“You should write about that,” my mother said, peering over her varifocals at me.
“Really? In a blog about moving to LA? But it doesn’t have anything to do with LA, or moving.”
(I’m moving to Los Angeles by the way, soon. Not now, soon.)
“No, but it’s about you. Paints a picture of what you’re like.”
“It’s a shambolic story. I’m shambolic in it.”
Mothers, what? Or my mother. But maybe she’s right. This story is a good introduction to me, my situation. It involves food, being a bit sweaty, unemployment, mild self-loathing; all the fun of being generally a bit rubbish at being 30 and having my shit together.
I’d been for a job interview. I’d been for a job interview after five weeks of unemployment skulking around this East Midlands city, famed for being ‘just the right size’. Five weeks of unemployment, during the course of which I’d had one particularly uplifting conversation with the director of a local school. She told me that the market in my brand of teaching had:
“Completely dried up; no students. It’s a visa thing of course, and #Brexit (she didn’t say the hashtag) probably won’t help. We’ve had to let members of staff go we’ve had on our books for years.”
“Well, do you know of anywhere else I could try?”
“No – the market’s dead, like I said. But good luck!”
“Sure, yeah. Thanks for being so honest!”
Eight years of working hard, accruing experience; getting on with colleagues, students and admin staff; making sure my references were good; spending time, money and effort studying, reading and writing my way to an MA so I could get better paid, more permanent work, had led to this. Excellent.
So, when I finally got called to an interview for a teaching job, it mattered not a jot that the school it was in looked a touch run down, to put it politely. I mean it wasn’t stabby, but it had bars on all of the windows; forbidding dark brown, drizzle soaked bricks; aggressively deep coloured paint daubed on every internal wall, none of it matching; and dust on every surface which was just out of reach. It was also early November, and technically ‘winter’, so the heating was on full blast, each lumpily glossed cast iron radiator pumping out insane amounts of heat, given that it was about 12°C outside. Which is where the sweat comes in.
The job advert had been delightfully vague, asking for an ‘ESOL Tutor’, no mention of hours, permanence, or pay. As I tried to dab away my recently sprung up sweat moustache without wiping off my foundation, I learnt that it was not that many hours, for not that long, for not much money – half my previous salary in fact. But I answered each questions with relative ease (thanks to the experience and study) and left the impression that ‘why wouldn’t I be offered the job?
As it was a bright, mild (as I mentioned), lovely day, I decided to forgo the bus and saunter down into town, in my smart interview clothes, make up on (for once), on the sunny side of the street. It was quietly joyful, and I decided to prolong that quiet joy by bobbing into a café for a spot of lunch.
The café is a favourite of mine. Everything’s just unaccountable lovely. The staff are friendly and always seem to approve of your order, as if it’s simply so clever of you to have chosen just the right thing. The food is both wholesome and indulgent: hearty soups bursting with vegetables; fluffy cakes dripping with fruit and nuts and butter icing you know is healthy despite all the butter and sugar, because it just has to be from happy cows, or something; strong, aromatic coffee; rustic bread; and salads with all the extra ingredients which make them an actual meal. On this particular day, at lunchtime, it was packed (I know, I was shocked too), so I hopped up onto one of the high stools by the bar-like tables which run along both side walls. The shop front was steamed up from the involved, earnest conversations of the other customers. I felt content, in my smart clothes, surrounded by these office sorts, shoppers and students, and I ordered a suitably wholesome bowl of pea soup to go with my optimistically slightly smug mood.
While slurping my soup delicately, I thought a bit more about my current situation and how the teaching job would fit into things. It was maternity cover and would start in December – so another month with no money being earnt, and term ended in mid-December – so not even a full month’s work before Christmas or I’d most likely have to hand my notice in. But some money is better than no money, surely.
I glanced at my phone and noticed that the seam running up the side of my dress looked odd. It was a shirt dress, with splits up the sides. One side was more split than it should have been, showing more of my tight-ed thigh and *cough* petticoat (I know) than would be considered ideal in an interview, or when sitting on a high stool, trying to look smart in a busy city centre café. I groaned inwardly at how slapdash I must have looked, sweaty and raggedy clothed. Unfortunately, my inward groan became outward as the pea soup in my mouth was forced through my nose and down my face as I sneezed, loudly.
The café didn’t suddenly go quiet, nor did every pair of bespectacled eyes turn to face me in some sort of operatic horror. But high on my wobbly bar stool I felt a couple of eyebrows raise and jumpers twitch, I felt the oppression sitting there with pea soup coming out of my nose, dress ripped, shambolic and drawing attention to myself, the cardinal sin in the UK I inhabit.
Imagine that discomfited shambles dropped into the polished, professional, shiny, loud and proud, environs of more southerly California. It might be liberating, it might cause mortification, whichever, or wherever in between, I’m going to have plenty of time to find out.
The mind boggles.