There’s a reason Madonna decided to move back to the States, and despite the many topics on which I disagree with her, this is one area where we concur. London is not for those unfamiliar with an archaic class system and ubiquitous machine-dispensed sandwiches. In London, books are cheap, rent is exorbitant and breathing room is a luxury. It would seem like a young person like myself would find such a cosmopolitan and frenetic city exciting. I don’t. I find London overstimulating and unhygenic. I am not big-city hip and have always preferred the intimacy of Montreal to the likes of New York or Paris. My project this summer to pursue a career as an innovative young journalist in London justified my previous suspicion that the British city is fun if you’re rich but, even then, the Queen of Pop has proven it can flounder.
Trying to stake your claim…
Three months ago I landed in the Big Smoke and stood at the precipice of the writing job market with only two contacts in my pocket: Time Out London and a neophyte publication called Pure Modern Lifestyle (“all that’s best for the organic and natural consumer”).
Time Out London kept me hanging for about a day before admitting there were no jobs available in research (the only place, with my paltry experience, that I could hope to work). Pure Modern Lifestyle started out well. My clippings impressed the editor so much that he immediately named me assistant editor. Unfortunately, the publication was so small that I was dropped after a month because they allegedly did not have enough work for me. I was let go a week after having researched and written my first article, a six-hundred-word piece about the glories of organic milk, and I cynically believed my firing had something to do with it. Sure enough, when I checked the next month’s edition, my name was nowhere to be found (not even as a volunteer or contributor) while my editor had freely made use of the information about dairy I had procured. Nice.
Luckily, I still had a part-time job as a sales clerk at an upscale pseudo-Italian/Spanish shoe store in Picadilly Circus. Although I have never been to Hades personally, I imagine working in a shoe store is probably the closest I’ll ever come to it.
My bosses made the Rodeo Drive employees in Pretty Woman seem positively welcoming. The manager continuously complained about my attire while serving customers in a dress a prostitute would consider brazen. For the mental (coworkers incessantly discussing Big Brother, make-up, hair products and clothes) and physical abuse I withstood, I should have been paid the (not insubstantial) combined weights of my superiors in gold. I was soon fired by the manager who, with a bounce of her breasts, accused me of being unapproachable.
Following the shoe store debacle, I concluded that retail was not my forté, and signed up with a London temping agency. I got a position as a data entry clerk at the parking and finance division of one of London’s boroughs.
I sat at a computer all day, entered parking tickets into a database and listened to music. But occasionally I found a diamond in the rough. For example, on the back of one ruined ticket, someone had written “SPOILT: another failed attempt by officer #234.” Now that’s what I call the poetry of day-to-day life. Generally, however, the officers fancied themselves John Donnes of the ticket world and would write detailed pages about their conversations (mostly made up of four-letter words) with offenders. Regardless, it was one of my better job experiences.
Unfortunately, my boss took an immediate dislike to me and found every opportunity to complain about my work. Between bites of her sandwich, she accused me of talking too much, while everyone else in the office prattled on more than me (including her). I thought it ironic that an Amazon sporting a thong under a white transparent dress who knew nothing about the database I was using could fire me for incompetence.
Fortunately, the temping agency immediately offered me a new job as a receptionist at a community center specializing in healthcare. I must admit that my interpersonal skills are not my best asset, but I never thought they were bad enough for people not to want to complain to me. Never underestimate the old and ailing. Old men were rising from their comas and finding the will to get me fired two days after I had started working. I suppose in some cultures getting one’s money’s worth is more important than breathing. La vita e bella.
And then it only got worse…One would think that three dismissals, two within the same week, would be punishment enough. Not so. That same week I was unexpectedly dumped by my boyfriend—romantically fired by a half-Scottish cherub with peachly-perfect skin and heaven-sent watery kisses. His reason was vague and approximated the rather shallow Hemingway-esque sentiment of “It just isn’t fun anymore.” My friends told me the first breakup is always the hardest. This was not reassuring, as I was forced into believing my depression was unavoidable. The fact that everyone else had felt that way was about as comforting as being told everyone else would be killed if a meteor hit the planet.
The moment my boyfriend gave me the boot was the moment I decided that my summer aspirations to become a journalist in London were wholly unrealistic. I resolved to try journalism school before comitting to any more fruitless freelance work. I commemorated my decision by ripping up copies of Pure and cashing my pay cheques to purchase a flight home. It just got to the point where I was pushed too far over the borderline. Madonna would surely understand.