Sunday, 4 December 2011

Wilderness of Sinners

In 1976 my parents finally decided to buy a television and as a family we would regularly sit down to watch Dr Who, The Muppet Show and various Light Entertainment programmes but for me, as a six-year old boy, there was nothing to beat the Sunday afternoon ‘Cowboy film’.
I saw myself in bar room brawls, pitted against suitably threatening, but ultimately inept opponents or riding hard for the border, hearing the whine of ricochets among the rocks and feeling the smooth but urgent rumble of hoof beats beneath me.

Most of all though, I was enthralled by the stage on which these unlikely tales of the old west were played out. There were endless plains beneath an impossibly blue sky, tall, menacing looking cacti and gigantic rock monoliths like the rotted stumps of mighty stone trees. It was a vast landscape of dazzling silence that looked as if no one had ever set foot in it.

I dreamt of wandering in shadowy canyons, feeling the eerie silence that preceded a gunfight and watching sunsets that filled the sky to its furthest corners. I tried to imagine how it would feel to be perched on one of the high rocky outcrops or maybe what it would be like just to hear the crunch of gritty sand and scorched grass beneath my boots. I wanted to be there more than anything else I could think of.

“Are you passionate about customer service?”
I looked up from the paper as the bus lurched forward again into the light early morning traffic. Was I? The shuttered shop fronts of Fishponds Road slid past the window and across the aisle from me a big heavyset man in orange overalls lolled against the glass, chin on chest, arms folded.
“Do you have the commitment and ambition to succeed?”
Well, I was starting to really hate my current job, and I’d gladly swap it for one that didn’t involve starting this early on a Sunday morning, but that clearly wasn’t what they were looking for.
“The successful candidate will be able to contribute effectively towards the integration of in-house back office systems.”
We came to a stop at the lights beside the park railings and the guy in the overalls looked up and blinked a couple of times before snuggling back up against the window. Integration of in-house Back Office systems. I nodded thoughtfully to myself but I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I scanned down to the next line.
“Will demonstrate an ability to act as coach and mentor to ensure continuous growth.”
That was more promising, after all, how many times had I pictured myself in situations where my stirring words would inspire people to tackle seemingly insurmountable odds, to go the extra mile. On the other hand it had been a struggle just to drag myself out of bed and down to the bus stop this morning.
“Will have the proven ability to…”
I stopped reading.
Just who were these so-called ‘successful candidates’? Were they robustly cheerful, bristling with efficiency, simply fizzing with positive energy? Or were they just the sort of people who were always telling me to live in the ‘real world’ and to not be so negative all the time.
Whoever they were, none of the ads intended to recruit them ever began with the words ‘Have you got absolutely no idea where you’re going in life?’ And none of them, it seemed, were looking for twenty something daydreamers who still thought it was possible to find a job where they could go on real adventures.
The bus came to a stop on Manor Road and as I got out to walk the remaining three hundred meters to Blackberry Hill Hospital’s East Entrance I told myself that I wasn’t looking for an ‘office job’ anyway.
Right in the center of the hospital campus, at the end of a broad tree lined pathway, was a modern three story building with honey coloured stone facings, large areas of glass, and potted evergreens flanking the entrance. This was the Fromeside Clinic, and behind its pleasing fa├žade were solid concrete walls, reinforced polycarbonate windows, remotely operated doors, numerous alarms and closed circuit television cameras.
Inside were patients suffering from, psychosis, neurosis, personality disorders and the effects of serious alcohol and drug dependence. They were also murderers, rapists, arsonists, and people with a litany of horrific crime to their names. That said, I felt almost well disposed to them this morning, they might be criminally insane but they still weren’t crazy enough to get passionate about customer service.
I pressed the buzzer beside the double doors and through a second set of identical doors I could see Phil in the ‘Control Room’ window at the far side of the foyer. He looked up and a moment later I was buzzed in.
The little window into the control room resembled the ticket office at a railway station and from his console behind it Phil operated all the Clinic’s external doors and the most important internal ones as well. He could also see monitors which showed the entrances to the two wards, the approaches to the building itself and various stairwells and corridors within it.
He was about sixty with a square impassive face and grey hair parted sharply to one side. Despite the Clinic’s policy of informal dress Phil had adopted a sort of quasi uniform which included one of those dark blue military style sweaters with reinforced patches on the shoulders and elbows, a white shirt, clip on black tie and a high visibility vest. He’d even made himself a rectangular white plastic badge, which read P. MORRIS. CONTROL. Perhaps he was working on a special hat as well.
I showed him my photo ID badge and he looked down at it suspiciously then his eyes flicked up at me as if we were at some remote, windswept frontier crossing. He’d have liked that, a greatcoat, a striped sentry box, maybe even a gun.
‘Morning Phil,’
He reached behind him then slid my set of keys through the slot under his window and followed them with the clipboard with its signature sheet.
‘Sign here.’
I handed it back and Phil buzzed open the door to my left and moments later after being buzzed through the one beyond that, I was inside.

1 comment:

  1. Blimey!

    Love every word, particularly: "Whoever they were, none of the ads intended to recruit them ever began with the words ‘Have you got absolutely no idea where you’re going in life?’"