|A new novel from Jill Robinson
Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson was published this October by Pennine Pens. We are are going to publish chapters on the Hebden Bridge Web in a similar way that we have published John Morrison's View from the Bridge. This novel is in the same vein but quite different.
Claire and I have both been invited to interview for the same job, running a lunch club for the elderly in Holmfirth. It is a part-time position, and since Claire is employed for only one day per week and I have the offer of a job for only two, we are both keen to obtain more work. There are six candidates for the post and the panel has decided to make it an all-day affair. We are ushered into a tiny room at the Memorial Hospital and told that we will be called in alphabetical order to give our presentations. After this, we will be driven to the lunch club venue, and given the opportunity to meet the service users. The afternoon session will be back at the hospital, where we will be called in reverse order this time for the formal interviews. Claire will be second in the morning and next to last in the afternoon, while I will be next to last in the morning and second in the afternoon.
We sit in silence, trying to make sense of these bewildering arrangements, and I contemplate with horror the prospect of being cooped up with five other women in this stuffy hell-hole for the greater part of the day, even if one of the fellow internees is my best friend. Me, who faints on the tarmac at airports, passes out in crowded pubs, and swoons in stuffy offices. But at least we are in a hospital, so someone should be able to assist if the worst happens.
I decide to avoid such an embarrassing possibility by going to sit in the garden, even though it is drizzling. Claire soon joins me, but not for long, as she is needed for her presentation. Everyone else seems to have brought elaborate flipcharts and overheads, but I am going to do a talk along the lines of the Week's Good Cause on the radio, being better at talking than drawing charts.
Claire, ever one with an eye for a presentable man, tells me that she finds the chairman of the selection panel quite dishy. She sees someone to admire wherever we go, for not only did she fancy the monk at the Todmorden meditation session, but also the rather battered-looking compere at a Greek evening we went to. I remind Claire that the chairman has mentioned his wife as having cooked crumble for ninety. We would doubtless be meeting her later, at the lunch club.
Claire goes on to recount that she has recently consulted a fortune teller, who has predicted that she will meet a man named Peter this month, who will be of great significance to her. I point out that, as he has signed himself Keith on the letters of invitation to interview, this seems rather unlikely and disappointingly for Claire the other two panel members are womenŠ
The lunch club members assemble early, and we are kept busy greeting them, escorting them to their seats, fetching welcoming cups of tea, and chatting to those who have come friendless. Then it is time to participate in the armchair aerobics, after which comes the serious business of the lunch. We have to sort out who wants meat pie and who prefers fish, and take out the correct orders. The chairman is anxious that three members have not yet arrived, and are adrift somewhere in Holmfirth.
"Would they be Compo, Foggy and Clegg?", I ask, struggling across the crowded room with the plates of food. I would not turn a hair if they walked through the door, as this interview is increasingly beginning to resemble an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. Meanwhile Claire is hauling one old lady out of a cupboard, into which she had inadvertently strayed, mistaking it for the toilet.
When it comes to dessert, the chairman's wife gamely dishes up the rhubarb crumble for ninety. We candidates continue as waitresses, and also have to ensure that those who are diabetic have yoghurt instead.
After lunch, we clear away all the dishes and then participate in the community singing, with keyboard accompaniment provided by a local chanteuse. I enjoy this, as my father knew all the songs the lunch-clubbers are singing. He used to lean out of his bedroom window, serenading all the passers-by, breaking off every so often to wish them good morning, or enquire after the health of their relatives, before resuming his song in mid verse. His repertoire was extensive, ranging from First World War songs to operatic arias (Pagliacci was my favourite as a child, I remember). So I am almost disappointed when it is time for the candidates to return to the hospital for formal interviews.
At least I can get away fairly early, but poor Claire is obliged to remain until almost the end. The chairman tells us that a decision will be made before midnight on Monday, and the successful person informed by phone. Claire and I agree to let each other know should we hear anything; neither of us is especially optimistic, indeed, I am really rather hoping that they will not appoint me. I return home and pass the remainder of the day lying quietly in a darkened room. The things one has to do to get a job in the voluntary sector these daysŠ
Claire phones at nine o'clock on Monday. Neither of us has heard anything, and we imagine, with some relief, that one of the other candidates has been appointed. Naturally, we begin to speculate as to which one it could have been, based on expertise in dishing up meat pie, agility at armchair aerobics, or ability to join in community singing with gusto. Neither of us intends to sit by the telephone until midnight, and I retire upstairs to listen to A Book At Bedtime. My phone, at least, stays quiet for the remainder of the night.