Judgement day

Now, can you tell us, Rachel – what do you think you could bring to this role?

Well…. I am good with information systems, and… and people, I’m good with people, and… um…

I take a sip of water, a deep breath, and start over:

well, I like to think of myself as kind of a buffer zone, actually, you know, between people and technology and I think that’s going to be important for this job, and… um, and I have a real passion for… I really want this job and, and… really, and… um.  And I…. I’m very…. um.  And I….  …  … so yeah.

My mouth lets me down again.  Under pressure, communication between my brain and mouth are severed.  In extreme cases, such as here, lines of communication are diverted to my fingers, so that while my mouth gapes lifelessly, my hands sweep complex movements in apparent efforts to form a new and intense sign language.

The interviewer is a woman just a little older than me.  She has an air of integrity and composure that leads me to believe that she would be the ideal boss.  A thin cardigan the colour of pine needles is draped around her shoulders, and as she looks at me over her spectacles, I see that the desperation she recognises in my eyes is met with a calmness she hopes will be infectious.  It helps, but I’m too far gone.

Thank you, she says, and smiles at me.  She looks down at her papers, and I notice a momentary twitch of her forehead, as if she is denying a frown.  She holds the papers up and reads deliberately from them so that I know this final question is planned, and not born of her own capriciousness:

what have you done to improve your communication skills?

***

I came home early for this interview.  I spent the week away, me and five teenagers; daughter brought two friends and son brought one.

The boys cycled, swam and messed on their skateboards, then lay on their beds and watched videos of other people cycling and messing on their skateboards.  Every now and again they’d come and tell me the headlines and highlights.

Each of the girls, individually, is lovely: friendly, intelligent and witty.  But together they formed a three-headed monster that glided round the place with its pretty noses in the air before draping itself over the settees, each set of perfectly-painted eyes fixed on a pod, a pad or a phone.  They compared twit-feeds, searching out images of young women to criticise: too fat; too skinny; not enough arse; too much cleavage; orange face; tan lines; wrong hair colour; wrong brow shape.

As I unloaded the dishwasher I reflected on my bare face with its deepening lines, my unstyled hair, my comfortable jeans and jumper older than my daughter.  I realised I am not even in the game; I saw myself through this beautiful youthful monster’s eyes, as something almost sub-human; I understood why it judged me as fit only for cooking and clearing away its vodka glasses.

In return, I judged the monster by my own standards and found it shallow and inconsiderate.

***

My ideal boss phones me with the news I am expecting.  But although she has to judge me, she doesn’t condemn; instead of giving me up as a bonzo, she offers practical advice and encouragement:

hello Rachel, I’m sorry that we can’t offer you the job at this time.  But it looks as though we are going to readvertise the post, and I’d be very happy for you to reapply.  If you do, please give me a call and we can have a chat about the job so that you feel more prepared next time.

***

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Saturday night is pizza night

A knock at the door is an occasion in our house.  This time it is my nephew and niece, a dog apiece.  Their message is an invite to Saturday Night is Pizza Night – an exclusive gathering around the chimnea at the allotment – an invite I graciously accept.  They remain on the doorstep, smiling expectantly.  The dogs sniff my knees and strain at the leash to cross the threshold; I don’t think so.  I don’t do animals.  For humans I will make odd attempts at sociability, anything below primate has my gorge rising.  Misha is a rescue dog and whippet, eager and utterly beholden; Sofia is Anna Karenina in greyhound form.  Yes, for dogs they’re ok.  But still, they’re not coming in.

Nephew and niece are waiting.  Should I tip?  They’re nice kids, thoughts of financial gain wouldn’t have crossed them.  If anything, they are too nice; not quite other-worldly but possibly meant for a different time, Charlie Bucket’s siblings or born to the bosom of the Cratchit family.  Maybe that’s it; perhaps a word or two of Dickensian wisdom is their hope.  A deep breath and I search for a favourite aphorism.

Luckily, I am saved by my daughter who squeezes into the doorway beside me; she raises her voice an octave to sweet-talk the dogs as she crouches to ruffle their ears, greets her cousins without looking up to see the contentment settle on their faces.

Saturday evening we arrive at the allotment.  Word is, everything from scratch, so I’ve rustled up lavender and liquorice muffins to take along with bottles of lambrusco and frozen dough balls. I dump everything on the supplies wheelbarrow in the orchard and big sister takes me on a tour around our estate.  Flower beds are looking good – she grumbles at the wanton calendula, I silently cheer them on – so we gather lilacs and ivory rosebuds for the passata jar, then sit to drink their health.

Meanwhile, pizza dough is kneaded, shaped, topped, slid onto the stone with Dad’s old spade – spit-and-polished to a pizza-shovel – and slid off again when everyone agrees the cheese is bubbling.  I am on cutter duty.  Niece offers to take over pizza production from her father, and calls Sofia and Misha to lick her hands clean.

The pizzas are delicious, the wine too easy.  Sister and I sway and hum as we cut another handful of perfumed lilacs, which we clutch and sniff and exclaim over as we stumble home.

*

*

Two tuts and a cucumber sandwich

It’s been a busy few weeks, work- home- family-wise.  Not done a serious stroke of OU for three weeks so that makes six weeks behind, with two assignments due next week.

Have attended two tutorials though.  First Language dayschool was good.  The tutor looks far too diminutive in her avatar, but is much more authoritative in real life.  She gave us a good overview of the course and what she expects from our assignments.  It was a nice group, and apart from when the stunning Asian Russell-Brand-Doppelganger lady was speaking and I drifted to imagine her watching videos of him and synching hand movements, I think I acquitted myself fair to middling.

Then last week we went for a few days away with my brother, a sometimes bizarre experience.  Like when I asked what we were having for lunch.  Two pairs of eyes shot towards me and skidded to a stop aimed at my very soul.

“We don’t say that word”, said my sister-in-law, jerking her head towards my brother, who was shaking.

Brother: It’s dinner.

Me: But it’s lunchtime isn’t it?  I mean, the only person who says dinnertime is the big bad wolf, right?

Brother: (reaching out for wife’s hand) It’s dinnertime.

Me: OK… what are we having for dinner then?

Brother: Don’t make a fuss about it.

Me: I’m not making a fuss, but I’d like to know what you fancy for dinner. Sandwiches?

Sister-in-law: (with a tolerant smile) It’s just his thing.  Isn’t it lovey?

Brother: And you say the word just like Mum.

Pause.  Intake of breathes all round.  Swords drawn.

Me: Would you like soup for lunch?

Despite being Welsh, my sister-in-law is lovely, but she’s a mental health worker and seems to have taken our family on as part of her caseload.  I found myself being CBT-ed while making the sandwiches.

“Tell me, Rachel”, she crooned reassuringly, “what would happen if the cucumber slices weren’t spread exactly evenly over the ham?”

Oh, it was a nice break really.  Then came home and discovered that my daughter had been hosting parties at the house of her father, who is off looking for himself in the placid waters of the Maldives.  The sort of parties that over-fill two bins and where you have to chuck away hair clippers because they’re stuck up with pubes.

The next day was the Creative Writing tutorial.  It was good to catch up with tutor and the group but I think I was borderline hysterical; all I remember is me as baby bird, constant meaningless squawking.  Ah me.  Maybe I should give sister-in-law a ring.