Monday, 9 November 2009

Trains, trains, buses and trains

I woke up and listened carefully to the local weather news. Dry. Cold and dry.

Thank God. Thursday had been wet and I had struggled to move around the building with a bag, coat, two VISITOR badges, all my documents in an A4 wallet AND a wet umbrella. Dry meant one less thing to worry about.

I used the last of the money from the ADF to pay for a One Day Travel Card. As I had previously bought an off peak DayTripper ticket for the last interview on Thursday, this meant that I had £1.10 left.

I brought it with me as I went to sign on earlier than usual.

I was left waiting as the 'Sign On Early Because of Special Circumstances' Guy had gone on his break.

When he came back, I explained that I had money left over, showed him the receipts and he set about trying to return it.

This was after some major kerfuffle which included an interview about job hunting and his congratulations on getting a job interview. When I told him that it was actually two interviews he nearly exploded with pleasure, as if he'd had something to do with it.

He found my signing on booklet, witnessed my signature and we went to the Cash Office hatch to return the £1.10.

This involved a form which had to be signed by me and him, witnessed by the cashier and having the receipts stapled to it.

Blimey. I had hoped someone would say I could keep it as it was such a small amount of money, but no.

Train to Birmingham and then a trip to the Centro office to work out the fastest way to Selly Oak.

Another train.

Now. Selly Oak Hospital is a huge sprawl of a place on the outskirts of Bournville Village. It is not close to any transport links to speak of. No bus passes outside its gates and the train is not on the doorstep.

The outer edges of Selly Oak Hospital are a 20 minute uphill hike from the train station and the site is so huge that it could be another 20 or 30 minutes before you've wound your way around the site and started seeing sign posts to where you need to get to.

Adding to the finding-your-way-around nightmare, Selly Oak has a special wing for injured soldiers so there's a lot of security in place and an awful lot of NO ACCESS BEYOND THIS POINT notices.

That helped.

The interview was in what was referred to in the invitation letter as the A+E Seminar Room. That meant finding A+E, walking past sick people in beds and on trolleys in the corridors and trying to find a seminar room. Which from the name "Seminar Room" I took to mean a large boardroom type place.

I walked past it twice.

It was a tiny cupboard of an office, labelled Police Interview Room and had a handwritten notice INTERVIEWS IN PROGRESS blutacked to the door under the window.

I was slightly late so I knocked, opened the door, introduced myself, apologised for getting lost and the interview began.

Did I have any trouble getting there?

The job would start in Selly Oak but would move to the brand new site that I passed on the train to Selly Oak.

What would be the problems with interviewing and surveying stroke patients?

What experience did I have with clerical work and data entry?

Would I be willing to train and gain relevant qualifications?

And so on. It was a fairly lacklustre, nothing special, Q&A session.

As we said goodbye at the end and the door was opened for me to leave, I bumped into a woman even shorter and fatter than me.

Her neck was so short that it looked as if her shoulders were hunched around her ears. Her face looked as if it had a major battle staying clear of the swathes of scarf which went around her neck in thick coils, piled up around the back of her head and over her ears. She had thick bottle bottom glasses, badly dyed hair and a tight perm. She looked old enough to be my mother.

She was one of the opposition AND she'd arrived early.


I smiled at everybody, thanked the interviewers for inviting me and was on my way with a solid feeling that I wasn't going to get that one.

There was a twenty minute hike back to Selly Oak Station in my interview shoes which were beginning to hurt and around a 20 minute wait for the train back to Birmingham New Street.

Once at New Street, I had to find Heartlands Hospital.

Back to the Centro office where I found that the nearest train station wasn't as close as the nearest bus stop.

I needed the 97. Which I could catch from stop MF on Moor Street Queensway. So that was a brisk walk out of the station, towards the bullring, along St Martins Circus Queensway, past the bullring, under the bullring bridge, towards Moor Street Queensway, past the alighting stop only for the 97 (irritating, as two buses went past as I was walking to the bus stop), past Birmingham Moor Street Train Station, past the Pavilions Shopping Centre, across Carrs Lane, past Carrs Lane United Reform Church and on down to the Saint Michaels' Catholic Church. Where, after waving goodbye to two buses on the way down there, I had to wait another half an hour in the freezing cold for the next one.


I had a nnetwork card which meant I didn't have to wait for a TWM bus to arrive. It was just as well. A Central Connect bus showed up and drove through Bordesley Green towards Alum Rock. Getting stuck in traffic and at red lights all the way. The West Indian driver was super friendly, seemed to know everyone and stopped to chat to people as well.

We got there.


Unlike Selly Oak, the bus stops just across the road from the hospital. Heartlands is a slightly more modern sprawl than Selly Oak, but it is still a huge site; it's the size of a small town. Just how big this place was, was brought home to me when I asked for directions to the lab from Reception.

The lady behind the desk gave me a small A5 size laminated card with complex directions printed on it about how to get there.

They made little sense until I got outside and found the first path the instructions mentioned. It was like following the yellow brick road.

I found the lab and was early. I signed in and waited. A woman was waiting in the same room and didn't seem to be listening for her name. It soon turned out she wasn't at all.

A young woman, the older woman's daughter, it turns out, was shown through a door into the waiting area and they started breathlessly and quite nervously, chatting to each other about how the girl's interview went and did she think she was going to get the job.

She seemed to be relieved to be out of there. The girl (shiny, straight black hair with standard, shiny, black, interview suit) eyed me up and told her mum that she'd talk about it in the car.

Smart girl.

It was my turn. Still in my outdoor coat, I was offered a Tyvek lab coat. When I hesitated, the woman showing me round told me not to worry, I could put the paper coat over my own. Niiiiiiiiiice.

I was shown round the usual sort of thing. Lino tiles on the floor (Microbiology/biology labs must be moppable), lots of varnished wood, no windows in the corridors and some labs were NO ENTRY TO UNAUTHORISED PERSONNEL so she just pointed through the glass in the doors, as I tiptoed to get a peek.

When the time came for the interview itself, she took the coat off me and wished me luck.

I needed it.

There were three of them and me around a small square table. It was pretty intimidating. Again, it was the usual Q&A session. And unusually aggressive.

Why did I apply for the job?

What did I hope to achieve?

What did I think I was going to do here?

It soon became apparent that at least two of them (all three were men) seemed to have doubts about how someone with my background was going to fit into a humdrum routine working life like theirs.

Well, the same way I fitted into the humdrum, routine, working life everywhere else, I suppose.

They didn't seem satisfied. And then I knew I wasn't going to get this job, even though it was perfect.

I handed over all my documents for photocopying, as I was lead into another room for a series of tests.

First. Could I copy type this sheet onto this blank Word document that was open on the computer screen.

I've only spent two years typing at keyboards as a temp. I think I could manage something.

The next was a series of fake swabs and blood samples and a list. Could I match the list with the samples and note any discrepancies?

I had 10 minutes to do the test. I could get 10 out of 10 if I could get all the discrepancies within 6 minutes. I lost marks for every minute over 6 minutes, so that if I took all 10 minutes, the maximum mark would be 6.


As it was clear from the interview that I wasn't going to get the job, I thought I'd just go for accuracy. Sod the 6 minutes rule.

I'm pretty sure I got all of them.

I got my documents back after the test, got all my things together and and put my coat on back in the Reception area. I signed out and went back to the Hospital Reception where I handed in the instruction card and had something to eat.

It was dark outside. I hadn't eaten anything all day and my mouth was pretty dry as well. The food was the usual, miserable, hospital, mass catering, fare. Fluffy, papery chips, a sausage which had so little meat content that it could have qualified as vegetarian and a bottle of Diet Coke.

The long march uphill to the bus stop was cold. There were dozens of people all waiting for the same bus. When it finally came, there was a big scrum to get on. It was dark and the windows had misted up so there was nothing much to look at as the bus trailed through the streets back to the bullring.

I realised I had wasted the entire day. I wasn't going to get either job. Despite the fake cheeriness, the smart clothes, the make up, the reading around the subjects - Nope. Dead loss.

I did wonder why I'd been called for interview. Why bother calling me if you were worried about whether or not I'd be bored because the work was below my level of expertise?

I caught the train to Wolverhampton and got the bus from Wolverhampton bus station to the chip shop on Vicarage Road and trudged home the rest of the way.

One of my shoes was making a clicking sound as I walked. As soon as I got home, I took the shoes off and saw that one heel (right) had almost worn through. Great. more expense.

After checking my emails, I got off the chair to set about getting ready for bed. Only to find myself sticking to the chair.

A great big gob of white chewing gum was stuck to my smart, black, interview trousers and was now adhering to the chair.

Brilliant. WD40 for the chair and the trousers and a long wash overnight.

I hope that was from the last bus home. If that had been there for the interviews, that would have been embarrassing.