Merry Christmas and all other holidays nearly! I am wearing a Christmas onesie as we speak. I shared a difficult memory with Clash Media yesterday called The Last Time I Saw My Sister’s Children and, yes, it involves a horrible day we spent with a very unpleasant man.
On an impulse in May 2007 I decided to see how a local Pagan group did things. I wasn’t quite sure why, other than the fact that I have an avid interest in any subculture. I’ve always found it quite interesting that Paganism, which is in itself a collective term for all ancient religions, exists in modern life still; growing and evolving from the forgotten past to modern day, celebrating nature alongside concrete buildings and road-signs.
So what does it mean to be a modern day Pagan? Well, that would take years to find out, so my main aim was to find out what it meant to a specific small group. I arranged to meet for a ‘moot’, a gathering to hold rituals.
We entered the pub feeling a bit conspicuous; I had realised that I had chosen today to dress like a fortune-teller. We noticed a small group of people out the back. “That’s them,” nudged my friend Steve. I turned to see them looking our way; four people, two men and two women. I suddenly felt very nervous.
The first thing I noticed about everybody was that they were roughly early to mid-twenties. One girl had a blue nose stud but otherwise her clothes wouldn’t mark her out from the average crowd. Two young men were sitting on comfy seats, both with long hair. They were burly outdoor types, not the pasty thin Goth kids I had been expecting. In the seat next to me was a young girl with thick, wavy black hair and a lip ring. Her clothes were the most archetypal Pagan, that is to say floaty, and I liked it.
We were given leaflets with brief explanations on the basic beliefs of Paganism, and what seemed like beginner’s questions and answers, the most obvious being “What is a witch?” The answer given here is: “A witch is a follower of witchcraft or Wicca. Today the words…are interchangeable. S/he is essentially Pagan, worshipping the deity force of the universe personified usually as a God and a Goddess. Witchcraft can be described as one of the priesthoods of Paganism and, as such, Wiccans are also known as priests and priestesses.” The leaflet talked of Covens, and how they were close-knit groups of Pagans.
More arrived, including a woman who kept phoning her children’s babysitter and a shaven headed man in his early thirties. We were waiting for someone who would lead a ritual. Apparently he preferred to perform them in the woods but this particular coven liked to relax with a few pints.
As I asked the girl next to me some questions. She was very open about her religion and her workmates weren’t unfriendly to her because of it. It was “mostly making fun in a friendly way”. The other girl however admitted she had experienced some bullying from workmates.
After a while, the man who was leading the ritual arrived. By this point I was itching to see exactly what we would be doing. He was quite a tall, broad-shouldered man, also with longish black hair. We all headed out to the beer garden.
It was deserted, and would have been very dark but for the windows shining and the full moon overhead. Unsure of what to expect, I took the hands that were offered me as everyone linked to form a circle around a large white table. We were instructed by the ritual leader to take deep breaths, and close our eyes. We praised the traditional four areas of nature, earth, air, fire and water. With each one I heard a match being struck and a candle being lit. The general atmosphere was very calm.
As we opened our eyes, one of the boys said: “Now we can all start cutting ourselves” to laughter and chastisement from the others. The solemnity broke, and as part of the monthly ritual a fight between two Pagan figures was re-enacted, albeit very stiffly, by the two boys who had been there from the beginning. “Put some more effort in, “I called, “It looks like a computer game.”
Back inside the pub it became once again like any other social outing. From what I could gather this particular coven was, like other groups, a comfort and something that offered a sense of belonging and acceptance. We all look for this in one way or another be it religion, the WI or simply a group of friends.
Hands down this has to be the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find the name of the company it was with but I’ve not come across them, and it was back in 2007. My memory with names is cloudy like a Scottish mountain.
I like to try all different kinds of writing; scripts, comics, stories, books, so when I saw a vague ad on gumtree for an advertising firm in a nearby town I wondered if they needed any copywriters.
I applied and was offered an interview, so along I went to a smallish office building in Colchester and saw another nervous looking girl. “What time is your interview?” I asked.
“Two,” she replied. Same as mine. Odd, I thought, they must have two different interview rooms.
But no. They didn’t. A man in his early twenties and rivers of gel in his hair opened an office door and invited us both in. I wondered if we would have to fight to the death.
“This company,” he said, “gets everyone to start at grass-roots level, so we all have experience of each different part.”
I furrowed my brow. Surely everyone didn’t work in graphics, not everybody can do that?
“I’m only 24,” he continued, “and I have my own office and blah blah blah…” I began to drift away. He just went on, and on, and on about how great it was to have loads of money. It’s not my money, what do I care?
We both had to answer a myriad of questions, pretending to be people a company would want to hire. Eventually it came to an end and we went our seperate ways, but I quickly realised I had no idea what I’d just been interviewed for. The answer to every question I’d asked had floated deep within a cloud of management-speak.
However I was still pleased when I was asked back for another interview. This time there was no second girl and the gel-money-monster came to sit next to me in the waiting room.
“Today you’ll be shadowing these two,” he pointed out a male and female, both in their early twenties.
“OK,” I said, “but I wanted to ask, what exactly do you all do?”
“Different companies trust us,” he said, voice slanting into the ‘I’m giving a pitch’ tone once again, “to make other people aware of them and to raise their profile.”
“Yes,” I said, impatiently raising my hand, “but on a day-to-day basis, what would I be doing?”
“We inform the public of the companies we reperesent and let them know the work they do.”
“Right,” I snapped, getting quite cross, “so I could just stand out there,” I pointed to the window, “and tell people in the street?”
“Well, not exactly,” he said, blushing. “But anyway, go with (I’ve forgotten their names, I will call the girl Foofy and the boy Mr Fuffykins).”
So I got into a car with them, which seems a bit mental on reflection but at the time politeness forbids us from going against instruction. On the way Foofy pointed out a car she could see and told us how much she wanted one. She then informed us how close to purchasing it with all her recently earned lovely money she was. I wondered if I’d accidentally joined a cult.
The revelation came over lunch. We were eating fried chicken when I was told we would be literally trying to sell a company, or get people to sign up to it (I still don’t really understand) by speaking to them – cold-calling – door to door.
“You can do that can’t you?” asked Foofy.
“Um, yes?” I said. I still don’t know why I said yes.
We pulled into a residential area in Dunmow and I was given a jacket to put on.”I’ll take the odd number doors and you two take the evens,” instructed Foofy.
‘Speak,’ I told myself, and my voice sat at the bottom of my throat until I forced it up. “Um, I can’t do this,” I said in a weird, squeaky way.
They both stared at me. I made myself repeat it. “I can’t go door to door.”
They began to deliberate. “There’s a bus station nearby, it’s not far to walk,” said Mr Fuffykins.
“We can’t just leave her here,” said Foofy, a touch bitterly as though she wished they could.
In the end I convinced them to drop me off in town, where I had a coke and thought about things before I made my way home. The moral of the story is, when someone talks management-speak just start crying until they explain themselves.