This is my first job interview. Turning up at the newsagents one afternoon and being offered a job as a papergirl, before I could even get out of my school uniform, hardly counts. I loved that job, until the majority of my customers converted to gravel driveways, and Mr Johnson complained that the imprint of my shoe was on the front page of his newspaper.
‘Eleanor, are you ready yet?’ Mum shouts, worried that I will be late.
‘Mum, I’m just finishing painting my toenails,’ I shout back.
‘Leave them, Eleanor, nobody is going to see them,’ Mum says, having polished the shoes that I am going to be wearing.
So, finally I make it out of my house. I just hope that my heels can keep up with me. I’ve not bothered with tights because I will only end up laddering them. I’ve made my mind up not to accept a drink at the interview, as I will only spill it. And probably somewhere that makes it look like I have had a completely different kind of accident.
I try to remember Mum’s advice to avoid drain covers in case my heels get stuck. I saw that happened to a young woman once. Although, she was more concerned about losing her designer shoes than walking home in bare feet.
Twice, I nearly walk into a lamp post. Once, I nearly walk into a person. Three times, I end up apologising. My head is all over the place thinking about possible answers to the questions I might be asked.
Arriving early, I sit on a bench outside the iconic building. It used to be a club for men only. Apparently, the stone faces on the building are those of the men who built it. Trying not to look at them, and to help me relax before the interview, I take off my heels and close my eyes for just a minute. By the time I have opened them again, my shoes have gone. Silly me for allowing it to happen. It’s too late to cancel the interview, though, I’ll just have to go through with it.
‘Can I help you, Miss?’ asks the lady behind the bar, not seeming surprised by my lack of footwear, as if people pass by her bar that way all the time.
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I’m here for the job interview.’ She smiles her approval of me, before pointing towards the area where I should wait.
A man in a pinstripe suit collects me.
‘You must be Miss Adams,’ he says, making eye contact with me.
‘Yes, sir,’ I reply.
‘You are very polite, Miss,’ he says, before introducing himself as Mark, the proprietor of the establishment. He doesn’t make anything of me having absolutely nothing on my feet. It is as if all his young women are interviewed that way.
‘Come this way,’ he says, before reassuring me that the other man interviewing me will be a bouncer, so is meant to look scary. I smile at his joke, which pleases him.
I feel the nerves coming on as I enter the darkened room where the interview is to take place. I wonder if they are saving on lighting costs, until I see the pool table. It has its own light. There is an odd-looking stain on the carpet, which I avoid, and another one on the baize where the 8-ball is normally placed.
‘So, tell me about yourself, Miss Adams,’ Mark says,’ with a warm-up question that suggests he senses my nervousness. If he was taking my pulse right now, his watch would be working overtime.
‘Well, there’s not much to tell, really,’ I say. ‘I’ve just finished my A-levels, and I need money to fund my degree course.’
‘No, sell yourself,’ Mark prompts.
‘Okay,’ I say, ‘I possess the most important skill of all – common sense.’
‘That’s not a skill,’ the burly bouncer says.
‘It’s not as common as you might think,’ I say. Mark laughs.
‘Miss Adams, what would you do if a male customer asked you for something extra?’ Marks asks.
‘Give it to him,’ I reply.
‘I think that Miss Adams is going to need my protection,’ the burly bouncer warns.
‘Don’t worry, Miss Adams,’ Marks says. ‘We can’t always find the right words.’
‘I’ll be careful with words in the future,’ I say, not really understanding innuendo.
‘Miss Adams, do you paint your own toenails?’ Mark asks. It seems an odd question for a man to be asking, until I look down at my feet.
‘Yes,’ I smile, touching the little toe that I missed to paint this morning.
‘Don’t’ look so worried,’ Mark smiles. ‘It is time to talk protection.’
‘It will be my pleasure,’ the bouncer remarks.
‘Not that kind of protection,’ Mark corrects him. We need to find the young lady an apron to protect her dress, and then, wet wipes for her feet.’ Surely, he means wet wipes for my hands, I think.
‘Miss Adams, do you have any questions?’ Mark checks.
‘Just one,’ I say. ‘Why haven’t you asked me why I’m barefooted? Most people would think it unprofessional for their staff to be that way.’
‘Not another one,’ the burly bouncer says.
‘Miss Adams,’ Marks says, ‘it seems that you have failed to read the small print in our advert. It is actually a barefoot barmaid and waitress that I am looking for.’
‘I’ll still take the job,’ I say, excited to have one. Mark can’t shake my hand fast enough.
As I pass the barmaid, who it seems really wanted me to get the job, she returns my shoes to me and wishes me good luck, Two men holding pool cues say that they will see me later. Outside, I notice a small sign saying: ‘Barefoot Restaurant and Pool Bar’.
The next day, I thank the paper girl for ripping Dad’s newspaper, and losing the part of the advert that would have prevented me from ever attending the interview.
(c) Philip Jones