestyle, my future planning, but which is too often reserved for a different sort of person, or persons – by which, I mean ‘Couples’ (and not in the sense that John Updike meant).
And I have a magnificent CV, which I’ve managed to sculpt down to a single, easily comprehended page of relevant fact. I’m sometimes told the employer is greatly excited by it. But then there is always some little damn thing, some blip or glitch, some negative factor of which I remain entirely unaware, something in the background that makes it impossible for them to see me.
Have they discovered my Special Branch dossier?
In seven and a half years, I have succeeded in obtaining precisely four interviews; only one of them through any of the seventeen agencies I have contacted during that time, that specialise in recruiting people I had imagined were like me (only not as good) to positions like the one I know I was born to fill.
I was, as I have bogld elsewhere, for six years and eight months, the manager, concierge, steward, housekeeper, gardener, caretaker – what you will – of a ‘stately home’, a large country house amid thirty acres of perilous woodland. It was a highly responsible position requiring extraordinary flexibility, bringing me into contact as it did, day and night, 365 days of the year, with a vast range of people whose often quite annoying needs were focussed on their obsessive relationship with the historic property.
(How would you react if someone turned up out of the blue, having travelled from Johannesburg, claiming to be the rightful owner of your employer’s house?) (Answer: he’s buried in the woods… ha-ha! No, not really.)
The demands of the job were pretty well infinite; involving me as they did in unblocking the Ladies toilets filled to the brim with used paper at a wedding, or cooking dinner for a party of Korean tourists who had taken a detour to Bath on the way and arrived at nearly midnight, or negotiating away three years’ worth of Business rates, saving half my salary; or chasing hooded intruders out of the grounds at 2 a.m.
Early in 2008 a chance remark by the owner on one of his rare visits made it clear to me that my days were numbered. A reference to hiring a ‘proper manager’ for the prospective five-star hotel which the owner had become convinced would, if he could find the money to invest in a site-wide refurbishment, make his fortune, immediately triggered alarm-bells; and in April of that year, I started looking for a new job.
I’m still looking.
Which is not to say I haven’t worked since. Of course I have, I had another four years at the mansion with probable redundancy hanging over me. It’s just that I want another job like the one I had. Is that so unreasonable?
I just love looking after other people’s property, their period houses, their gardens, their guests. I love history, architecture, art and antiques. I love lovingly pruning shrubs. After half a lifetime of doing other stuff, desperate necessity drove me to take whatever work I could find – digging-out herbaceous borders, ironing people’s underpants, unblocking their gutters, polishing their Agas.
And I loved it!
All around the country and, indeed, across the Channel, are wealthy people with extra houses they rarely use, that need careful, knowledgeable looking after. And I’m just the man to do it. Why won’t they see? Well, in one case my rusty French let me down; in another, little Hunzi was thought to be a dog too far. In yet a third, I was caught on CCTV, taking a leak behind a tree after driving 70 miles on narrow roads….
Just this week, while the employer enthused that I was a really interesting candidate, the fact that I alerted them to a pre-existing unbreakable commitment two months from now that would involve me being away for a few days suddenly made it impossible for them to contemplate employing me, since they expected the person they were paying to work ’15 hours a week’ to be permanently on the premises.
It’s like selling my house: after three years I still don’t have a buyer. They all tell the agent they really like it, but come on: ‘The sitting-room walls aren’t square’? ‘The bedroom is a bit too dark’? Like I said, there’s always one damn little thing, one irrational excuse after another, for saying no.
But the most usual response is silence. My applications are ignored altogether. Now, I don’t want to boast, but I’m a pretty substantial, credible sort of candidate. I’ve even been a member of the Institute of Directors. Partly brought up in a large country house with servants, I’ve managed pretty well every aspect of running one myself. I’ve got references. And you won’t find many applicants who were at school, albeit briefly, with the Prince of Wales. (Admit it, it’s a unique selling point!)
Okay, there are people I won’t consider working for. There is such a thing as too rich, too quick. Five houses, a superyacht… not for me, sorry. I won’t touch shooting estates, because what they do is obscene – as I once told the Duchess of Rutland in an increasingly difficult telephone conversation. I won’t work for Russians (too disordered), or Saudis (unprintable). I won’t wear a uniform, and I admit straight away that I’m no fan of Downton Abbey: I really wouldn’t fit well into a battery of curtseying housemaids and smarmy under-butlers.
Where I see myself is occupying the cottage on a small estate somewhere in rural Provence; fishing hornets out of the pool, plumping the deck cushions, sweeping leaves, collecting houseguests from the airport, arguing with plumbers, deterring Algerian door-to-door salesmen with pathetic trays of household products; getting to go to jazz festivals (they still have them there).
It’s perhaps the impossible dream, that I’ve been pursuing for far too long. It just isn’t happening. A point will come when it is really too late, but as far as my ambitious alter ego is concerned, that point hasn’t arrived yet.
Expect a CV any day now.
And don’t think up some fatuous excuse to say no. I really mean it.