Bosman's London Letter - 25 March 2001
Hello all Its amazing how time has flown. I have been meaning to sit down and put together a “London letter” for ages and was completely horrified to discover that it was nearly the end of March and that we have been in London for almost two months! So here it is – the first of the promised Bosmans’ London letters. Oh and before you start, its long and wordy so you may want to break it up into bite size segments!
First things first, we are both gainfully employed. And not a minute too soon, I might add! Roll on pay day! Nev has managed to land himself a very kushy job. He is working as a contracts manager for a company called Flexjet Europe. Flexjet is part of a larger group called Bombardier which an enormous international company specialising in the manufacture of testosterone-filled, James Bond accessories including Lear jets, snowmobiles, express trains and jet bikes (needless to say Nev is in the height of ecstasy at the prospect of getting his hands on the merchandise!). Flexjet leases Lear jets to the rich and famous on a sort of a timeshare basis. Basically if you are loaded and have time to burn (or genuinely need to get somewhere pronto) you can call up Flexjet and ask them to have your Lear jet (which you part own) fuelled and ready to wisk you away to an exotic destination.
Flexjet will then do the necessary by making sure that your jet is stocked with the necessary yuppie accessories including your reading material of choice (The Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro, Beeld, Harry Potter etc), French champagne, Russian Vodka, South African Witblitz, depending on your poison of choice, and any other bits and bobs that your heart may desire including caviar, smoked salmon and chocolate truffles. Need I say more? Oh yes, just to add that the company’s client list includes mere mortals like Damon Hill, Colin Montgomery, Lee Westwood and Coultard, David that is, has just signed up. Nev’s role in all of this is to negotiate, draft, amend and review the necessary legal agreements and to make sure that the aviation legislation of various countries allows these jetsetters to fly to the destinations they chose. Of course his other important role is to keep an eye out for empty jets to transport us (and twenty five of our closest friends (hmmm we may need more than one!)) to exotic holiday spots like Stockholm, Monaco and Karachi! Not much to ask really.
While Nev is ensconced in his 9th floor office watching planes take off from Heathrow and contemplating his stock options I am beavering away on a temporary contract at the Office of Fair Trading, championing the cause of the consumer against the ruthless anti-competitive strategies of would-be monopolists! Well, someone has to retain the moral high ground! The OFT is the equivalent of our Competition Board and as there is a new Competition Act in the UK the work is incredibly new and exciting. I am currently working in team that is drafting of the first decision under Chapter II of the Act which deals with the abuse of a dominant position by a single entity (in other words not in the merger or cartel scenario). I am hoping that all the brilliant experience I am picking up there (the law is so new that nobody else in the City has done any of it) will pave the way to a high profile private practice job but at the moment its just City Hall where memos, men in grey shoes, stationery requisitions, union hours, confidentiality undertakings and red tape are king.
Let me tell you that finding a job in London is no laughing matter. Even though everyone tells you that “its a lawyers market” and “you can literally pick your job”, when you are actually pounding the pavement in your uncomfortable Woolworths shoes with rumpled CV in hand or hassling the Pakistani at your local café for this week’s copy of the Times on Tuesday (that one contains the legal supplement), its no picnic. In the end, in an attempt to ease the pain, you end up turning to the pack of hyenas, know commonly in the trade as employment agents, who are literally yapping at your heels. They are only too keen to get their grubby paws on your CV, they are full of promises but a bit short on follow through. Although, to their credit, they did find us both our jobs and there is no doubt about the fact that they know the job market, have good contacts and are able to dispense advice on anything from tubes stops to bank accounts, CV’s to interview techniques which they don’t hesitate to do on a regular and concerted basis!
Believe me, Nev and I have had our fair share of agency experiences! Some of the more memorable include the undersized, bottle-blonde, rotweiler (lets call her Trixi for ease of reference) who, as an ex-litigator, took great pleasure in cross examining me and spent more time talking about herself than my job prospects. Then of course there was the throaty, unshaven, cardigan wearing Frank who took great pleasure in pimping Nev and I for a 36 hour discovery assignment on a Friday night and Saturday while he took on London nightlife with a vengeance and then slept until noon (I suppose that’s his prerogative as our pimp….sorry, I mean agent!). And, best of all, there was the pumped up, impeccably clad, trendoid duo who literally bounced into the interview like a pair of tap dancers from the old talkie movies and then proceeded to bemuse and bemuddle me with their management strategy aggravated by their thick north country accents.
However, this is all in the past and, I suppose, must be seen as part of the London experience. There are a couple of other quintessential London experiences that we have had since our arrival. Rights of passage I guess. The first is the absolute pleasure of receiving mail. The postal system is so excellent here that you can literally post something today and it will arrive at its destination tomorrow. Mail never gets lost or misplaced and the post is actually a realistic means of communication!
Another totally London experience is getting on the wrong train or, having your train delayed at the most inopportune moment. When we had just arrived, you know, fresh off the boat from South Africa, as it were, we marvelled at the public transport system. We were just amazed by the concept of being able to travel to place to place without a car. A couple of weeks into our stay here we seem to have assimilated. These days we don’t hesitate to whine if our train is delayed or cancelled – obviously, with Murphy on the loose, this will only happen on the day of a job interview or the first day of work (in Nev’s case). We have also, due to our own stupidity/haste/blindness, managed to get on the wrong train on a couple of occasions and, of course, sods luck has seen to it that the train we have boarded has been an express train to somewhere between Liverpool and nowhere, an obscure destination miles away from where we want to be.
Then of course there is the utter humiliation of having to open a bank account. Believe it or not, the banks here will not open an account for you unless you can prove that you live where you say you do. Which means that you need a utility bill before they will assist you. Of course, its impossible to get a utility bill as you cannot sign a lease, have water, electricity and gas turned on without a bank account. Go figure! The circular logic is maddening and all stems from the fact that there is no system of ID books here – you know, big brother and all of that – so your address is the only way that they can trace you. Luckily our agents have been able to help us on this score by providing us with the necessary confirmation letters. And then of course they need to check your bank records with your South African bank – and all just to open a current account and to issue with an ATM card (we are not talking about top drawer banking here!) Now that we’ve got jobs and bank accounts, the next step is to find a new flat to live in…. Oy vey – the whole process is exhausting! Luckily our friends here have been top class – supplying us with ample advice, financial assistance, a place to live and enough good cheer to keep us out of the doldrums. Thanks guys.
Living in London is a pretty awesome experience though, despite all my moans and grumbles. I mean, where else in the world can you go to work in the shadow of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral after having crossed the Thames and having caught a glimpse of the Tower of London on your way into town. Where else in the world (except New York) can you go and see a Cats matinee on a dreary afternoon, catch an exhibition of the old masters at the National gallery or have a warm pint and a pie on just about any street corner at an atmospheric pub. Its magic! And that’s just the start – there’s the changing of the guard, Phantom, the Queen Mum, the Oxford/Cambridge boat races, Ascot……..– need I go on (I sound worse than a Capetonian going on and on about the fynbos and the Nico) Of course, where else can you go out in the morning, sun shining broadly, and within half an hour (or less) the weather can have changed so dramatically that its raining? Where else does a pint cost you 2.50 (pounds that is)? Where else do the supermarkets offer a range of eggs including free range, organic, barn, all grain, omega three enhanced and easter in four different sizes all on the same rack (its enough to drive you into a retail choice panic)? Where else does bacon carry an RSPCA endorsement and a history of how that particular pig was treated prior to being baconified (obviously the whole foot and mouth crisis has thrown a spanner in the works of this type of classification system)? And where else do simple things like breakfast cereal come in folic acid enhanced models? It's mindboggling.
I hope that you are all well. We do rather miss South Africa – in particular the warm summer days. We are also suffering from a bit of post-taking-a-whole-year-off-and-having-to start-work-again trauma. I am sure that after a few weeks we will be “working fit” and back into the routine of early mornings, shirt ironing and shoe polishing. We are still in Croydon at the moment at the address that we gave in our last mail. It looks like we will have to move somewhere west of London, however, as Nev has a mammoth commute every morning involving two trains, two busses and a fair amount of walking. A grand total of an hour and a half on the hoof either way – not conducive to good cheer, particularly if its raining.
That's all for now…
lots of love
Penny and Neville