A Most Curious Interview
How did a fresh-faced 24 year-old, with a shiny new degree in history, end up chasing creepy-crawlies for a living?
A good question. And not an easy one to answer. Life just produced one of those weird sets of circumstances that leaves you mystified, looking back, as to how it all happened.
1978 was not a good year for graduates. Work was hard to find, so it was with some surprise and delight that I landed a job with a national wholesale warehouse chain. I was a management trainee, this was a plum job, my future was assured. After a well-deserved summer break in the south of France I commenced my new career in September of that year with high hopes.
Shelf stacking, what I learned was shelf stacking!
By Xmas I was tearing my hair out with boredom. This was not the career for me. I told family and friends that I intended to leave the great job I had been so fortunate to get just a few months earlier.
“Look to the future,” they said, “You have prospects there.”
So I did.
I looked at my boss. Then I looked at his boss. They were standing next to me…shelf stacking .
I left shortly thereafter. My parents, not unnaturally, weren’t best pleased…they were keen that I should make an economic contribution to the family exchequer after 22 years of free-loading. In the interests of family harmony I spent the next 18 months as a commission-only salesman, trudging the highways and byways of Lancashire, knocking door to door.
Unsocial hours and general misery impelled me to move on again, which is how I found myself in the offices of a Manchester recruitment agency. I was there chasing another management trainee position, being a graduate and all, but the (remarkably attractive) lady interviewer was handling another vacancy which she felt I was ‘just right for’.
Which is how, a few days later, I found myself arriving at the Manchester branch of the world’s most famous pest control company, wondering how exactly my degree in history was going to of use there!
My interviewer was the branch manager, Archie Cabell. He shook my hand and invited me into his office, which incidentally seemed to be arriving at the same time as me. His desk and chair were still in shrink-wrap and we were surrounded by packing cases containing self-assembly furniture…one of which served as a chair for me.
Archie was fresh out of the army and this was his first day.
“I’ve never done an interview” stated Archie, “I’m not quite sure what to do.”
“Well, I’ve been for a couple,” I cheekily replied, “I’ll try and help you out!”
We spoke for half an hour or so, mostly about his army days, and he decided to put me forward for a second interview on the strength of my degree. He ended with a word to the wise, however. The next interviewer and final arbiter would be his boss, one Terry Cougan. A man universally detested and loathed in the company for his unforgiving and brusque manner.
Archie pulled no punches. As a graduate, my card was marked. I knew exactly what to expect next. Terry was an ex-miner who had pulled himself up and out of the pits by his boot straps. Now in a senior position with a footsie 100 company he most definitely did not like graduates, they were privileged and therefore automatically loathsome. I was advised to go away and learn all I could about the company and the business. I was in for a grilling.
A couple of weeks later I arrived back at the self-same, but now fully constructed, office. I was confronted by a fearsome-looking, middle aged, portly chap who barely lifted his eyes from my CV as I entered the room.
After a minute’s silence he opened the interview with “Atherton lad are you?” I affirmed that I was.
“I used to work down Chanter’s colliery,” he volunteered, with that sort of inverse snobbery that said “I got where I am today by hard work not some bit of paper.”
That was my ace in the hole!
“My Uncle Jack worked there most of his life.”
“Really, Jack who?”
He beamed. “You’re never Jack Barnes’ nephew are you?”
The next half hour was spent in reminiscence about his days down the pit, pausing only briefly to inform me that I’d got the job and did I have any questions.
And that is how, on May 1st 1980, I arrived back at the branch to start my new career as a salesman in pest control. Company car, £400 per month plus commission and all the rat poison I needed.
I was at the wrong office of course. They had internally transferred me to Preston without bothering to let me know and my trainer awaited me elsewhere. The farcical precedent had been set.