• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 08
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I remember the borrowed suit billowing round me like a windsock whenever I walked outside. I remember an early morning groom and polish, a country house a bus ride away and chairs grouped in threes around numbered, blue-papered desks in a room lined with stoic Victorian oils. I even remember my table number: 6.

I no longer recall who the company was or what they were recruiting for. I think I went along on a pretty slender whim. All I knew was that wheat and chaff were set for an expeditious sorting and that return buses stopped by every half-hour.

The chair clusters filled, the room doors closed and a stumbling, inarticulate company man in similarly voluminous attire ummed and ahhed through the day's proceedings, staring down at his shoes or high into the phlegmatic gaze of those decorative Victorians. There would be tests, he mumbled. Eight tables of three paring down to a top-ranking octet. From these, three would be perking up their workaday wardrobes after a little more aptitudinal probing. It was all against all, despite our neighbourly little clusters. We tucked straight into an hour of brand-driven literacy and numeracy, during which one of my rival 'sixers' committed assessment-day seppuku, quitting the table at a bus-hungry lick.

During the subsequent tea break for marking and weeding, I was approached by the more steadfast of my rival 'sixers'. Eddie was the first and last to make an effort at contact in our Hobbesian bubble. Erudite, irreverent and affably coy about just how far past 40 he'd pushed, Eddie was 'old Army' meaning older than me at any rate.



Two mettle-testing decades at the coalface. One too many Northern-Irelands. There was a family now and a few false starts away from the service but Eddie was capability personified. A worldly, unconditional trier. Everything I wasn't a month shy of 21.

Back at the tables, glue tubes, string and lolly sticks brought meaning to those blue paper toppers. An imaginary river, a miniature hatchback and an hour to bridge the expanse. Eddie rolled his eyes and cracked on with an impressive-looking suspension number. I played my Joker and fudged together a latticed 'pontoon' strung at either end. The company man grinned at the carpet as I blew a little smoke through the explanatory bluff and shuffled on to road test Eddie's stunning elevation. It bowed and held but the bluff held better. I took the final berth on table 6 and got my own marching orders early in the afternoon without caring in the slightest.

Eddie would've cared in purposeful, productive spades but it was a winning day for windsocks and the terminally awkward. Where a little lateral lolly sticking could put all those laudable qualities we worship so devoutly behind our wary diffidence on the next bus home. Eddie came from an honourable calling and built an actual bridge. I spiked it with a lazy trick masquerading as initiative and somehow that meant more. I regretted that.