Celtic Illumination, part 362, My religion was Catholic; occupation – hard knocks.
So, why was I stood standing at the famine memorial by the burned out church in Liverpool? The bombed out church, or Saint Lukes, was badly damaged during the Liverpool Blitz in 1941 and is itself a memorial to those who were lost in the second world war. The famine memorial was created by the sculptor Eamon O’Doherty, who I never knew or met, but was unveiled in 1988 by the then President of Ireland, Mary Mc Aleese, who used to use me for snogging practise back in Belfast, before I knew what snogging was. She was then known as Leneghan and hung around with my sister Carol. So as you can see, even way back then the double top secret cabal, who were preparing me for the throne of Ireland, were making sure that I would be intimately acquainted with those who would one day be strolling along the corridors of power in Ireland.
Strange that I could find such a personal link in such a public monument, but that’s just me. And once again I have to say that this is not just some flicker of memory that haphazardly flashed across my mind as each and every day, especially since the twelfth of July last year, I am reminded of the Woodvale Road, tennis, motorbikes and side cars, the future president of Ireland snogging the face of me and wet Sunday afternoons with the daily protest from the Orange Lodges complaining that they are not allowed to intimidate or annoy fellow residents. But none of these were the reason or even remotely connected to the reason why I was stood standing by the famine memorial outside Saint Luke’s church in Liverpool. I had a job interview on Hardman Street, which would only have been a few hundred yards away from the memorial, and as an Irishman there was no way I could walk past the monument without paying my respect.
I don’t know why I had applied for the job, well; I do. It was just one of those adverts that asked for people to work with disabled people. I had really enjoyed my time as a tutor for disabled people at TPT in Skelmersdale and I thought that a few months helping disabled people would do me a power of good. It was a job I was good at, a job I thoroughly enjoyed and a job where you actually felt that you were doing something useful. I had no idea about the company I was going to and no real idea about what they did on a day to day basis, all I knew was that I was off to help disabled people. The company was known as Natural Breaks and they supported people with learning disabilities to live in their communities.
They had offices on Hardman Street and I felt a strange sense of pride and what can only be described as a sort of historic connection as I went in to the building as the building was the Merseyside Trade Union Resource Centre. I know I am weird enough with my fascination for the Beatles and Liverpool but there also seemed to be this very proud connection with workers’ rights and Liverpool. I can’t explain exactly what it was, but it felt really good to just be entering that building. I was warmly welcomed in the foyer and escorted upstairs to the suite of offices Natural Breaks lived in. Having successfully passed the officer and aircrew selection test at Biggen Hill there isn’t an interview or selection test in existence that worries me. I was prepared to go in, be interviewed, tell them how good I was and gracefully accept their offer of employment. That’s how it normally works, isn’t it?
Rather than be led in to a room where I would be faced by one or two or even three interviewers I was taken in to a room where small groups of people were sat sitting around. I was told that I was now going in for a group interview, which I had experienced, successfully of course, when I applied to become an audiologist for Scrivens in Birmingham. I knew the format and the rules, shout louder than everyone else and keep smiling at all times. With the Scrivens group interview twenty of us sat around a large table and one fellow managed the whole process. Here, with Natural Breaks we were broken up in to groups and three or four people wandered about watching and listening. One person, a lady known as Jan, who I later discovered was the boss of Natural Breaks, would issue each group with a piece of paper which had a statement typed on it. The group would then discuss the statement.
I have to admit that I was getting a bit hacked off with civilians and their interviewing processes. I knew that at Biggen Hill there were all sorts of psychologists and behavioural scientists involved in building their interview process, now in civvy street I was finding that almost any old man jack could set up and interview people although the whole process of gaining employment was becoming more professional. Sorry, the process was not becoming more professional; people were pretending that it was more professional. Seventeen year old career advisors and so called recruitment professionals would actually score below social workers on my scale and that takes some doing. However, and if you are a social worker or even thinking of becoming a social worker, you will be pleased because I found a social worker who was not just capable but who I eventually came to respect and admire. Jan, the boss of Natural Breaks, had been a social worker but now led this motley crew of support staff at Natural Breaks.
I still didn’t think much of their interview process which I of course passed, was asked to wait, and was then taken in to another office where I faced three people. I was well aware of how unprofessional most civilian interview processes were. In fact many of us, ex-military, knew that success or failure could come down to how well your shoes were polished. I remember once watching a documentary about garbage collectors in Manchester, bin men. There were two or three vacancies and we followed the appropriate manager placing the advert in the evening newspaper. The following week he was sat at his desk smiling with a huge pile, somewhere in the region of two thousand applications, for the three jobs. He began his selection process without even opening the envelopes. He threw away any application that had been hand written. If I had taken such a course of action I would have thrown away those applications that had been typed, but ever since that programme I was very wary when it came to job interviews and the like.
I knew nothing about Natural Breaks, or the work they did, so was quite happy to sit there and answer any question they asked. Most of the questions were designed to fathom your thoughts, or feelings, or attitude, to certain aspects of disability. They suggested to me that I was supporting a young man who had found a part time job at an engineering factory and was starting work the following week. In order to celebrate and wanting to look smart for his new job, the fellow I was supporting wanted to buy a tee shirt with the image of a Teletubby printed on the front. You were with him in a local market when he chose the shirt and you would be with him in the all-male engineering environment the following week when he wanted to wear it. What would you do?
You may think that the question or scenario they present is quite clever and my dismissal of their process not valid. Well yes, it is a clever question and it could be very effective if it were answered honestly. So how many people sit there and answer honestly and how many think what is it that they want me to say, what do they want to hear? There is of course no hard and fast answer no right and wrong, I think I said that I would buy a similar shirt and wear it myself, right or wrong, who knows, at least I wasn’t saying that I would stop him buying the shirt, for now we were getting into the human rights side of things, something that is very common in the field of learning disabilities. The interview went well and they said they would contact me. I left the offices feeling good, the process had been enjoyable; in fact it had been like spending lunchtime in a pub with some strangers although without the beer.
And of course you can’t finish off a day in Liverpool without a drink. I wandered over to my favourite Liverpool pub, The Flanagan’s Apple, and settled in for a pint of the black stuff and a decent bit of craic. Like the rest of Liverpool, The Flanagan’s Apple is dripping with history. It is set in the Mathew Street area with the birthplace of the Beatles in the Cavern Club and the centre of the social scene in Liverpool. It had been a fruit warehouse, a tea room, a drama school and at one point a Beatles museum, they even say it has its own ghost. Some people see it as an over the top, rip off, sort of place with diddly diddly music and hoards of tourists wanting to sample a bit of Ireland. I couldn’t have cared less about the music or the décor, admittedly I hadn’t been in many pubs in Ireland with baths as seats, or bikes hanging from the ceiling, or sheets of music used as wallpaper, the important things were the beer and the people and Flanagan’s had both. All I had to do now was wait, wait and hear from Natural Breaks and wait and hear from all my celebrities and where better to do it that Flanagan’s, so; might as well have another beer while we’re waiting.