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Curriculum Vitae

It wasn’t an interview. It was a chat, a beer and a chat. A pre-interview at most. My friend Jungle Dave had recommended me to his employers, and so I was chatting. Chatting with purpose. I’d sunk a pint quickly, mostly because of my embarrassment at some confusion right at the start. The guy not-interviewing me introduced himself as Michael Michael. I presumed, obviously, that this couldn’t possibly be his name, and so kept asking it. Michael what? My conceptual framework when it comes to names is entirely, now I think about it, based around likelihood to get bog-washed at school. He couldn’t possibly be called Michael Michael, he’d have drowned. He’d have been wedgied in half.

Eventually I accepted it. He told me he was named after his grandfather, who was named after his grandfather, the name skipping generations all the way back to a boatful of Huguenots who landed at Dungeness and immediately started acting like they owned the place. He told me this as if confessing to a crime. That’s how the chat started.

“You’ve got an accent. A twang,” he said, in his twang-less voice. “I’m good with accents. Don’t tell me. You’re Scouse.”

“North Shields.”

“So, you grew up poor.” he said, keenly.

“Poor. I never thought of it that way. My parents worked. We had food on the table.”

“Food on the table. Wow. Yeah. But still, must have been hard times.”

“I guess.”

He was probably a decade older than me, and radiated health. He could reel off his marathon time, I was sure. We were not of the same ilk, and the proximity made it obvious. The ability for us to each sniff out our own is atavistic. 

“You know David.”

“Who? Oh, David. We were at uni together.”

“Where?”

“Oxford.”

“Brookes.”

“No, Oxford Oxford.”

“Oh crazy. You must have found that hard.”

“Well, yeah. It’s Oxford.”

“Looked at differently. The poor kid from Newcastle. By all those snobs. Shunned. Mocked. Derided. Excluded. Hazed.”

“Not really hard in that way…”

“Kept down. Bruised but not broken. To rise up. Inspiring.”

“Yeah.” 

“You get your degree, against the odds. Your parents must have been proud.”

It wasn’t phrased as a question. He’d asked no questions, only made statements. But then, this wasn’t an interview. 

“My dad was proud. My mum died when I was still in school.” I surprised myself by telling him. 

“Dude. I’m sorry,” he said, and seemed it. “Sudden?”

“Cancer.” That one word, monolithic, obliterates the need for all others. 

“Lost your mum. The nurturing hand. A dead mum. Siblings?”

“No. Cousins.”

“Cousins aren’t siblings are they? Cousins are cousins. Cousins blow in the wind. An only child. Alone. Mum gone. Dad aloof, lost in his own grief.”

“Well, no, I mean —”

“He can’t handle it, hasn’t got the tools. Stoic. A man of action, good with his hands, he can’t understand his feelings. Loss. Rage. Bottles it up.”

“Kind of…”

“Then there’s you, you need to open up, but you can’t.”

“I moved down here.” My statements about my own life seemed tangential to the story of it, Michael staring off in reverie, using my words as prompts in a bleak improv.

“You flee to London to try and escape the grief, escape your fate. But it follows you, you see her everywhere. You must.”

“I’m living with my cousin Paula.” I retreated to bald factual utterances.

“Relying on charity.”

“On her sofa.”

“Stifling. Reminders everywhere of what you left behind. A series of terrible calamities. Struggle, and pain, and struggle. And pain. Fucking hell. Good on you mate. Good on you.”

It was after a pint and a half for me and another tonic water for him that he turned to the subject of the job. Like Jungle Dave’s it seemed to involve email and bullshit in roughly equal proportions.

“We need people like you.”

“People like me?”

“You know, people who have overcome adversity. Known disadvantage and persevered. I’ve never known struggle. I’m a stranger to setbacks of any kind. My life has been one long lubricated passage from privilege to privilege. Same with the rest of us. We need some grit in the oyster.”

“I’m the grit?”

“In the oyster. Keeping us honest. Reminding us that there’s a world out there, you know. There’s a country out there. I bet you know why we voted Leave. I bet you weren’t surprised. We need that. Down to earth, salt of the earth. Earthy. Just a bloke, a good bloke, yeah, a proper… fucking bloke. Who do you support?”

“In what?”

“The forgotten white working class. Mind you, you could be gay?”

Was he asking me if I was gay, or if I could be gay?

“I reckon, in a year, we’ll be looking at you and saying look how far he’s come. He came to us broken, bereaved, marginalised… and look at him now. Out and proud. Adding value to clients. Inspirational, dude. I’m pretty fucking inspired already and it hasn’t happened yet.”

“So… will I be going through to interview?”

“Absolutely.”

“Do you think I’ll get in?”

He gargled his tonic.

“Of course you will. You went to Oxford.”

At the interview proper they talked about culture and vibe and their core beliefs. I talked about human psychology and emergent technology and ancient theatrical forms. I said I was passionate about creating value, a lie. I was convinced that Michael Michael had told them about my mum, that they pitied me, that her death was a boon to my CV. 

I got the job and proved good at it. It was remarkably easy to be grit. The hardest part was remembering, in casual conversation round the office, that my mum was supposed to be dead.

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