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The applicant with all the answers

I read recently about an interview somebody went through for a job or position - although if the account is anything to go by, it could be substituted for an ordeal they endured perhaps if what was reported in the media was right.

As I read the account of this encounter/endurance test, it reminded me of similar, bizarre interviews or perhaps 'incidents' might be a better description, as quite a few I attended bordered on being the possible basis for a telly sit-com if the following is anything to go by - precise names have not been used to protect the guilty, the criminally insane or just plain crackers, as there was so much scope and choice to choose from all things and options considered.

I had been left school a year or so at the time when Stuart, a school friend, told me about his ‘step on the ladder’ - or rather footplate - as it involved eventually him being trained to be a (then) British Railways train driver of the choo-choo variety, as in real trains that belted out smoke from the front end via a chimney.

He told me where to apply at the then local train manager's office as they were and I quote: ‘Crying out for people’ (possibly close to hysterical laughter in my case as opposed to crying, but read on...) and the chap who did the interviews was ‘very down to earth’ - although this can mean anything from a basic frame of mind to being a pothole enthusiast as they have seen just about everything going on above ground.

An appointment was arranged; I presented myself at the agreed arrival time, plus had my hand shooken to bits as he was in world class handshaking league - but possibly a sneaky form of initiative test to see if I had what it took to cope with a shovelful of coal maybe? - then allocated a seat (no ‘Reserved’ sign on it but I let it pass) as the interview took place in his office with the then usual basics asked for.

John Ward (7059001)
John Ward (7059001)

My name, address, age (‘to be arranged’ was not acceptable then, unlike today), ongoing ‘known’ illnesses (physical, I assumed), was I OK ‘getting dirty’ initially as the work was arduous (nowadays, it would be called ‘labour intensive’) but I replied I knew what a shovel was and which end to put the coal on as it could fall through the handle end if not too careful.

To the last bit, he replied ‘good lad’ (?!) and then it was down to asking daft things like what famous football club did I support (?!) - my reply was ‘hopefully they should be supporting themselves as they get wages don’t they?’ It seemed to throw him slightly as I pointed out I had no time for such frivolity as I was not a footy fan.

He then made us a cup of tea each as we sat and discussed what my knowledge of the railways was in general; did I collect train numbers? No, I replied honestly, as I thought they were bolted on to the engine securely mostly or painted on the cab and so out of my reach, to which he replied he thought my ‘honesty was commendable’ (!) but I was not sure if this was also some form of initiative thing still ongoing.

After about three-quarters of an hour, amid even more ‘mind games’ as we between us had filled in assorted forms, signed this, ticked that and another, had another cup of tea as he then wrote out a travel warrant to enable me to go to Leicester British Rail, the then area main office by train (natch) for my medical examination, as pass that with flying colours and I was as good as ‘in’ he said, with a smile as the kettle went on - again.

I thought I had done well to get past the mental agility part of this ‘interview’ that seemed to take in everything from my mental state of mind to questions about football clubs plus ‘did I mind working out in the rain or snow’ (like you do) but on that one I said I would expect or rather prefer to be in the dry on the train if that was happening; to collecting train numbers, so I felt pleased with myself to a degree but a nagging doubt was at the back of my mind as surely this was really too easy?

Well, as events were to prove, it was.

As I picked up the travel warrant and was heading towards the door, he asked that silly, simple question as my reply signalled my mental ‘Titanic moment’ as my hopes sunk without trace, never to be made into a feature film - yet.

I can remember those few words even today, still chiselled on my brain cell - ‘By the way, I forgot to ask you - do you wear spectacles?’

We looked across at each other through our spectacles, his and mine, much like perhaps Romero looked at Juliet all those pages ago, though perhaps Jools might not have been clasping a British Railways travel warrant, as his smile also sunk perhaps ‘Titanic’ fashion, as I begrudgingly handed back my travel warrant as my hopes of being a train driver were dashed/sunk as he told me that you, or rather me, could not be a train driver, as they have to have ‘20/20’ vision without the aid of spectacles - OK for railway managers but not those at the ‘blunt end’ of the operation.

I replied I had worn them since I was 11 years old, so my possible career as a train driver ‘hit the buffers’ to coin a phase.

Another dalliance (posh alternative word for 'trifling' donchca jolly know is 'dalliance') was when I took part in an interview (supposedly) and we came to the ‘initiative section/component’ with a key question being ‘if I was in charge of an airfield and I saw an aircraft carrier coming into land, what action would I take?’ (what this had to do with applying for an engineering position was anybody’s guess but why spoil a good afternoon?)

Bearing in mind an aircraft carrier is a sea-going vessel or the last time I looked they were, I went all studious-looking (OK, blank expression) as after a few moments of staring vacantly at the light switch, I replied to my interrogator thus: ‘I would sink it with my submarine..’

By his reactions, this reply had not been given before - the tell-tale signs were his eyeballs swivelling around - as he sort of flustered, gasped for air and replied: ‘But WHERE would you get this mythical submarine?!’

My response: ‘The same place as your mythical aircraft carrier, dear.’

The interview was supposedly conducted by the head of the personnel department (this nowadays has now been jazzed up/rebranded to the mind-numbing title of Human Resources, of course) although I felt I was not in the company of a mastermind and it had shown.

You may be surprised to learn I didn’t get the job, but a few years later the firm went bust and I often wondered who was on guard at the time as that mythical aircraft carrier, HMS Clueless, landed on the company premises, now flattened, where blocks of flats now stand.

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