Celtic Illumination, part 276, Brussels sprouts.
Luckily for me my old girlfriend, Pat, she who worked for the civil service in Northern Ireland, was able to explain to me the role I had applied for with the civil service. It was a relatively new scheme which wanted to attract the best and brightest, so I suppose if I hadn’t applied they would have come looking for me. If I was successful I would be taken in to the civil service as a HEO, a Higher Executive Officer, but as with the police and prison service I would be given half of my time served with the air force as seniority. A HEO was equivalent to a Squadron Leader in the air force so in one way, if I was successful, I would recoup all the time wasted by those useless air traffickers who had messed me about for all those years.
The scheme these days looks quite complicated and is always over subscribed to. When I applied there was one ‘stream’ whereas now there are six. This year there were about eight hundred and fifty places available with over twenty three thousand applicants. There was a lot of talk about leaders and leadership, I knew that I had been pegged as a natural leader so that gave me a lot of confidence, plus passing Biggen Hill too gave me a great deal of confidence. I managed to get through the initial stages and was invited to the test centre in Liverpool. As it was the civil service and quite a senior position I dressed appropriately as in a three piece, pin striped, suit. I never felt so out of place as nearly every other candidate was a student from Liverpool University who were dressed in tee shirts and jeans.
There were about thirty of us all in one room with a good half dozen invigilators. The tests were all quite complicated and we were not allowed to make notes or even use scrap bits of paper to make calculations. It all had to be done in our heads. I remember one of the problems they gave us involved fishing. If only it had involved sitting beside a river dreaming the day away I would have been very happy indeed. We were given the tonnage for five varieties of fish that had been landed at each of the fishing ports on the east coast of England. The figures went back for five years. We were then given a set of questions regarding percentage increases or decreases in the catches over time and asked for projections based on current trends.
It was seriously complicated and I promise you I was in nerd heaven. One fellow was annoying most people around him as he nosily flashed his way around his exam paper. During one smoke break we were outside the main door when he came out and one of the girls asked him if he would be quieter. She said it was off putting that someone so clever would make so much noise speeding through the test. The guy apologised but then admitted that he hadn’t a clue what was going on. He wasn’t speeding through the tests, he was frantically looking for a question that he thought he could answer. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only person finding it difficult but it was also nice to know that some were finding it more difficult than others.
It was a long old day and another long old wait for the results to come through but at last they did and I had been successful. I had been offered a position within the civil service as a HEO, first thing I wanted to do was get a job with the ministry of defence, hack the pensions computer and mess up the pension payments of all the air traffickers I had ever come across in my time in the air force. Don’t worry, I would never do something like that, if I was ever in a position to pay some of them back I would want them to know exactly who was doing it to them and why. Unfortunately the civil service is a big old beast and had decided that yes, I could come and join their club as a HEO but not in Northern Ireland, I was to be given a job in Brussels.
Wrong direction, I needed to get back home to Ireland, I wanted to get the children settled in schools. I spoke to the civil service and asked that they reconsider, that they send me to Northern Ireland. They wouldn’t entertain my suggestion in any way, shape or form, I even suggested that I go to Northern Ireland as an EO, an Executive Officer, the rank below HEO, but once again they were having none of it. It was Brussels or nothing. I chose the nothing option, I really was that focused on getting back home, of course with hindsight, I should have gone to Brussels for a year or two and then transferred to Northern Ireland but, as they say, we live and learn.
It was certainly a difficult time for me. Having not just passed the officer and aircrew selection process at Biggen Hill, but being accepted by the civil service as an HEO, indicated that working for five pounds an hour on a production line in a factory would not be for me. But when jobs like that were the only positions available and the discussions we used to have in the air force about being willing to work at absolutely anything in order to provide for our families was always echoing away in the back of my head, along with that fecking advert from the Mensa magazine stating, ‘If you’re so bloody clever why aren’t you rich? ‘
Then another opportunity opened up before me, it was to be the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Well; not exactly the prime minster but a local town was looking for an election agent to manage the election of their candidate. I wasn’t really interested in politics but I could see that the actual job, the organising and leadership requirements were something that I could supply in abundance. It was also a recognised starting point for those interested in a political career, especially outside London. So I could spend a few years working as an agent and then stand for election myself and then take over the country. Sounded good. I applied and was invited for an interview.
There was a panel of five people; I don’t know what they thought of me, but within seconds, I knew that I didn’t want to be in the same room as these people. If I was to say that the position was for the Conservative party then you will be able to start to imagine the sort of people I was dealing with. Old duffers who thought that slavery was a good way of providing domestic staff. It was the sort of interview where you would be looking for your shotgun and working out which one of the idiots you would shoot first. It was obvious to me that I could never work with these cretins. When one of them began to consider, out loud, how on earth an Irishman could understand the problems of an English person in the North West of England I understood that they wanted a white, English, man to fill their position. It was one job interview I was happy to give up on.
It’s nice to be able to hold two fingers up now and again to idiots, but it doesn’t put food on the table. I could see that the recruitment industry was populated with idiots, seventeen year olds who had no experience of the workplace yet called themselves consultants. There was only one person who was going to get me a job and that person was me. It was a problem that I would have to sit down and sort out as with any other problem. I sat down at the dining table with a sheet of paper and a pen and began to work out what exactly it was that I should turn my hand to. It’s a very interesting exercise and I started to learn a lot about what I was going through. I even began to understand the importance of a job, as it not just gave you a certain amount of money and status but determined where you would live, how your children would be educated. It would even determine where you spent your annual holidays and what sort of car you would drive. It encouraged me to stay in control, not to panic and take any old job. Thing is, there’s only a limited amount of time you can do that for.