In October 1990, HWW and I were in Queensland, Australia. We were spending a year travelling on a round-the-world ticket. What would now be called a gap year, except we had nothing to return to, so it was just a year for us.
We’d pretty much run out of money and were scratching around trying to pick up what work we could. We’d done a few weeks fruit picking, however, I was overjoyed when the season finished. Starting at dawn and picking until late afternoon, it was not only backbreaking and boring, but I lived in constant dread of coming across a killer spider as I rooted amongst the leaves for strawberries. For all that work and fear, you only got paid a pittance for each full punnet that they accepted. And, boy, were they picky [Groan – Ed]. Half of my punnets were rejected for being underweight or having substandard strawberries.
After that, HWW had got a few days working in a Greek restaurant in Brisbane and I’d managed to pick up a couple of days’ cleaning.
The temp agency had given me the details of the job written on a little card. I arrived at the house and rang the doorbell. A middle-aged, smartly dressed woman answered the door.
‘Hello, Mrs…Wonk? Mrs…Weank?’ I said. ‘I’m from the agency.’
‘It’s Wank, dear,’ she replied. ‘Come on in.’
Mrs Wank showed me around the house, explaining that she wanted me to line some cupboards and clean out the utility room.
‘These shelves need a good clean and-‘
‘excuse me, dear- sort out.’
Mrs Wank had let out a fart that would have hit 8.5 on the Richter scale. A cloud of toxic fumes filled the utility room and my eyes were streaming. I had never heard an actual grown-up stranger fart in front of me before and my mouth had dropped open. Not a good idea with the level of gas in the room.
Mrs Wank continued to brief me on what she wanted, yet I barely heard a word. Not only was I in a state of shock, I was also killing myself trying to hold in my laughter.
But kudos to Mrs Wank for her confidence. With a name like Wank, I guess you’d have to develop some pretty big balls.
After finishing the job for Mrs Wank, I heard through the backpackers’ grapevine that a backpackers in Hervey Bay was looking for staff to be in charge of the day to day running of the place, whilst the owners did…something else, I have no idea what. After a two-minute phone call – ‘Can you get up here tomorrow?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Welcome aboard.’ – we had the job.
Man, I wish that interviews were like that these days. I was starting to get a bit desperate when we returned from Italy in 2015 so applied for a Christmas job (which I didn’t want) for minimum pay (which I definitely didn’t want) in Debenhams (where I really didn’t want to work). First there was an online multiple-choice questionnaire to complete, giving various scenarios and asking what I would do in each situation, eg:
A customer comes into the store five minutes before closing. She is looking for an outfit for a wedding. Do you:
a) Help her find the outfit, even if it means you working past your allocated hours?
b) Ask a colleague to help her?
c) Help her find the outfit, finish work three hours late for no extra pay, charge the outfit to your credit card and drive the customer home?
Sadly, there was no box to tick for my honest answer, which was:
d) Tell her to bugger off and come back tomorrow; there’s no way I’m working one extra second without pay for a company that makes millions every year and would have no loyalty to me.
This was followed by a 20-minute phone interview full of questions about my team spirit, work ethic [Oh dear – Ed], commitment to the job and loyalty to Debenhams. The kind of questions that made me want to stick the phone into a blender and blitz it to smithereens:
What’s the most important thing to remember when working in a team? To not punch team members in the face.
Why do you want to work for Debenhams? I don’t.
How flexible are you around working unsocial hours? I’m not.
How would you get the customer to spend more? Tell them to go to John Lewis.
What Debenhams brand would you be and why? Oh, piss off.
Unsurprisingly (and with the greatest of relief), I didn’t get the job.
Anyway, back to the backpackers in 1990. It was the one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. $100 a week, cash in hand. Camping on Fraser Island and whale watching trips. Free accommodation. Free food. If we took a minibus of backpackers to the local Italian or Chinese restaurants, we’d get free dinner and drinks. Taking them to the local drive through beer shop, resulted in a free slab (24 cans) of VB lager. I also totally revamped my wardrobe (i.e. my rucksack) with all the clothes that the rich backpackers, travelling on Daddy’s credit card, would leave behind.
Even better, the week we arrived in Hervey Bay, it turned out that INXS were playing at the local holiday resort. Somehow we got tickets for the concert. I don’t know if it was so amazing because I was twenty and everything is great when you’re twenty and life is full of so many possibilities and so few responsibilities. Or if I was happy to have found a job so we didn’t have to return to England with our tails between our legs. Or if it was just the enormous quantity of free beer I’d drunk.
But it was the best concert of my life. INXS were huge at that time and this was a warm-up gig for their world tour. There were less than a thousand people at the concert. We were right at the front (that looks like my hand in the photo above…), within flying sweat distance of Michael Hutchence. I sang. I danced. I caught a plectrum that the guitarist threw into the crowd. I got thrown out of the men’s toilets.
What more could you possibly want from a concert? Or life, come to that?