Learning about history was something I enjoyed, but there were other lessons to be had. ‘Kim, can you get up and tell us about a famous person you’ve met?’ asked Brigitte, our main teacher.
Kim was one of the overdressed brigade, a fashionista, with breasts like Pamela Anderson, and she wasn’t afraid to use them. Nor was she afraid to talk. She recounted how she had worked as an au pair in America, and one day she popped next door to borrow some sugar.
‘The door opened, and that’s when I realised the neighbour was none other than Michael Jordan! He took one look at me and said - ’
Brigitte cut in. ‘Thanks Kim, that’ll do.’
‘But I haven’t finished.’
‘Take a seat.’
Clearly flustered and wanting to continue (I also wanted to hear the rest of the story) she sat down. It reminded me of Mr Zambia at my group interview. He hadn’t made it through. Mental note — stop when they say, even if it’s frustrating. I noticed that they mainly did this with the talkaholics. I wasn’t sure whether it was for time management or to push their buttons.
Sometimes the impromptu talks gave hints at inside knowledge. ‘Mark, give us a talk about an occupation.’
‘I’d like to talk about being a florist.’ For some reason, this elicited knowing smiles from insiders. ‘It’s important not to mix your flowers and your weeds,’ he continued, ‘although often you’ll find your flowers are best positioned right at the front, in the flower box.’ He was cut short by Brigitte.
‘What was so funny?’ we asked the insiders at the break.
‘It’s a code. ‘Flower’ is the nickname for a client who is shagging the male road crew. ‘Weed’ is the same but for male clients getting it on with the female road crew.’
‘What’s the flower box?’
‘Usually if there is a girl who is shagging the driver, she will sit in the seats right behind him, the front passenger seats on the coach. That gets called the flower box.’
‘So why wasn’t Brigitte finding it funny too?’
‘Company policy — don’t fraternise with the clients.’
We would later find out that this was one company rule that was often broken, but the key was not to get caught.
The London study week whizzed past. It was nine to five, just like a work day, but unpaid. Evenings were time to return to our lives, spread out all over London, do some homework, and arrange goodbyes before our impending 46-day journey.
Yes that’s right, it’s not a typo. The trainees were going to spend FORTY-SIX days together on a bus, going around Europe and studying every place we visited. The company had problems in the past with people who used it as a freebie holiday then skipped town, so they had compiled a list of stringent conditions for us. The conditions included that, not only did we NOT get paid for the seven weeks of training, WE HAD TO PAY THEM! The £200 retainer was supposedly for our food and accommodation, but I suspected it was another way to ensure only serious candidates were on board. Other conditions included that we could get kicked off at any time but — the good news — the retainer was returned if we stayed with the company at least two years. Despite all the rules, it was a job in high demand, and the company didn’t seem to have any difficulty making the candidates agree to the conditions. No one complained — out loud.