I am happier than a tennis player through to the next round of Wimbledon to be introducing this extract from A.L. Michael’s brilliant new book.
Make yourself a coffee, kick back and enjoy…
‘So, Imogen … why should I hire you?’
Darrel, the manager of BeanTown, was the sort of man who polished his name badge. His knobbly elbows stuck out from his branded short-sleeve shirt, and he was wearing a baseball cap that proclaimed ‘It’s all in the beans!’ He tilted his head to the side, his body relaxed into the plastic chair. The posture of someone drunk on the power he had been given.
‘Because … I’m desperate,’ Imogen said staunchly, bitter enough about having to apply for the damn Mcjob in the first place.
‘And do we think desperation is a qualification, hmm?’ Darrel raised an eyebrow infuriatingly, that smarmy grin on his face.
Imogen was not going to waste the same answers she’d been giving for the last two weeks: she was enthusiastic, she was hard-working, driven, passionate, eager to succeed, a team player, a solo player … she was a performing monkey who just needed a damn job.
‘Darrel,’ Imogen leaned in, swiping a strand of dark hair behind her ear so she could focus on him intensely. Her dad had always said once she set those hazel eyes on someone, they’d cave. He never said if it was out of appreciation or fear, but she suspected the latter. ‘Desperate people are in the unique position that they will do anything, and I mean anything, to keep their jobs.’
Shit, that sounded like a proposition. She back-pedalled.
‘What I mean is, that because I am so very eager for this job, you can be guaranteed that I won’t slack off. I’ll be here on time, I’ll be willing to work, I won’t complain. You catch me complaining and you can fire me on the spot,’ she promised with a wide grin.
Imogen sat up straight, head held high, like she was a prize beagle showing off her skills. Please, please, please …
‘All right, let’s give it a go. It’s true what they say about northerners being ballsy. Walking in here and telling me you’re desperate wouldn’t have got anyone else a job!’ Darrel laughed, a single hoot.
Probably because they’ve all still got their self-respect in existence and their self-esteem intact, Imogen glowered, but turned all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as Darrel shook her hand and told her she could start a trial shift tomorrow, and to be there by five a.m.
Imogen let the door slam behind her as she walked out onto Holland Park Road. It was drizzling, and as she pulled her hood up it seemed like every single person walking down the pavement bumped into her. What was it with Londoners? Did they have to get everywhere in a hurry? She passed four other cafes that had turned her down, and the pub on the corner that said she didn’t have enough experience. She’d worked in a pub for five years, she argued. Yes, but not a London pub, they’d replied. That always seemed to be the catch.
She trudged along, down the huge wide lanes with the multi-million-pound mansions, counting the sports cars and guessing how many bedrooms each property had.
The point had never been to do pub work anyway. Moving to London to work in a pub … well, she could have stayed in Doncaster. As her father had frequently reminded her five times this week, when he called to see how the job hunt was going.
‘You could still come back,’ he had said softly, and she could imagine him scratching his bald head and walking around in circles, getting tangled up in the cord of the house phone because he refused to buy a wireless one.
‘I thought Babs had turned my room into an office?’ She tried to say it without malice.
‘It’s actually a bedroom for Chico,’ her father whispered, ‘and a mini-gym.’
Babs was a five-eight, size-eight, forty-two-year-old divorcee who was just head over heels for her dad. Which Imogen hadn’t bought for a second, because her dad was a fifty-nine-year-old, five-foot-five, balding, pot-bellied Greek Cypriot man who worked in a butcher’s and had a hairy back. Something was rotten in Doncaster.
But she had to hand it to Babs. In six months she’d got Costa walking five nights a week, cutting back on the red meat and the salt, going to salsa lessons, and had a waxer on speed dial. She was working with raw materials and getting decent results. It was just that she was so … loud about it all. Their house had been so quiet all those years, just her and her dad, reading companionably, sharing meals, drinking Greek coffee. Occasionally the big family would descend upon them, and it would be music and parties and too much food, but for the most part they had a quiet little life. Imogen thought he’d been happy with that.
‘She turned my bedroom into a playpen for her chihuahua?’ Imogen had scoffed, but if she was honest with herself, Babs moving in meant she could move to London and pursue her dreams without worrying over whether her dad knew not to shrink things in the tumble dryer. She was free. It was just a shame that she was free to serve people coffee.
She pounded down the soggy streets until she reached a busy road, all cramped terraced houses leaning on each other out of desperation. She climbed the stairs, opened the door and followed the narrow stairs with the mildew carpet up two flights. Home.
When she’d told her cousin, Demi, about the studio in West London that she was moving to, she’d made it sound exotic and sophisticated. In fact, she was paying an eye-watering amount for a cupboard, with a tiny bathroom and a microwave oven with two hob rings on top. London life was a little depressing.
She flopped onto the bed and opened her laptop, too desperate to even bother taking off her wet shoes. It had seemed fated, this move to London. Her big adventure, after years of saving, staying at home, going to a local uni, working three jobs. Imogen had always known this was her dream, cliche or not. She was going to live in London and write. She didn’t even care what she wrote; she wasn’t the hard-hitting news sort of girl – it made her feel angry and helpless. But writing copy for a charity, writing articles, reviews? Something that could put some positivity out in the world, make people laugh, effect some change. Everything had seemed like it had fallen into place with perfect timing – Imogen had reached her saving goal, Babs had decided to move in, and a friend from uni, Saskia, had given her a heads-up about an internship at her magazine. Which, of course, had fallen apart the minute she got within the radius of the M25. Everything in London seemed to move twice as fast. She’d found a flat, tied up her life and moved down in two weeks – but it wasn’t quick enough. The internship was gone. As was, apparently, every writing opportunity in the city.
Surely one London paper, one tiny magazine or agency would take on a English graduate? Surely someone could do with a fairly intelligent person fetching their coffee? Surely one person out there could say, ‘Oh, hey, she was the editor of her uni paper, and she’s done a Master’s degree in fairy tales – cool!’
Apparently not. But at least she could afford to stay. For now. And how hard could serving coffee be?
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
A.L. Michael is a twenty something writer from London. She works as a creative facilitator, running workshops in creative writing, writing for wellbeing, and children’s lessons. She has a BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, and is working towards an MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. She is not at all reliant on her student discount card.
When she’s not writing or talking about writing, she bakes, runs, plays with her puppy, and gets continually distracted by shiny things on Pinterest.