Friday, 19 April 2019

Dip a toe in the water and see if you are a Bev and Carol kind of person...

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Chapter One

     Older but not wiser, we perused the Times Educational Supplement for jobs, on a dull afternoon in August at my house in Milton Keynes.  Carol was back, and suddenly, living in Milton Keynes didn’t seem to matter as much!  My bosom buddy had spent the previous year working in a school in the Himalayas, and had finally flown back to somewhere nearer sea level. 
Outside, nothing was happening.  Inside, the walls remained perfectly aligned and painted magnolia. Carol sighed and looked out of the large, double-glazed window onto a square patch of lawn penned in by a chest-high, cheap, wooden fence.  “How can you live in a place called Pennyland?”
As I didn’t know the answer to this question, I hedged.  “It’s only a name.”
“It’s a stupid name.”
I had to admit that Carol was right. It couldn’t have helped that she had been used to living in a mountaintop retreat in Tibet, above the clouds and as remote as you can get from affordable housing, inadequate porches and gas central heating.
“How do you stand it?”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, half-heartedly.
A man cycled past.  “Christ!  It’s worse than science fiction!”
Baffled as I was by this particular insight, I laughed, and Carol gave me a look that I recognised instantly.  It was a look that said it was time to set out again into the world, united against the banal, the drab and the superficial, determined to have some fun and wreak some havoc.  I went back to the newspaper and kicked off with something contentious:
     “There’s one here for a maths teacher in Beijing. I could be the stay-at-home housewife.”
     “No thanks,” replied Carol.
     “Too much of a culture shock?  Don’t want the Saturday morning military training?”
     “Nah.  Can’t stand Chinese food.  All those wriggly bits. And oyster sauce – can’t eat oysters since Alice!”
     “In Wonderland?”
     “The Walrus and the Carpenter?”
     “The very same.  Poor little oysters…”
     I realised that, cartoon horror apart, and allowing for Carol’s sketchy knowledge of proper Chinese cuisine, this would be a deal-breaker.  Food was top priority.  Followed closely by sunshine, a great beach and a good library.  Good looking, intelligent men of independent means were also a consideration.
“No blokes there, either.  Too short.  Too Chinese.”
I could not argue, although I would not have put my feelings in quite the same way.  Carol spoke her mind, whilst I generally harboured my sharp-edged opinions.  I didn’t mention the fact that, this time, she was indulging in a stereotypical assessment of a nation containing over one hundred million people, not all of whom would be too short or, indeed, too Chinese. 
“What about this one?” I suggested.  English teachers required by the Seychelles government.  Sounds interesting.”
     “Aren’t they in the Indian Ocean?” Carol sat back in her chair and poked a finger into her ear.  She was as beautiful as ever.  How I had missed her! 
     “I believe that is correct, you lovely tart,” I replied, pretty sure that Carol knew a lot more about the Seychelles than she was letting on.
     “Capital?” she asked.
     “Fish. Creole style.”
     “I think it’s more likely to be rice,” I said, although I was not entirely sure.
     “Fish and rice with curry sauce!”
     “We can make our own chips,” I said, reasonably.  “Just need a chip pan and some Trex.”
     “Granted.” Carol chewed the pencil we were using to circle ads.  It had also served as a coffee spoon and more recently, to kill an ant.
     “Shall I read the rest of it?”
     “Don’t see why not,” she said. 
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks-
     “The National what!”
     “Youth Service.  Must be something like the Department of Education.”
     “Doesn’t sound like the Department of Education.  Go on. Let’s hear it.”
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks qualified teachers of ESL to instruct secondary school students on the island of Ste. Anne.”
     “Never heard of it.  There’s Mahé and Praslin and some kind of bird island.  Let me see.”  Carol grabbed the paper. “Twelve-month contracts. Flights and accommodation provided. Interviews to be held in London on 14th/15th August.” She closed the newspaper and got up.  “Want a cuppa?”
     I followed my friend into the kitchen, thinking that the interviews would be at the end of the week, in three days’ time.
     “Where d’you keep the biscuits, you bugger?  Hope you’re not still buying those Poptarts!” Carol was opening cupboards, rummaging.
     “There are some Jammy Dodgers in the cutlery drawer,” I told her.  The mention of Poptarts had brought back a momentary nostalgia.
     She eyed me and I eyed her back.
     “Are we going?” I asked.
     “Book it, Danno,” she said.

     We were not the kind of girls to pass up an opportunity like this.  We had been through university together and worked for Playboy in London, as blackjack dealers. After that, Carol had left England to sell encyclopaedias in Germany and had thrown it in after meeting a businessman at a party who offered her a job teaching English to Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.  I had gone on to work as a secretary in London at various establishments which were practised in the art of exploiting as little as possible of a person’s potential and where, at my lowest ebb, I had slavishly typed out legal contracts for solicitors who patronised both their staff and their clients.  Later, I had worked for a very nice family with a business just off Oxford Street, in a small office, up some rickety stairs, where I had learned all there was to know about high-tensile low-density bin bags (didn’t take long), including how to fold them and label them, before sending them off with a quote for anything from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.   And, after just over a year of knowing that I didn’t want to be in plastic for the rest of my days, I had applied for and, to my utter amazement, been accepted by Queens’ College to do a postgraduate teaching certificate at Cambridge University.  I subsequently took up my first post in Milton Keynes, where I discovered that I was no good at controlling a class of secondary school kids who didn’t care about Keats, and I gradually came to realise that the next proper adventure was long overdue.  All I had needed was the return of my best friend and sparring partner.
Carol had descended from the mountains under slightly mysterious circumstances, which she refused to divulge, but which had probably involved some kind of extra-curricular activity with one of her students.  She had telephoned me to say that she wanted to come and stay for a while. So, with my probationary year as a very eager, but more or less ineffectual English teacher at Stantonbury Campus mercifully completed, and with no one begging me to stay, there was nothing to stop us, apart from fear of the unknown and crushing financial limitations.  We were in the market for some excitement and risk.  A teaching job in the Indian Ocean, with all expenses paid, seemed an opportunity too good to miss. 
     We looked up trains to London and, in the meantime, found out that the Seychelles was a group of volcanic and coral islands stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a language that was based on French, due to the fact that they had been colonised by… France.  Following this, the islands had been subjected to British rule, before gaining independence in 1976. I wondered vaguely whether we would be welcomed by the locals, until Carol pointed out that anything “we” had done to them was bound to be better than the treatment they would have received at the hands of our closest allies, the French, who, according to Carol, had used the inhabitants as slaves to work on their plantations and probably taught them to roll their Rs. 

I dialled the number in the advertisement and asked to be put through to Roseline Bananne.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Limited time promotion:  Get all three of Bev and Carol's adventures less than the normal price of one!


Excerpt from Bunny on a Bike:


‘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.