Friday, 5 December 2014

The great divide or a different division...

The great divide or a different division...

When I first started my career, I quickly worked out my place in London. Ambitious and determined, I carefully navigated my career through the rough seas of the employment market until I arrived exactly where I wanted to be - in the City.

Within a matter of days, the City consumed me with its power, speed and energy. I fell in love with white crisp shirts, cufflinks and patent black shoes.  I have never looked back, until a few days ago, when we had a visit from outside the City - HMRC.

f there was a stereotype for a tax man, this man was it. In fact, he very much reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me, before he turned nice. Tall, thin and menacing, he looked like a baddie from a cartoon; aggressive, obnoxious and arrogant, he acted like a baddie too.
There was nothing pleasant or human about him – he acted like a villain and sounded like a broken record of a bad performer from X-factor.

Having introduced himself and requested to speak to somebody in charge, he rejected my offer for refreshments and proceeded to my boss’ office.

I watched them from my desk. My boss wasn’t the one to be intimidated and promptly requested an ID – it was produced. Satisfied he leaned back in his Saville Row suit and began listening to whatever the HMRC representative had to tell him.
I ran Gru over and mentally produced a report:
  • Age: early to mid 40s.
  • Status: married judging from the ring, probably kids.
  • Income: around 30k-40k – no more than that.
  • Appearance:  the suit - Tesco or Primark; the shoes - 2 sizes too big - Shoe Zone or Sainsbury’s.
  • Phone: Nokia circa 1995.
  • Personality: dull and monotonous.
Acting like a well-trained dog, he proceeded to accuse us of tax avoidance and treating us like criminals. His face showed no emotion, his voice stayed on the same level without going up or down. He was so tedious and intimidating that for a split second I thought we were talking to a robot with a faulty media player. He was stuck on ‘computer says you owe money’.

It turned out that we owed them less than £1000 which we promptly put on a company credit card and settled it there and then. It was an unexpected encounter which felt like a bird poo that lands on your suit on the way to work. I sprayed perfume and brewed us fresh coffee to get rid of a lingering stench of his presence.

I returned to my desk and got back to work but the image of a Gru-looking man stayed with me for the rest of the day. He didn’t belong in the City. Uncomfortable on an unfamiliar territory, he attacked us with accusations and bad aftershave.

I remembered a blind date I had a few years back with an adorable civil servant boy. He was educated and well-spoken but we had nothing in common. He was passionate about environment and politics, while I was mostly passionate about my bonus and the next LK Bennett collection. I never saw him again, it would’ve never worked.

I couldn’t help but wonder, in London and in life, when it comes to ‘us’ and ‘them’, is it a great divide or simply a different division?

Later than day as I was crossing London Bridge, I spotted a few seagulls splashing on the river. And suddenly it dawned on me, seagulls don’t fly with owls, and swans don’t hang out with ravens – it’s against nature. Birds of feather flock together. It was only natural that we split London too.

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