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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chapter 2 - part three

‘Hi I’m Shannon, and I’d like to talk to you today about travel,” I began,"-NOT! I guess you probably hear a lot on that topic so instead I’m going to talk about something peculiar to me — my experience temping as night receptionist in an accident and emergency department.’

The silly start seemed to work, it elicited a few smiles. I talked about the horrendous waiting times - on my first shift a guy with severe stomach cramps had to wait seven hours before he saw a doctor — and the different ruses people used to try and circumvent the system. Some yelled or whined, others cajoled, one pulled out a knife. How I was disappointed that I had to work during an important World Cup rugby match. I was midway through explaining how I got a match update from a patient who had been in a brawl at a Shepherd’s Bush pub where he had been watching it on a big screen, when I was interrupted.

'Right thank you Shannon, that’ll do,’ said Richard. I couldn’t believe it. He’d wrecked my flow.

‘Actually I’m not quite finished, I don’t believe that’s the five minutes yet?’ I said.

‘That’s enough. You can take a seat.’

After all that! I missed out on telling them to think ahead, take a book with them and be nice to the receptionist next time they go to A&E. I missed my story of how I became so used to telling people to switch off their mobile phones in the waiting room that sometimes as I boarded the early morning bus at the end of my nightshift, I’d have to stop myself from saying the same thing to the other passengers. All my funny stuff was at the end, so I could finish with a bang. For nothing.

I tried to mask my annoyance by acting confident and unfazed, and took my chair. One thing I was aware of — everything we did counted, not just the talks.

I was sitting next to Kerry, one of the few other girls in the room apart from the sneaky back row observers. She decided to go next. ‘I just want to get it over with,’ she whispered to me as she went forward. It was no wonder. We were all nervous, but most people were able to speak once it was their turn. I suspected that what was going to set the candidates apart was how interesting our talk had been.

‘Hi, my name is Kerry.’ She paused and smiled…then froze. Seconds of silence passed.

She started again. ‘I’m going to talk about human biology…’ Not a bad choice of topic, it was different to everyone else’s. Except that she didn’t do it. “I’m interested in human biology …The heart is an organ that…” She paused again, her smile wilting.

“Why don’t you start again,” suggested Richard.

‘The heart is part of the circulatory system – no, I meant to say that the liver is unusual because…because…”

She stopped and started her talk about half a dozen times, couldn’t remember what she was going to say, then couldn’t think of anything to say. She stood there, looking at us, her face blank, hands trembling. The dreaded blackout induced by fear. Heck, make something up, I willed telepathically to her while I smiled supportively. Richard gave her a few more chances to start over, but still she wasn’t able to speak. Nothing. In tears she sat down.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I whispered to her. Privately I was relieved that at least I did better than her. It was only five minutes, it was a topic of our own choice, and we’d had weeks to practice. If you couldn’t speak after all that preparation, you simply wouldn’t cut it leading a tour.

‘I’ve never been any good at public speaking, but I just wanted to give it another try,’ she whispered back at me, as she dabbed her face with a tissue.

‘Good on you for having a go,’ I whispered back, and I meant it. Some people rate public speaking as scarier than dying.

Next up was the second guy to dress in trekking gear, and I don’t mean Star Trek although he was a bit Out There. Short, stout and with a chin full of stubble, he was from Deepest Darkest Africa.

“Come to Zambia on tour with me, I promise you’ll have the time of your life. We’ll go by jeep to stealthily seek out majestic game. There’s kudu, giraffe and hippo hidden amidst the grassy plains and oxbow lagoons. Our aim is to get close enough for tourists to fire shots - from cameras of course!” He was so passionate about the wildlife, he made me feel like booking a trip.

So far Richard had not commented on the talks, merely being timekeeper and writing notes about each person’s delivery. When Mr Zambia finished and sat down, Richard made a brief comment.

‘That was good - even though you were all told in the letter not to speak about travel. Next.’

Mr Zambia turned bright red and his eyes bulged. He started to say something, but Richard cut him off. ‘Next!’

After the talks finished we had question time. Mr Zambia used this as an opportunity to make the point ten times that NO ONE TOLD HIM he wasn’t allowed to talk about travel. He was right, we hadn’t been told, but I remember thinking he should just shut the hell up, he’d done an interesting talk and should let it go.
Round One finished.

‘Ring us after 1pm. And not before,’ said Richard.

I hung out with some other candidates at the nearby mall, but it was difficult to know what to say to each other. We all wanted a shot at the Dream Job so badly we would’ve been ecstatic if all the others decided to pull out at that moment. A thin veneer of camaraderie saved us, and we had polite getting to know you chit chat over hot chips and roast beef rolls. At 1pm we decided to make the call together. Sven got off the phone with a big smile and ‘Yes’, Kerry finished in tears, and then it was my turn. An interminable fifteen seconds passed as the receptionist checked her sheet.

‘Shannon you have been allocated a second interview at 4pm today, does that time suit you?’

Omigod I’m into Round Two! Yay! Yay! Yay!

(To be continued...)

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