Friday, 1 September 2017

Excerpt from Bunny on a Bike - 99p until 4th September









1981


One

‘Why Don’t You Ask Me I Might Say Yes!’



I wanted to be a bunny as soon as I saw the advertisement.  Why wouldn’t I? There was no question that it was the most interesting job prospect I’d seen so far. I thought: casinos, glamour, fast cars and millionaires.  But most of all I thought it would be better than working for a living.  So I told Carol and she said we would go to London together.  Easy.  After all, we didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of our lives.  We had both put in just enough effort to get our degrees and, having got this far, didn’t have a clue what to do with them.  Some of our friends were going to be doctors, solicitors or even teachers.  They knew what they wanted.  I hated them all. 
We met up at King’s Cross, eventually.  Carol had managed to get herself almost arrested for slipping past the toilet attendant but, in a stroke of genius, had invented a relative who worked as a toilet attendant in Exeter station and who had been given an award for the cleanest toilets in the South West of England.  Mary, the London loo keeper, thought that she had heard of auntie Georgina and asked Carol to make sure to pass on her regards, before pressing a free token into her hand and wiping a metaphorical tear from her eye, saying that it had been a great pleasure to make her acquaintance and that, when you got up in the morning, you never knew what was going to happen.

     ‘Why do you do it?’  I yawned.
     ‘What?’  Carol replied, as though I may have inadvertently changed the subject.
     ‘Make things so bloody complicated.’  I saw from her expression that she thought I was a dullard.
     ‘What would you have done then?’ she turned on me.
     ‘Paid the woman!  I mean how much can it cost to have a pee?’
     ‘Ten pence.’
     ‘Really?’  It seemed implausible.  ‘Whatever happened to the spending a penny idea?’
     Carol gave me one of her blank stares before suddenly noticing the effort I had made with my appearance. ‘What the hell have you got on?’  She looked me up and down in what can only be described as a less than complimentary manner.
     I was wearing figure-hugging jeans and a tight tee shirt with ‘Why Don’t You Ask Me?  I Might Say Yes!’ written across the front.  I could understand her taking exception to the incorrect use of capital letters, but I knew that maths graduates were more or less unaware of punctuation.  My carefully selected attire kind of set the mood, I thought, the mood being, as far as I was concerned, one of extreme levity and foolish indulgence.  To add to the effect, I had on a pair of disarmingly conservative calf-length beige zip-up boots, cunningly worn over my jeans, as was the fashion for young women of a certain type, that type being acutely bimboesque.  I thought I looked brilliant.
Carol, in my opinion, hadn’t got a leg to stand on as far as dress code was concerned.  She was wearing a tatty kaftan coat and gypsy earrings in an effort, apparently, to be as inappropriately dressed as possible and thus give an uncomfortable edge to the proceedings: she didn’t agree with the concept of an interview.  There were a lot of things that Carol didn’t agree with so, to save time, I said that I thought she looked brilliant too. 
     In short, we were confident, provocative and loud, we were backward birdbrains about to learn the hard way that there was ‘no such thing as a free lunch’.  We had no notion of what it was like to have a job, apart from serving curry in the Students’ Union bar to salivating youths hoping for a post biryani snog and a grope; we were young, hopeful and out to impress with our individual ideas of what was inspiring in a world brimful of desperately dull people leading desperately dull lives. How could we be wrong?  How could the people at Playboy not love us?
     ‘Shall we get on with it?’ said Carol, looking at the over-sized watch on her wrist.
     ‘Whose is that?’
     ‘Dave’s.  I haven’t got one.  Didn’t want to be late.’
     ‘Is that a cow on the face?’
    ‘Yeah.’  She held it up for me to see. ‘He likes cows.’
London was a huge and shapeless odorous maze and we cursed, laughed and stumbled our way towards Edgware Road via the ubiquitous London underground, which seemed like something out of a Victorian history book. Or do I mean a book on Victorian history?  Anyway, I discovered, interestingly, that I was in fact claustrophobic and taunted myself with the thought of being trapped in the dark, shiny tunnels, never being able to get up to the surface again.  My reflection looked so serious in the dark, glossy windows of the carriage while I entertained these thoughts that Carol found it necessary to practise her favourite grimaces until, catching my eye, we both started laughing. 
The other passengers were not amused, as it turned out, although this only served to bring out more of our loutish behaviour.  We finally left them in peace as we burst out of the sliding doors and exploded up the stone steps on to the street, quite exhausted and gasping for air, believing ourselves to be hilarious.  
     The tube station was not far from the casino and when it came into sight I thought it looked more like an enormous, ungainly office block.  It was on pillars, but not the classical kind, and it looked so, so wrong.  The windows were high up and masked by long curtains which, presumably, hid the bright, luxurious interior.  I suppose I thought the building would be grander, more ornate, dripping with wealth and sophistication.
     ‘What a dump!’ said Carol.
     She wasn’t wrong. 
     Then, we saw all the people.  There were hundreds of them.  Girls and some boys too, just standing there, in the longest queue I had ever seen.  It went along the side of the building, round the corner and on for at least a hundred yards. On closer inspection I noticed how the young trendies were dressed. Never had I seen so many fashion mistakes in one place.  I pushed back my dyed blonde hair and eased up my skin-tight jeans.
     ‘Do you think they’re all here for the croupier jobs?’  I wondered aloud.
     ‘Of course they are, you silly cow.  Let’s get in the bloody queue, shall we?’
     Carol shoved me, and we walked along the pavement, checking out the competition. 
‘They look younger than us.  And prettier,’ Carol whispered.
     ‘Speak for yourself!’  I said.
     The advert had specified bright, good-looking people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three.  I was twenty-four, Carol was all right, she was twenty-three. I was almost young enough and we were certainly both attractive, in a brash kind of way.  Looking back, I blame Debbie Harry for my lack of refinement.
Carol was right, there were some very pretty girls.  But we had a university education, which I doubted most of the others had.  After all, it was not a job for dimwits.  You had to do maths, work out bets.  I looked at the prettiest girls and decided they must be incredibly stupid.  They had spent a lot more time and care on their makeup than on their education, obviously.  I wiped away a smudge of mascara from Carol’s cheek and ended up poking her in the eye.
‘Ouch!  What was that for?’
It was no use explaining.  She had been moody all day because Dave had asked her to marry him.
‘Come on.  This’ll do.’ 
We joined the end of the line just as two rather dumpy girls arrived wearing identical bright yellow button-through dresses and very long chain belts.
‘No chance!’  I mouthed.  Carol curled her top lip and, licking her finger, started working on a white stain on her coat.
The girls in front of us looked about fifteen years old.  They were all chewing gum and wearing platform boots.  They had big hair and bigger fluffy jackets.  They had what my dad would say was ‘swank’, which was a word I could never take seriously. He would also have privately (and totally unreasonably) thought them cheap and promiscuous.  I experimented with covering up the words on the front of my tee shirt, although ‘Don’t You Ask Me?  I Might…’ didn’t seem like much of an improvement.
‘What time did it say in the ad?’  I asked Carol, remembering her fabulous timepiece and shivering in my flimsy jacket at the thought of having to stand around indefinitely.
‘Two o’clock.’ 
‘What time is it now?’
‘Two-thirty.’
A blond boy, with blond eyelashes and a flawless, grey complexion turned round, then.  I was disappointed that I didn’t find him attractive.  I always made up my mind instantly about boys.  I was generally only wrong when I was drunk. Unfortunately, I had met my current boyfriend after a night of cider drinking and he had given me a piggyback to my Hall of Residence.  When he had phoned the next morning, I had fallen in love with his voice, not remembering what he looked like.  It was sheer luck that he resembled Sting rather than Timmy Mallet.
The boy with the blond eyelashes was speaking over my musings.
‘A bloke just checked the queue, asking for proof of age.  Sent a load of kids home.  Said they were opening the doors any time now.  My name’s Keith.’
He stuck out his hand confidently and I noticed his nails had been bitten down so much that there were very sore looking bits on his fingers.  This put me off even more.  I liked wholesome, not scabby.  
‘I’m Bev and this is Carol.’
We shook hands.  We were well brought up, after all.
‘You live in the city?’  he enquired.
‘No.   You?’ 
‘Yeah.  Training to be a chef.  Thought I’d give this a go.’  He took out a cigarette and offered the packet.   Neither of us smoked.
The people in front of us lurched forward and there was a babble of excited conversation.
‘Here we go,’ said Keith, grinning. 
The queue was moving fast, which caused a lot of buffeting and more than a couple of turned ankles.  We surged, then flowed, then stopped as the building swallowed up the first hundred or so hopefuls.
‘Rate your chances?’  asked Keith, taking a colossal drag on his cigarette.
Carol pulled a face and shrugged. As for me, it never crossed my mind that we would not be offered a job, so I said, ‘No problem!’
They both stared at me for a while and then my face started to hurt from smiling too much, so I tried to whistle.
Keith kept us amused.  He had a pack of cards and could do tricks with coins and cigarettes.  He was working in one of the larger hotels, I forget which one, and it turned out that you had to start at the bottom and work your way up.  He was at the bottom, it seemed, doing the washing up.  I wondered whether he wore Marigolds and a pinny.
‘You going to the Mecca interviews, too?’  Keith knew much more about what was going on than we did.  He couldn’t keep still, either.  I could see that his hyperactive enthusiasm was getting on Carol’s nerves.
‘What are they, for God’s sake?’  Carol was trying to do up the flies of her jeans.  They wouldn’t close properly and she swore she would never again set foot in Miss Selfish Pig.
‘Mecca Casinos. They’re recruiting. Monday.  Much bigger than Playboy.  Got the address if you want it.’
‘Yeah, sure.  Is the money better?’ 
Good point Carol!
‘Dunno.  Probably. Got to be better than hotel work, anyway.’ 
We nodded, taking his word for it. It struck me that I hadn’t read anything about the salary in the Playboy advert.  It must pay well, though - we would practically be celebrities.  Our pictures would appear in glossy magazines on the arms of superstars and sex symbols.  We would be sponsored by Chanel, Clinique, Yves Saint Laurent… And, looking lovely, we would be catapulted into a world of champagne and caviar, silk undies and tiaras, unlimited Poptarts and Ambrosia Creamed Rice.  
It took around two hours to get into the building and up the stairs to the first floor, where we waited our turn to run the gauntlet of the ‘Yes’/‘No’ corridor.  It was a strange experience to walk into a room where a bored, well-dressed person sat behind a desk, whose job it was to hand over a yellow card so that you could go on to the next stage of the interview. It made light of our endeavour, but we were not yet important enough to object, so we took it in our stride and didn’t complain. Of course by the time we got there, all kinds of rumours had filtered down from the ones who hadn’t made it. You shouldn’t smile.  You shouldn’t speak.  You should stick your tits out.  You should smoulder.
I slinked into room 117 and a woman with a moustache and body odour, said, ‘Good afternoon.  Down the corridor, second on the right.’ 
I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and, for some reason, walked backwards out of the room, trying not to catch her eye in case she changed her mind.
Outside, Carol was waving her card at me and crossing her legs, laughing. It was one of those silent laughs that makes it difficult to speak properly.
‘Where’s the bloody loo?  I’m going to wet myself!  Bloke was flat out on the desk, wobble-snoring.  Just helped myself.’
So much for the first phase of the interview.  The next would not be so easy.

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