Although I would later claim- quite falsely- that I left the UK as a protest about the Iraq invasion, the truth is rather more prosaic.
I was in London at the time and Iiving in Fulham with Redgate72 or, as he is more commonly known in real life, Leon. I’m going with Redgate72 for the purposes of this narrative but will shorten it to R72 because it’s wicked annoying typing it out again and again.
The week I arrived at R72’s I lost my job at Reuters due to a “Three strikes and you’re out!” policy that had been announced by then-CEO Tom Glocer in a cheerful can-do upbeat American black-is-white up-is-down corporate policy that he cheekily named ‘Fast Forward’. Predictably, this meant firing hundreds and hundreds of members of staff, hollowing out the business and awarding himself a fat bonus as he gracefully jumped from the company, safe in his golden parachute.
I was not so lucky.
It turned out London had me typecast by now as a switchboard operator and nothing more.
Registering with dozens of agencies and recruiters only led to two weeks as a temporary receptionist at the Export Credit Guarantees Department.
For those who have never heard of the ECGD- it likes to keep a low profile and no wonder. This is the government department that underwrites the loans made to tin pot dictatorships the world over so that they can buy the very Best of British guns, bombs, land mines, flamethrowers, tanks, rockets, fighter jets, grenades and anything else that goes bang and kills poor brown people.
Clearly, I was horribly conflicted working for such utter cunts and suffered cognitive dissonance at the studied urbanity of the number crunchers and sales reps who would meet to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on some future wedding party buzzkill. They were more concerned that they had a decent selection of biscuits to dither over rather than consider their part in a vast and sordid killing machine.
I had to get the biscuits just so, ready the tea and coffee, greet the soulless guests and even take the odd phone call. We didn’t get many. The number was ex-directory.
This was back in the good old days of places having smoking rooms where I would go take a break. The smoking room is no doubt long gone. The smoking ruins have only got worse over the years.
“I was at a party the other night,” one of the staff was saying- some fairly dorky dude in a nylon tie. “When I told people where I worked they asked me ‘You’re the Merchants of Death, aren’t you?’ I mean, talk about hurting my feelings.”
I rounded on him, with righteous fury, saying, “But you ARE Merchants of Death you disgusting minion of the dark side. How DARE you talk about your hurt feelings when your wages are carved from the flesh of the innocent?”
Of course, I didn’t. I needed the money.
Instead, I said something non-committal and meaningless, finished my fag and went back to arrange a plate of biscuits for a high-level contract signing between a rep from BAe (beard, glasses, briefcase) and a rep from the MOD (beard, glasses, briefcase).
The two weeks passed and the agency passed me over to answer phones at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. That’s where things got ridiculous.
(To be continued.)