Saturday, 1 August 2009

My back pages

I haven’t really got time to blog today so I’m afraid this is going to be like one of those episodes of Friends where they show old clips and pretend it’s a new episode. All I can find trawling though my D: drive is this little amuse-bouche. I wrote it in my second year at university, when I was wading through careers guides and getting ever so slightly browned off by their relentless cheeriness. It was published in a magazine called Poetry and Audience, alongside someone called Carol Ann Duffy. Whatever happened to her? This piece was written at the beginning of the last recession and it is sadly topical again, with new graduates likely to be the main victims of the credit crunch.


For those students who are still unsure about what to do in the world outside, we are asking recent graduates to talk about the career paths they have followed. Doug Robinson graduated from Manchester University last summer with a 2:1 in Economics and Accountancy. Here he tells of his adventures in the job market.

‘Even in my last year at University I still had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. Most of my friends seemed to be going into safe careers in banking, law or the public sector. But I knew somehow that this gentle 9 to 5 existence was not for me. In many ways I felt that University had failed me. My dynamic mind had been stifled by three years of vertical thinking. Now I wanted to do something different, something exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. But I read through piles of careers guides and could find nothing that really interested me. Then my tutor made a suggestion which really set me thinking. He asked me: had I considered taking to a life of crime? The answer of course was no, I hadn't. But he put me in touch with a London gang and I found I liked the way they worked. I saw the gang for what it was - a group of highly motivated individuals with a common aim. I signed up straight away.

I suppose this might be regarded as a somewhat odd career choice. My formal education had not prepared me for a life of crime at all. The simple fact is that, like most professions these days, crime is hungry for graduates. Many gangs are even arranging day-release for university courses for those who joined them straight from school. The good news is that most gang-leaders will consider graduates from any discipline, although they will be looking for a good 2:2 or above.

I find it impossible to describe to my friends what my job involves. ‘Crime’ is such a broad term that it is very difficult to define. But the OED defines it as ‘an act or acts punishable by law, as being forbidden by statute or injurious to the public welfare,’ and I often think how apt this is!

At first I found the results-oriented atmosphere of the firm a little daunting, but I was very impressed by the way new bugs like me were made to feel at home. I also found the social side of the job very rewarding. Our motto here is ‘Work hard, play hard!’ Recent social events organised by the gang have included cheese and wine evenings, buffet suppers, beetle drives and even a trip to Alton Towers.

Being a hardened criminal, I simply do not know what each day will bring. Armed robbery, illicit gambling, loansharking, phonetapping. I could be doing literally anything. So it's very difficult to describe a typical day - but let me try anyway. My alarm goes off at precisely 6:30 a.m. (no lie-ins in this job) and I catch the Morning Prayer and Today on Radio 4 before I have to sprint for the 7:19 train to London. I skim through The Times on the train (financial pages first) and I normally arrive in the office at 8:30 a.m. I remember being told in my first week here, ‘It's not all swag-bags and striped jerseys, you know.’ In fact, about 80% of my work is office-based. I'm firmly implanted behind my desk at 8:32. Two cups of coffee and I feel human again. The next thing I do is sort out my in-tray. It's always crammed full of papers, which means things to do and people to see. In this job they don't waste time with years of training - they give you projects to deal with as soon as possible.
At 9:30 a.m. Marcus (my senior) and I have a meeting with some shopkeepers from Fulham. Marcus leads and I take notes. We have to persuade these people to accept our ‘protection’ and they're none too keen. Our interpersonal skills are stretched to the limit here, and the meeting is a long one which lasts the entire morning. My lunch break has to fit round my work schedule. Sometimes we’ll have a big meal in Soho with some colleagues from Manchester, catching up on all the gossip from our northern office. Or else I just have time to snatch a sandwich from the canteen and eat it at my desk.

In the afternoon, Marcus and I have to phone various people in the world of crime (or ‘the underworld’, as us old lags call it). We're hoping to do a raid on a building society in Knightsbridge and we're looking for five people to underwrite the scheme. We get straight rejections for two hours and then – bingo. Marcus comes up trumps with three successful calls in succession. This gets the old adrenalin flowing and suddenly we know we're on to a winner. It gives me a real kick to see our hard graft bringing in tangible results (in this case, £80,000 in used notes).

Of course, the job does have its negative side. There is no pension scheme as such, and failure to meet a deadline can mean instant death. And, of course, it's bloody hard work, but if you can't take a bit of that I don't suppose we’d want you any way! If you like what you hear though, why not join us? The underworld takes in about 6500 of Britain's best graduates every year and the number is still rising. Gangs advertise in the nationals, but the unsolicited letter can often be the best way of getting your foot in the door. (And do check the spelling on your CVs, as gang-leaders are such sticklers for good English.) With a fully paid-up mortgage and a salary five times as high as the richest of my friends, I certainly feel that my career up to now has been very worthwhile. I would strongly urge all new graduates to get into crime in a big way.

Well, it’s 5.35 on my typical day and I finally leave the office. Normally I join my colleagues now for a glass of dry white wine in Berwick Street. But today I've got to rush home to see how my Boeuf Flamande is doing in the Slow Cooker. I'm holding an end-of-job dinner party for two or three of our clients. This should be a fun evening and will take my mind off work for a while, so that by tomorrow morning I'll be fresh for the chase yet again. Heigh ho, the glamorous life!’

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Reading through such CVs now I see that in no way did they reflect my real existence or document my life. They spoke only of things unimportant to me, news from a grey world. A true chronicle of key events would be quite different, for the great cluster of formative discoveries and unconscious insights occurs in early childhood and is only repeated with variations in later life. Important shifts of awareness become less and less frequent as one goes on: this is the opposite pattern to one’s perceived career, a story of ever increasing achievements and higher honours.’ - Tom Phillips

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