I returned to the playscheme a year later, older, wiser and with the added responsibility of leading my own group, which came with a £10 per week pay rise over the previous year's wage. As a group leader, though, I couldn't be the kids' new best friend, and thus ended up playing bad cop to my helper's good cop. Still, the kids in my group - who were about nine years old - were generally pretty cool; I think they reserved the real little shits for someone more battle-hardened. The last couple of days at playscheme are ingrained on my mind for two reasons - the first is that I got my exam results on the penultimate day, which led the kids to give me a round of applause for doing so well, while the second is that we spent the last day at Thorpe Park.
Somehow over the course of the two weeks, one of the other group leader's young daughters latched on to me, I think because one hot day I called her a "sweaty Betty" and she found it hilarious. So at Thorpe Park she decided she wanted to hang out with me and my group of nine-year olds. Everything was cool until we hit Thunder River, and she massively freaked out at the first hint of water splashing over the side of the boat, despite the fact that she'd merrily watched other boats full of drenched occupants zooming past while we were queuing. I subsequently spent the entire ride clinging on to a screaming four-year old who was determined to jump ship, before quickly giving the sobbing red-faced thing back to her mum and heading back to Mr. Monkey's Banana Ride despite the fact that I'd already made the kids go on it about four times.
As jobs go, playscheme was fun but tiring. I had, at one point in my life, considered teaching as a career, but two weeks of fun was just about enough. On the plus side, I was Police-checked and am 100% kiddie safe.
Two months later I was back at Thorpe Park, this time working in the 'olde-English' style pub in the dying weekend days of the summer season. I was roped into this by a mate who'd worked there all summer, and was somewhat ill-prepared. I had to steal a pair of Big Bro's black trousers (which were too large), and was forced by the manager to wear a manky old oversized sweatshirt; the combined effect left me looking like the Tom Hanks character in Big when, at the end, he returns to child-size while still wearing his adult clothing. I also had to keep hoisting trou up, in case they dropped down in a comedy style while I served an irate parent a decidedly dodgy looking pint.
Good times were nevertheless had, although I was without a doubt the worst barman ever; Once, I accidently clipped the bottom of a pint glass (well, actually it was plastic) on a beer tap and emptied its contents over the guy I was serving. Fortunately he was cool about it. I also had an unerring inability to remember the prices of the drinks, so I generally made my own decision about what to charge based on the nature of the person I was serving; sometimes it was excessively expensive, other times ridiculously cheap.
In hindsight, its possible I was the best barman ever, depending on how polite you were to me.
Thorpe Park's bar was notable for a couple of other reasons, one of them being the fact that it was located next to a fast food joint. You'd get a lot of parents sending their kids to the fast food place, while they came to the bar for some 'proper food.' What they didn't know, though, was that all the food was prepared in the same kitchen, with the only difference being that the fast food stuff was slung in a box, while the pub stuff was slapped on a plate; presentation aside, it was all the same crap.
The other thing I remember - well, kinda - is that all the alcohol had to go by the last night of the season, so the four of us working in the bar got *completely* shit-faced on alcopops (this was '96, after all). Despite that, I still managed to keep my trousers up.
After leaving school I had some desire to work in the film industry (behind the scenes, I hasten to add). About a month after I left Thorpe Park I went for an interview at Shepperton Studios, which meant I had to go clothes shopping because my wardrobe consisted solely of jeans and t-shirts, which apparently don't go down too well in a job interview. So one shopping spree later I was decked out in a crumpled white shirt (like Agent Mills' in Se7en) and some awesome pinstripe trousers (despite Sparky Pa telling me I looked like I'd bought half a suit). Combined with one of Sparky Pa's ties and some hastily polished shoes I actually looked halfway presentable.
So the job was for a company that … made stuff. To be honest, I didn't really do my research then, and I can't for the life of me remember what the company was called now. But this was the first round of interviews for a job they listed as a runner, which I subsequently found out consisted of just driving various pieces of equipment round in a skanky van, then hauling it into place on a location. Hired muscle, basically.
Anyway, the interview was going OK - until the point when the guy looked me straight in the eyes and said "so where do you see yourself in five years?"
Without a moment's hesitation I replied "well, not here."
I wasn't invited back for a second interview, funnily enough.
Three days after my 19th birthday, I started work at - mentioning no names - a company that published, and continues to publish (much to some people's surprise) various film and television-related magazines. I had written to them out of the blue asking if they had any jobs going, and they were kind/stupid enough to take me on. I think of this job like a first girlfriend - cheap and easy. No, no, just kidding! Yes, the wages were incredibly low, but I learned some incredible new skills (make your own jokes there) and made some awesome friends, many of whom I'm still in touch with today. In fact, when I was offered the job at the company I'm at now, I dithered for a while because I didn't want to break up the gang. But, as I said waaaaay back at the beginning, I'm a whore for cash, so I ultimately couldn't resist.
Also I felt massively ripped off by someone senior stealing my parking space and wanted to do an almighty 'screw you' to him. In hindsight, I doubt my little hissy-fit had any effect whatsoever, but it made me feel slightly more proactive.
I'd first been made aware of my current company when a friend who'd ended up working there asked me if I wanted to do some freelance writing for them. I said yes, because it looked like a good opportunity and the extra cash seemed nice, and about six months later they offered me a job as an editorial assistant. Within a few months I'd scrambled up the ranks to a more senior position because other people started leaving (I don't think my arrival and their departure are intrinsically linked, but you never know). I've been there nine years in July, and it's been a pretty wild experience - I've met my Nemesis, made some awesome friends, seen some friends become enemies, found myself in a flooded office, worked my arse off, had my arse pinched by a tranvestite Ginger Spice, hated it, loved it, thought about leaving and ended up staying.
And I think after nine years I finally feel at home there.