The training room was on the fourth floor of a characterless office block overlooking the river. A dull, dirty grey concrete carbuncle probably thrown up in the 1960s, he pondered, as he pushed his way through the revolving door and into a time warp vinyl-floored, neon strip-lit lobby.
‘Enterprise House’ the cliched, faintly ironic name of the building. Ironic since it’s prefab uniformity spoke of automation, ugly efficiency, a dispiriting artlessness that was as far away from the spark of human creativity and dynamism – the true hallmarks of enterprise – as it was architecturally possible to be.
The bowls of the building were as humdrum as the dermis. The lift was out of order, so he climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, passing a rather forlorn looking – and presumably lost – soft bunny rabbit, slumped against the water damaged wall where it had been dropped by a sleep-slackened hand.
‘Hello, I’m here for the Distraction Training. The name’s Peter Curtis’.
‘One moment please, sir’ replied the girl behind the reception desk, without looking up. Peter went up on tiptoes to take a surreptitious snoop over the counter, and was a little peeved to see her finishing off a text with a flourish of emojis. She smiled to herself as she poked the screen to send her little e-missive off into the ether. To her boyfriend no doubt, Peter thought, his annoyance provoked as much by the realisation that this thought-derailingly beautiful girl was spoken for, as much as it was by her churlish ignoral of him.
‘Go on through, it’s room D16 on the right. Go through the double doors, follow the corridor round to the right and it’s the second door after the lift’. She smiled the sort of smile one squeezes out when someone in a position of power, whom you loathe, says something they deem funny.
‘Thanks’ he muttered, already walking away. Peter could feel himself shrink. He was a very sensitive soul, like a blank photographic plate onto which other people projected themselves, he often thought. It was as though his frame of mind or sense of self were governed by, connected to everything in the outside world by millions of microfine wires, and every little tweak on them, good or bad, sent impulses racing into him, each one recalibrating his psychological state. A marionette boy, jerking and jigging to the tweaks of the world.
The training room was a large, square space with an old oak desk in it’s centre. Three chairs faced one chair, the standard interview set up. Around the edge of the room women sat on chairs with young children on their laps, or crossed legged on the floor, eating or drinking, reading books, a few asleep, five or six running around. The sleeping ones awoke when a large wooden door at the other end of the room swung open and vomited forth three besuited men who were engaged in raucous and jocular conversation. The women, children and Peter all gave the men their full attention as they seated themesleves in the three chairs. The panel.
‘Good morning all, and for many of you welcome once again to another Distraction Training session. There are a few faces I don’t recognise, including – of course – yours’ he gesticulated towards Peter. ‘I think the basic premise of today’s training bears elucidating, for which I look to my colleague here, Mr Brownlaw’.
A few of the children, who were all aged somewhere between 2 and 3, started to lose interest in the men, occasioning their mothers to hiss some stern words of rebuke, and no doubt sanction, into their wandering little ears.
‘Yes, thank you Mr Pepperdew. Mr -?’ he aimed interrogatively at Peter, who swiftly responded. ‘Curtis. Peter Curtis’.
‘Mr Curtis, I do beg your pardon. Mr Curtis is here for a 30 minute session of Distraction Training. The scenario he has specifically booked onto is our Distraction Interview Training. Myself, along with my colleagues Mr Bronwnlaw and Mr Renshaw, will be delivering the interview part of the bargain. You -‘ he said, pointing around the room at the mothers and toddlers, ‘will be providing the distraction’.
At this point the women got up, coaxed their little ones across the room towards Peter, and went to leave. A few of the children tried to follow them, one in tears, but they were soon distracted again by the cry of ‘who would like some chocolate?’. It was Mr Brownlaw. The children swarmed to him, wide eyed and palms outstretched in hopeful supplication. ‘Mr Curtis over there’ he pointed ‘has the chocolate’. The children came padding round the table. ‘Can you tell me a bit about yourself, Mr Curtis? What is your professional background?’.
The interview had started. Some of the children were still hovering around Peter, expecting treats. The rest were now running about, shouting, playing with the toys that Mr Renshaw had just dumped in a pile around Peter’s chair. The decibel levels were rising, and so was Peter’s heart rate.
‘Well, originally I studied English Literature at -‘
‘What are you saying?’. A little pug nosed boy was pulling at his shirt sleeve.
‘Oh, I’m just telling the man-‘
‘Focus on the interview please, Mr Curtis’ bellowed Mr Pepperdew, looking reproachful with knitted brows.
‘Yes, of course, sorry. Well I subsequently went on to train as a -‘ there was a loud scream, as two little girls fought over a plastic pirate toy. Peter instinctively wheeled round to attend to the sound of infant alarm, but again he was chided, and he turned his attention back to the mock job interview.
After an exhausting half hour, with his ears ringing and his head swimming, the women came back in to collect their little gems.
‘By the way, I should say there’s a toy rabbit on the stairs’ Peter tannoyed to the room, and an appreciative lady gave him a broad smile and a mouthed ‘thank you’.
When the room was emptied of everyone except Peter and his three interrogators, Mr Pepperdew led the feedback.
‘Well Mr Curtis, after a shaky start I’m pleased to say that you did very well and showed admirable concentration and focus under the most testing of circumstances’.
‘Indeed’ concurred his colleague , Mr Renshaw. ‘If you can conduct an interview as expertly as that without the distraction of twelve rambling, babbling, chivvying, mithering toddlers, then I’m convinced you’ll ace the real thing sans distractions’.
Peter walked back out into the street, feeling enlarged, recalibrated, at peace. His Distraction Training had been a success. He knew the job was his.