As soon as I had served the two years I owed post-secondment to Kingston Social Services Department, where there were no available team leader posts, I sought promotion elsewhere.
I answered an advertisement from the Labour controlled London Borough of Southwark. To work there I would need to be a Trade Union member. This seemed acceptable because, after all, they did negotiate salaries for staff. In a further post I was to learn that members in management positions were less equal that others.
I was called to interview in a huge room where I faced a semi-circle of what must have been a dozen committee members and the Director of Social Services. Each interrogator had a set of questions before them. These would be read out in turn with neither response nor exploration of my answers.
About halfway round the arc a gentleman, hesitatingly, recited the question previously put to me. Thinking this must surely be a test for me, I replied: “I’ve just answered that one”. The only response was an embarrassed silence as the baton was collected by the next person to his right.
The far end of the spectrum to my right was now out of my sight while looking at the next questioner. That the two elderly women occupying those relevant seats had been talking between themselves throughout the process was already disconcerting. Could this have been another test of my mettle? I turned to them and said that I could not concentrate on the questions while their conversation was distracting me. I learned later that one of these ladies held a very important political position.
I don’t remember any more details of this event, except that Ruth Nothman, the Director, telephoned me the next day and explained that I had not been given the post, but that she wanted me to have it. There would therefore be a further interview to which I would be invited. She advised me not to upset the panel.
The next meeting took place in front of a platform at the front of what seemed to be an auditorium. My only real memory of this event was that, as I was presented with the one question that I don’t think I could have answered satisfactorily a woman, reminiscent of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle, entered stage left pushing a tea trolley. Everything stopped for tea. I wasn’t offered a cup but was given valuable minutes in which to ponder my response. To my relief the inquisitors must have forgotten where we were because they moved on.
I got the job.