Autism, Work & Me Part Six: Come Fly With Me

At my next appointment with Frank the Employment Advisor I told him about the job at the men’s clothing shop mentioned by Brent. I thought that this would be a pleasing announcement and that Frank would respect my efforts. Far from it. Frank seemed needled by my not approaching the shop myself. Didn’t I know what apply within meant? No, sorry, not a clue. Frank shook his head as he reached for his phone and dialled the shop’s number. I wasn’t privy to both sides of the conversation, but as he talked Frank wore a broad rictus-like smile.

‘I have someone with the potential aptitude for the post,’ Frank said with an ever-increasing smile such that it reminded me of the Laughing Sailor trapped in his glass box and suspended over the promenade at Skegness, ever gurning, lost to posterity. 

Thus, I was duly dispatched to an interview with Mr. Clark at Suits You Well Menswear. Mr. Clark himself was, I thought, a little nervy; I’d met nervies before and was a good judge of their average size. He was dressed the part, if the part was ill-fitting. He wore a sharp pink shirt, a collar size too big, a broad matching kipper tie and red Chino trousers. My bedazzled eyes never registered his shoes.Again, I’d entered a social intelligence void; a no-go zone of knowledge referring to what exactly to expect. And again, I had no preparation because I did not know how to. But I had learned my lesson from the Mr Griffin experience; I had prepared an answer to the ‘how are you at mathematics’ question: I was going to say,‘Mathematics is somewhat obscure, but my arithmetical abilities are sound.’

But he didn’t ask that one, did he? Mr. Clark started with what seemed some very obvious questions that to my literal mind required answers equally obvious,

’What do you think we do here?’ he asked.

‘Sell clothes,’ I replied.

‘What else?’


‘Are you nervous?’


‘Don’t be. What else do you think we do?’

Mr. Clark had opened with a question I could answer with an overwhelming sense of knowing that I would be spot on with the answer, but just as my fragile confidence was reintegrating, Mr. Clark had sucker punched me with another blindingly obvious follow-up question.

‘We keep the shop tidy and talk to the customers,’ I stammered.

That didn’t seem to be too bad. But as I have a complete blank as to what happened next, I can easily assume it didn’t go over well because, obviously, I didn’t get the job. 

The summer of ‘77 seemed long and lovely. New music and the excitement and escape it brought was a balm in Gilead and I sank deeply into it as a respite because, for some, it felt good to be alive; the sun was shining, people were buzzing with belonging to something. But, through the prism of experience and hindsight, I saw it differently and always have. Years later I came across a John Barry composition called ‘The Beyondness of Things.’ It seemed so very apt. 

Me and Frank weren’t getting along. I’d scored a couple more forgettable interviews from random hit and hope applications, ever wishful, as cashing my Supplementary Benefit cheque was becoming a painfully embarrassing experience, every curtain on the trudge to the Post Office twitching as if to say,

‘Tsk, still unemployed. Still without a job.’

Frank emitted a low-level growl.

‘I’m trying,’ I said.

‘Not hard enough.’

Then, almost as if the chocks were away, there was movement. Passing through town, wasting time and becoming more despondent and lonelier, I passed the Armed Forces Careers office. It had two broad windows flanking an entrance door set back from the line of the windows. Some posters in the window showed a selection of appealingly clean-cut action shots spanning all three of the Armed Forces. No mud. No blood. Clean cut. Dad had served three years in the RAF and had thoroughly enjoyed it. At demob time, he had been asked to stay on and he would have had he not been offered a job already. Dad pulled no punches in his anecdotes of RAF life. There was bullshit, bollockings and bevies. But he made some great friends and wrote love letters to his one and only girlfriend, my mum. What was not to like? It seemed like a way forward.

Each of the represented Forces had their own desk, all facing the door. But the desk to the left and right of the centre desk were angled slightly outwards. From an Army perspective it looked like a pincer movement; the RAF, like an inverted Vee flying formation and the Royal Navy – I hadn’t a clue. My man was seated at the desk to the right as I went in. In his blue serge uniform, he looked smart, and his smile welcoming. In fact, the others all said hello as I walked in. For the first time in a while, I felt at ease with a soupçon of something that made me feel good.

Flight Sergeant Jacobs was charming, sympathetic and seemed to have an infinite patience for this wreck before him. I actually felt wanted and went home with a clutch of leaflets and a permission to proceed form as I was only 16. Dad, though far from showing overt enthusiasm, seemed happy and signed his consent for me to proceed with my application to join the RAF.  Mum, ever the quiet one, looked happy too as she served tea.At that moment, I thought I was flying. 

Part Six Commentary:

A scatter gun approach to job hunting, that is, applying randomly for just any old job, results only in a disconnected series of opportunities for which you can only ever have a slightest of interests and therefore the narrowest of skill sets to apply. How do we explain that, particularly to someone who is enthusiastic and keen to find employment?

How can we construct a clear sense of what we want to target and achieve? What questions do we need to ask and how do we find the answers? 

Next time, in part seven of The Accidental Achiever: A Foundation Stone Is Laid 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: