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I was thirteen years old when I got
my first job.
Like most kids my age, I started off by getting a Saturday job. The reason for this was not because I was penniless, which I most certainly was, but because it was high time I got my head out of the clouds, got out into the real world and learnt what a hard day's work was all about, instead of sitting there, playing on those damned computer games every hour god sends, wasting your life and if I haven't told you once I've told you a thousand times to empty the dishwasher.
At the time, I lived in a rural village named Upper Winchendon. Now, if you're an American reader, at this point you probably have a prejudiced stereotype in your head of a backwards English village, nestled in a sweeping green countryside and home to either bearded ramblers or funnily-dressed, mounted fox hunters.
Your prejudiced stereotype is
absolutely on the money.
Anyway, when I decided to look for a job in the area (bearing in mind that the only things for thirty miles in any direction was a farm, a post box and a cattle grid) my options for working were limited. They involved at least one, or a combination of all, of the following:
1) working outdoors
2) working outdoors
3) working with animals. Animals which were outdoors.
This didn't really work in my favour, as my rather meagre resume only noted general interests in place of my lack of work experience:
1) playing indoors
2) playing indoors
3) playing with computer games. Indoors.
I opened the front door of my house for the first time that weekend. The daylight burnt my skin and eyes lightly as I peered across the road at the post box, which was where the villagers went for hoots on a Saturday night. From where I could see, there was a white sign adorning its side. A job posting, perhaps! I scurried across and looked closer at the sign.
Goddamnit! Where I'd hoped it had said 'Video Game Testers Please Apply Inside', it gave me some nonsense about last collection times.
I couldn't imagine the cattle grid giving me any more hope.
I had no other option but to go inside, change every instance of the word 'playing' to 'working', 'indoors' to 'outdoors' and 'computer games' to 'animals' on my C.V before returning to the infernal letter box and posting it to the farm.
The next weekend, I found myself standing in the local farmer's front room. He was reading my eleven-word-resume. Eventually, he spoke.
"So... you like playing computer games?"
He looked up at me before carrying on. "It says here that your main interests involve playing computer games... outdoors? How does that work?"
"Oh, no! No, no, no," I said, joining his side and leaning over the scrap of paper in his hand. "That's supposed to say… um, indoors."
"So you spend a lot of time playing computer games at home?"
Arrgh. "No! Heavens no. I didn't mean to type 'computer games'," I said, and slapped my forehead in a 'whoops, stupid me' manner. "I meant... animals."
My rapidly-disintegrating-job-giver looked at me, nonplussed. "So... you play with animals indoors?"
"You play with them outdoors? I'm confused."
"I mean, no! No, I don't play with animals anywhere. I don't even like..." ... animals, I very sensibly finished off in the privacy of my own head, before having to try and resume my previous statement as smoothly as possible, "...uh, people who mistreat animals. Which obviously follows, naturally."
He gives me a side-long glance, and said, "We've had four people apply for work at the farm, and only one position to fill."
I was just about to turn around and bend over so he could kick my ass out of the door, when the unexpected happened.
“Well, congratulations. You’ve got the job.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No, dead serious. You’re the most impressive applicant we’ve had so far. The others didn’t even bother to bring a C.V.” He then scrunched up his face and squinted closer at the scrap of paper in his hand. “Although it’s worth noting that ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ isn’t a word.”
I exhaled in relief. “So, what exactly is the job?”
“Ah, glad you asked. You’re to be a pheasant beater. Do you know what that is?”
“No, and it sounds terrifying.”
He chuckled in an unnerving way, his massive shoulders shaking ever so slightly. “Nah, you’ll be fine! Basically, it couldn’t be simpler. Every Saturday we got out onto the grounds and shoot game. All you’ve got to do is walk around the outskirts and flush them out of the bushes.”
I nodded reflectively. “Hmmm. That does sound pretty simple.” I was expecting to have to shovel horse crap and muck out stables, so that was a relief.
I was standing in knee-high, soggy grass. My whole body was freezing and my wellies were full of water. This sucked in and of itself, but I didn’t devote much attention to this as there was a gang of men at the other end of the field firing shotguns in my general direction. Buckshot whizzed past me, and although that high-pitched 'bullet flying past your ear' sound always seems cool in the movies, it really isn’t an enjoyable experience in real life. With the gloomy winter sky oppressively bearing down overhead, the whole situation was reminiscent of Vietnam.
My main job responsibility was not
getting killed, followed closely by using a tarpaulin flag to make
cracking sounds which would subsequently scare pheasants out of the
bushes and into the firing line. You might think it stupid of the
pheasants to fall for the simple ruse, but on the contrary I think they
had some smarts about them: they knew what was going on, otherwise they
wouldn’t have flown towards me.
There was this one guy called Crazy
Will. Seriously - that was what everyone called him (though a few people
just called him Bill. Anyone with any interest in farming or agriculture
is called Bill.) He was a walking caricature. He was about 150 years
old, had Einstein-esque hair cascading from his flat cap, wore a monocle
and was, in fact, crazy.
One day, the head huntsman (I think that’s what you’d call him, although that kinda sounds like a pygmy war leader) decided that it’d be best to proceed into a small wood. He took some fellow pheasant beaters and most of the hunters in from the East, and told me and Crazy Will to go in from the other side and mop up any birds that got pushed back. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, because compared to open fields, woodlands are generally confined spaces. Crazy Will and combined spaces was a daunting combination.
“Come on then, Crazy Will,” I said, wanting to get the shoot over with as quickly as possible.
He jolted, as if he’d just been woken up with a bucket of water, and swung his shotgun around wildly.
“Eh? What’s that you say, young man?”
“I said come on, let’s see how we do,” I replied, slightly louder this time.
“What? Do what?”
“Speak up, young man! My hearing’s not as good as it used to be!”
“I said: what?”
At this point I was aware that he was leaning towards me in an effort to hear better, and his gun was pointing directly at my crotch. I gently pushed it to one side, using my other hand to direct his gaze towards the wood.
“In there! Let’s go kill things!” I screamed at the top of my voice. This seemed to register.
“Good show!” he replied. I wasn’t sure what show he was referring to, but we’d finally reached some level of coherence and set off on our mission.
Once we crossed into the undergrowth, I thought I’d take a moment to try and explain the plan to Crazy Will, although I imagined it was going to be a futile exercise. To my surprise, Crazy Will actually listened to everything I had to say and seemed to understand me perfectly.
Hah, only kidding. It was a totally futile exercise.
“Right, the others are shooting that end of the wood, so there should be some birds moving in our direction. You wait here, I’m going to scout up ahead and see if…”
“THERE!” he suddenly screamed at the sight of a pheasant. Before I knew what the hell, he had rested the barrel of his gun on my shoulder and pulled the trigger.
In Saving Private Ryan, when a large explosion occurs on-screen there’s a second or two where the soundtrack goes completely silent. When I saw the movie, I thought it was a really awesome way to signify how deafeningly loud these explosions were. It is not awesome.
My hearing returned with an added, high-pitched ringing after a second or two.
“Jesus Christ! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“You’ll have to speak up, young man! My hearing’s not as good as it used to be!”
“What?” I yelled, not being able to hear him over my sudden bout of tinnitus.
“I said, what did you say?” he shouted.
“I said, what the hell do you…”
“THERE!” he screamed, and pointed the gun past my head and pulled the trigger, the end of the barrel about three inches from my cheek. My hands almost made it to my ears, but not quite quick enough.
Everything went silent again.
I didn’t wait until it returned before screeching, “Will, for the love of God just put the gun down!”
When I got my hearing back, all I heard was Crazy Will shout, “Bun? That’s very kind, but I’ve just had my sandwiches.”
“What?” I called back, very aware that I was heading for the ‘what’ circle.
“I’m not hungry, but thanks for the… there! ANOTHER ONE!”
All in all, the job wasn’t what I
would describe as amazing/altogether safe. I admit, there was a certain
level of excitement to be had from the bloodshed and gunfire, but the
novelty of the job wore off very quickly, and the effects from being
soaked through on a freezing winter’s day at six in the morning took
I can’t say it was the best job I’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. I may well bore you with that at another time. Right now though, it’s rapidly approaching five o’ clock, which means its time for all of us Brits to stop what we’re doing and have tea and scones on the lawn of Buckingham Palace.