Me Andy, You Jane…

Pity the poor for all the good we do them. There they are, trying to live their lives with whatever half-starved emotional poverty they have, while all the while, over their shoulders, there lurks goodness.

Can you imagine what it must be like to have so much goodness coming at you?

I’ve had a lot of goodness recently. From the other end, of course. I’ve been learning to be good. Or trying to. And it’s been hard.

I lasted around three weeks, that’s how not good at being good I was, but hey, I tried. What good have you done recently?

The reason I gave up trying to be good was Andy.

Andy had not quite a goatee beard, more a tuft of gingery blonde under his lower lip. Andy had a kind of rumpled trendiness that indicated ‘bed-head gel’. Andy frowned a lot. Andy had a particularly nice heavyweight chain on one wrist – big thin rounded links; unusual, kind of expensive-looking. It had more than a hint of a folk-rock thing going on, along with the rumpled, casual charm, that was about as deep as a mosquito pond. That’s a puddle to you and I.

I just couldn’t warm to Andy. There, the truth is out. It was nothing specific, it was an attitude. One of those growing ones that kept leaping into the conversation with a lot of tics and posturings.

Andy was one of those people who kind of rides a conversation to see where it will take him. Who rides you, rather like you were a dolphin in a Good Earth theme park and he was going to commune with you, read your spirit.

Andy didn’t like me.

It wasn’t immediate – oh, no – it was one of those growing sneaky things where you just know it’s taken a wrong turn but you can’t exactly pinpoint why.

Andy had pounced on me in the reception. He’d wandered out there with no intention of interviewing me – although my appointment had actually been booked with him – spotted me and suddenly he was all smiles. He “might as well” see me, “don’t disturb Jane.” Oh, it was “no bother”. In I went.

You would think with this promising start – surely, sexual attraction from a man ten years my junior – that I was in but good. Not so.

I always see these moments, frozen in time, and wonder what happens to that alchemy. What happened in the bright little synapses of Andy’s brain? From the moment he wandered out into reception, did a double-take and decided that the appointment he’d just brushed off was now ‘okay’ – in the most nonchalant way possible, of course – what leapt into his head?

How did he see me? What did he see? How did he think this would play out?

Who knows? He thought what he thought, but what we do know is somewhere between the cup and the lip there was a slip.

Was it something I said?

Hell, yes. Isn’t it always? And isn’t it my job, as a woman, to find out what that is? If something went wrong, I must have done something to cause it. God forbid he should be at fault. That wouldn’t help his ego any.

What could it have been? Let me see………

Well, there was my assertion that he only thought Orkney was a great place to live because he’d never lived there. Turned out his wife had taken him there for his last birthday and he’d loved it. When he said he loved Celtic history so Orkney was nirvana I think I looked unconvinced, maybe even dryly amused. Funny little man. Certainly there was banter. At one point he said something about enjoying the island’s grey landscape and bad weather and I quipped, “Do you suffer much with this depressive thing?”

Hey, I was joking, but there was a little silent voice in there that was whispering, “Not good, Chancery. Not good.”

Oddly, although that first interview went well enough, it didn’t feel well enough. There was the fact that I couldn’t remember my phone number. I don’t think he found that very funny or endearing. The fact that I told him I never phone myself, or that my partner went everywhere with me so I never bothered to remember it, did not seem to make me any cuter either. You’d think it would be no big deal – so I don’t remember my phone number, I promised to deliver it – but I could feel that ticking, just under the surface, out of sight. She’s a kook. Who doesn’t remember their own phone number?

But it wasn’t because I was a kook, not really. All was revealed – eventually.

Over the weekend I had to fill in a rush application form, we had to take passport size photos and make them look plausible – thus saving £4, for which I am truly thankful in light of future events. I had to walk into town and post my application – with my phone number written on the outside, like a good girl – through their office letter box on the Bank Holiday Monday.

I was set. I had an interview time and date. I had no idea why since I thought I’d already done an interview, but if I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that people need their procedures.

And Tuesday, Real Interview Day rolls round. I walk into town on the wettest day of the year. By the time I get there I am soaked to the skin. The rain has gone through my cagoule and I’m sure I’ve got panda eyes. I get to wait in the vestibule since they’ve still got another interviewee with them. Good, I mop up as best I can with paper hankies. I dry my jewellery, the back of my neck. I wipe under my eyes hoping like hell I don’t have runny mascara.

Eventually I go in. Notably, the person who comes out and gets me is the other co-ordinator, Jane, the one I’ve never met, who Andy had fobbed my appointment off onto that first day, then reclaimed it when he saw me. Maybe if Jane had interviewed me that first day I’d be in a whole different place right now. But then again, the way Andy’s ego is running his brain I seriously doubt it.

I go through to the same board room I met Andy in the first time, and there he is, still tufty, tousled and bedecked with silver. Andy looks at me and he’s very serious. My fine female brain, highly-tuned to pick up unhappy male signals, immediately spots Andy is not happy.

This makes my slight anxiety worse. Much worse. I sit down and make some nervous quip about said panda eyes, seeking reassurance that my face is in fact intact. This is met with blankness at first then a distinct lack of hilarity from Andy who obviously considers me frivolously obsessed with my looks. Already my sixth sense is telling me this is a disaster. I feel as if I’m about to fight an unfightable corner. And God, my instincts are good.

Andy displays such stereotypical body language you could be forgiven for thinking he read a book on it before he left the house. Andy doesn’t meet my eyes. When he does he either looks away or fixes me with an angry penetrating gaze as if to say, Say that again. His tone and attitude is challenging – and I’m being nice to him here. He repeatedly sits back in his chair with one arm hung over the back. It’s tantamount to picking excrement off the bottom of his cage and chucking it at me. If he could have jumped on the table and screeched at me he’d have done it.

It takes very little time till Andy dives right into what’s bothering him. “How long do you think it would take you to decide if the job was right for you?” he asks cunningly.

I, naïve to the nth and desperate to convince him of my sincerity, say, “Oh, I’d know straight away. Not more than two or three visits, tops. I wouldn’t keep a kid hanging on if it was wrong.”

OH GOD, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If there was a planet for saying the wrong thing I’d be queen of it. So not the right answer. And the irony is, I was only saying it to convince him that I wouldn’t mess about with a vulnerable child’s life. In actuality, if my pairing had been wrong I’d have done one visit, tops, and if I thought it might work I’d have kept going until it did work, or die trying. But it’s too late now, I’m done for. Of course, as this is in the heat of competition, I’m floundering. I know I’ve committed an enormous blunder but I HAVE NO IDEA WHY.

He’s shaking his head before the sentence is even out my mouth. His lips are pursed. He’s looking down at my application form and leaning back in his chair with his arm over the back – all at once. What the fuck have I said?

I find out soon enough. Andy gives me a very serious dressing down. All that was missing was a finisher of how I had let the academy down and they were going to strip me of my rank.

After that it was all downhill. Nothing I could say could fix it. I found myself wading into blind alleys, trying to explain my feelings, while Andy’s mouth got tighter than Calista Flockhart’s anus. Tighter, tighter, tighter it went. Now he never looked at me at all. He stared at the table and listened to all my answers as if he could hear encoded messages of evil.

I, of course, talked almost entirely to Jane, so that we had: Andy fires accusation question at Chancery, Chancery delivers answer to Jane, Jane smiles, scribbles on her notes, Angry Andy scowls harder and fires off next accusation question. Now he not only has a dilettante weirdo who doesn’t even know her own phone number, but she patently doesn’t respect his authority. Remember, it wasn’t him who came out to get me in the foyer. There’s a pecking order here, and instead of me being crushed by his condemnation of dubious uncommitted carers like me, I’m trying to win over the next-best bet – Jane.

It wasn’t deliberate. I was just desperately trying to convince the only person at that table – and I’m including myself in this – that I have good intentions here, even if I’m not expressing them very well.

But if I’d been Chaucer, Shakespeare and Gandhi in one delicious package I couldn’t have saved myself. It turns out that right before me they have had two carers walk out on them, both after less than two visits. Gosh, exactly the figure I’d named. I have, in effect, made myself one of those women. I am irredeemable.

What’s worse, inside, a tiny, tiny part of me is fuming. How dare this cocky tufted little asswipe sit here, with his holier-than-thou attitude, throwing blame around like the Queen of fucking Sheba? What the hell is his problem? How in the name of al that’s holy can it be my fault he’s had two carers walk out on him? Maybe that’s an indicator there’s something wrong with his selection process. Maybe – here’s a thought – he picks them by wandering out into reception and seeing which one he fancies. Maybe he’s such an arrogant little cocksucker, with a such an overweening God complex, he thinks we’re all his fucking disciples and I ought to wash his feet.

Needless to say (sigh) I do not say any of this. Being a woman, and worst of all, me, I am unable to do anything but flounder, digging deeper and deeper, feeling the disapproval come across the table at me in waves.

Eventually it’s over. I am almost in tears when I leave. Part of me wants to grovel apologies for my failure to please and I am, literally, inches away from it at the door when Jane (surprise!) shows me out. She’s nice, chatting away, trying to make me feel better. I have no proof of this, and it may simply be that he was so obnoxious she seemed shiny in comparison, but my gut says she was feeling sorry for how hard I had tried to win Dad over. Because, let’s face it, that’s what I was doing. That’s what every woman who went in there does. That’s what Andy likes, and why he does the job. Rub my saintly ego. Ohhhh, rub it harder.

Although he has speeches about caring for children so off-rote you’d think they were tenets of a new religion, the real religion in there is the cult of Andy. And behold, it is good.

I run off into the night and am so upset that I finally do start crying, so badly I scare Max, who misses an art class to comfort me. I feel beyond stupid. Crying is not my natural state of being – although you wouldn’t know it to see me this year. Quitting will do that to you – I warn you now.

I cry all the way home (that’s forty-five minutes, folks). I cry at home. I cry and cry and cry.

I’m getting a hurt vibe, here. Something in me is wounded. No shit, Sherlock, and it would take way too long to explain all the nasty family dynamics I think were at play here, but slowly, surely, when my contempt for myself and how low and horrible and stupid I am passes, I begin to see Andy. Yes, there he is, the real Andy. The Andy that somehow changed halfway through my first interview. The Andy that never found a single one of my quips funny, despite being a hip kind of guy. The Andy who never took anyone to or from the foyer, despite being the same rank as Jane. The Andy who went completely off the deep-end, blaming me for two of his carers leaving that week as if I had personally recruited them and defiled his temple. The Andy who needed to pet and sulk and pout to show his displeasure and who hated being ‘ignored’. The Andy who shouted the odds about the children’s care while all along I got this feeling that really this ‘betrayal’ was about him. It was all about him. I’d just been so busy beating myself up for not being a good enough prospective parent I didn’t see it.

And this, my friend, is what the poor get. Andy is what we think they deserve. Andy runs a voluntary organisation called Befriend a Child. Andy was interviewing me to be a volunteer. Andy is what happens to you when your parents don’t love you or beat you up or fuck you. Andy finds someone to befriend you so that you won’t be utterly alone. Andy does this by running a tight ship, with him as Captain Bligh. This means that Andy gets antsy if people don’t know their phone numbers; Andy makes all the jokes, which are never at his expense; Andy takes and drops appointments as a show of casual power, and, best of all, Andy gets to kick the dog when someone lets him down. I was that dog and, like a dog, I well and truly took my kicking.

Except, of course, after I stopped joining in I wrote him – and his boss – an email wherein I told them what I thought Andy’s histrionics were really about. And then I wrote this blog, putting in all the special stuff I missed out the e-mail.

Andy hasn’t yet learned there’s more than one way to give to the poor – and this is mine. It’s good to share.

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