Friday, 18 December 2009

Good grief....

Today was the interview at the Royal Free.

I'm not going to get it.

I got to the station and handed my Rail Travel Warrant in to the Ticket Office. The guy behind the counter asked me when I was returning and I told him today around 6pm to 8pm.

He printed off a return ticket and kept the warrant.


One hundred and thirty nine pounds.


Straight away, I felt guilty.

There was next to no waiting on the bridge above the platforms before the train to Euston arrived and when I got on, there was a window seat too.


I passed the time looking out the window and reading up on my application and job description.

Euston was grim.

The main approach to the station incorporates a dire piazza area. Built entirely from grey concrete and surrounded by black granite and yet more grey concrete, the place is dismal even when the sun shines.

For a pedestrian walking from the bus stop to the station, there are the bus and taxi routes to negotiate and the screen of trees which hide this dump from the main road. There are sets of grey concrete stairs from the road to the cheerless piazza where forlorn little 'retail units' break up the bleakness of the sombre, windswept walk across the concrete to the main doors.

Indoors is no better. In fact, it is frankly worse.

Decorated in a grim palette of dark, charcoal greys, it's an austere, oppressive place with small windows relative to the depth of the concourse. There is a gigantic office block complex built over the station so there is little light from above. The whole place was built HUGE and everything else is completely dwarfed by it.

The hanging baskets filled with artificial flowers are barely noticed, the ticket areas are so far from the main doors they are hard to see and there is a pitiful hole in the ground which constitutes the entrance to the Underground station.

Arriving by train, means a long, cold walk up the freezing platforms and ramps before hitting the concourse and the exits it leads to.

And it was swarming with people. This being the last Friday before the last weekend before Christmas, Euston, the gateway to the Midlands, Gatwick, the North West and the occasional train to Glasgow, was heaving.

There were backpacks wherever I turned. No one knew where they were going - tickets, cash machines, departure boards, arrivals boards, food, Marks and Spencers, drinks, toilets, left luggage, children, change machines and London Underground all vied for everyone's attention.

We were lost, milling around like confused ants and no one knew anything.

I had time to kill before I had to get out of there to Hampstead, so I decided to eat. Even though I wasn't exactly overloaded and armed with just a handbag, manoeuvering through the narrow aisles around everyone else, their luggage and their children was quite an exercise. I got round, paid, staggered and bumped back through the shop to the concourse and then danced an intricate pattern through the crowded aisles to a spare table.

Where I sat, ate and lost track of time. I suddenly went from nearly two hours to get to Hampstead to less than an hour and a half. And I needed the toilet.

The toilet was a walk out of the seating area, around the back towards the platforms and down a dingy corridor where I was met with a long queue of people who had had the same idea. I decided to 'hold it' until after the interview.

The pitiful hole in the ground for the Underground was attracting such a long line of people that the line stretched back towards the platforms.

The station attendants were trying to get people away from THAT entrance and down towards another way down to the Tube.

This entailed a very long walk down the ramps back towards the platforms. At the last minute, we had to turn left and take the stairs down to the Underground station.

Jesus. This was well planned.

There was a suffocating crush of people in the ticket hall. Once down there, people started milling around trying to find gates to the platforms or ticket machines or someone who could help.

I wanted to put a fiver onto my Oyster card. I joined two long queues. The first time the machine wouldn't take the fiver I had and didn't take cards. The second time the machine STILL wouldn't take the bloody fiver, but would take cards. I had to find my purse in my handbag and pay by card.

Then I had to find the gates down through to the platforms and work out which platform I needed.

With the Northern line, that's easier said than done. I needed an Edgware train. It took the better part of twenty minutes to arrive. By the time I got to Hampstead tube station I was seriously cutting it fine.

I walked very briskly past all the twee little shops down Hampstead High Street, trotted down Rosslyn Hill and almost ran towards the hospital down Pond Street. The entrance was hidden by plyboard and scaffolding and I went in by the closest entrance to me. I ended up around the back near the School of Medicine where I was let in by someone who had a pass.

I was panicking by this stage. It was now a couple of minutes after three and, although I was AT the Royal Free Hospital, I had no idea where the Haematology section was. By total coincidence, I realised I had found the closest entrance to the section. There were signs pointing up a ramp, and I could see the sign over the door to the unit. RESULT!!

I quickly walked towards the door and realised that my shoes and the highly polished lino were a very slippery combination. I tried to modify my walk to take the skating rink effect into account, but to no avail.

One split second I was heading puposefully towards the door and the next split second there was no more floor under my feet, backwards was suddenly downwards and I landed painfully on my backside. I ended up lying on my back with my feet up the ramp and my head down trying to orientate myself and work out if I had done some serious damage.


There were students on a bench across the corridor who offered to help, but I'm healthy enough and told them there was no need. I picked myself up and carried on. Carefully.

I was left waiting in the Reception area for a little while and when I was collected I told the lady about my little mishap. I was still brushing myself off when I entered the interview room.

Late, rushed, pink faced and complaining about a fall they hadn't witnessed. Great first impression.

The interview was okay. Just that. Okay. Not brilliant and not great. Just okay. They didn't seem to have read my application and were surprised when I told them I lived in Wolverhampton but could relocate and they seemed to have a poor grasp of how their HR worked.

After I had booked the interview, I received a brusque, confirmatory e-mail not only telling me which documents to bring, but also to bring copies of them as well to save time at the interview. If offered the job, it went on, I had to chase the referees myself AND check with HR regularly to ensure that the recruitment stage was ongoing.

The interviewers had been copying documents all day and had no idea about the instructions the candidates had been given.

So. Showing up their ignorance then. Not good.

We said goodbye pleasantly enough and I was told that I'd know before Christmas. Frankly, I knew already.

I was escorted back to Reception where I stopped to put my gloves and coat on before gingerly negotiating the ice rink outside to find the toilets.

Instead of going out the way I'd come in, I went to find the 'proper' way in. The building was extensive. There were temporary corridors and scaffolding all along ground floor corridors and it was freezing. I found the toilets and the cafeteria and the way out which consisted of plyboard ramps zig zagging out to the pavement.

It was now rush hour. Euston was going to be bedlam. I could sightsee for a while. I took a random bus and went through Camden before stopping at Camden Town. It was dark, it was cold and there is little to see in Camden during the week.

I got another bus towards Farringdon. From Farringdon to High Holborn then instead of taking the road to Oxford Street, I walked down towards Seven Dials and Covent Garden.

Wherever I went it was heaving with people. Everybody seemed to be Christmas shopping or getting ready for a night on the town. The shows, the cinemas, the bars, the late night hair salons with manicures as extras and all the chi-chi little knick-knack shops that Covent Garden seemed made for. There were two shops within a quarter mile of each other that sold nothing but beads. Neal's Yard and little independant book shops and souvenirs and just stuff.

Skint, I just had to pass it all by. I resisted the temptation to browse and just walked by. It was very, very depressing. The whole "Christmas is just rampant commercialism" was really rammed home tonight. It was awful.

And I carried on torturing myself. From Covent Garden, down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus to Regent Street up to Oxford Circus and the new criss cross crossing up towards Selfridge's.

I love Selfridge's. Every Christmas, when we were children, we would be taken up to Oxford Street to see Selfridge's windows. They used to be dressed along some sort of theme. Fairy tales, Beatrix Potter, pantomime characters and so on. The tableaux would be motorised and robins would pop out of tree trunks to 'sing', letters would be repeatedly posted, trains would run around mountains and there would be many subtle movements which we would compete to see first. The visit to the Selfridge's Santa and the sight of the windows was part of Christmas for many London children.

Nowadays, the windows are well dressed but nothing to do with children. Abstract art displays of some of the products sold in the store or a dressed up version of the standard clothing displays you'd see in many shop windows.

The main revolving door entrance still opens into the perfume department. There is nothing like that first breath of the warm scent loaded air as you walk in through the very posh frontage. So I went in.

I went round and had little squirts from the Guerlain counter of Chamade and once I could feel my fingers again, I went for the bus stop to get back to Euston.

The train journey was uneventful and very warm and I made it back without mishap.

I went to bed deeply depressed. The entire day had been a complete waste of time and had simply reinforced in my mind just how low I had gone.

Needing someone else to pay my fare so I could chase a job in London dressed top to toe in charity shop gear (trousers from Sense, blouse from Cancer Research and shoes from Sense) to help my feeble Dad and then after a disastrous interview, going out and watching people shopping where I used to go regularly.