Curious, I went to the John Lewis Partnership Recruitment website and looked at their list of jobs in south-east England. I set myself up with a User Name and Password.
There was nothing local to me just now, but there were supermarket counter jobs about an hour's drive away, at Godalming in Surrey, and although that was really too far off, I decided to find out what the online application process was like. I applied for the position of an assistant on the deli counter. It paid £6.89 an hour. I said I was interested in a permanent but part-time job.
Providing basic details about myself (as Lucy Melford of course) was easy. They didn't want to know my age - that would become apparent anyway from my work-experience details - but height was an issue, although that's not surprising when you think of it, as a supermarket has stock on shelves that might be out of reach to a staff member who was especially short.
I had no problems listing my academic qualifications (Three A levels, grades A, B and B: they still stack up, even now), and what my friends might say of my remarkable personal qualities. Giving examples of achievements that I am proud of was a poser. Really nothing in the Old Life, except maybe getting decent A levels and passing my driving test. But two things stood out in the New. I was very proud of fixing my 'voice defect', and I was also proud of my 'creative writing' on the blog. In they went.
But then I saw that the application might be binned at the first filter. Because I came next to a page to describe one's work experiences in the last five years, and I had nothing to say, having retired in 2005. There was also this ominous note about employer job references:
It should be clearly understood that reference enquiries may be sent to all persons named. No reference will be asked for until a provisional offer of employment has been accepted.
How was my old employer going to provide a reference without giving away the fact that I was once that Other Person? I didn't want that to be known. I wasn't ashamed of having transitioned, but I wanted on principle to apply for the job on the same footing as any other woman, and not be given special treatment because of some diversity policy, however enlightened. I wanted to get the job because of my personal qualities and relevant work experience, not because it would be deemed politically correct to employ me, or to satisfy some quota.
I pressed on however, and on the next page I was able to briefly describe my 35-year Inland Revenue career from 1970 to 2005. It was easy enough to state what I'd done, why I'd left, what my final salary was, and what my Revenue experience would bring to the
table by way of personal skills useful in a busy shop
By this time I'd completed four or five online pages, and had reached the point where they now asked for two personal referees. This is how it was put:
Referees should have known you for at least 3 years and must be over 18 years old. Do not give names of your relatives. Details of a personal and/or academic referee will be required if you have less than 5 years' employment history. Please give two names.
Hmmmm. Two people who were not related to me, who had known me for at least three years, and known me well enough to give a meaningful reference. Who? J---, my neighbour next door? A committee member at the Clare Project? One or two of my blogging friends? Yes, I could muster two names, if they were both willing to be contacted.
But I stopped there without actually putting in any names and addresses, and logged out. It was a useful dummy run. I'd got the hang of the process, and would be ready for any more local positions that might come up later in the year at Burgess Hill or Haywards Heath.
Who knows, I might find myself doing this for real sooner than I thought. I could easily imagine how it would be, if the application led on to an interview:
Lady Haslemere (interviewing): DO come in! Miss Melford, isn't it?
Lucy Melford (eager job applicant): Good morning, mum, nice ter meet you. (Curtsies, hat falls off, trips over parasol)
Lady Haslemere: DO sit down. And don't snivel, please. Just be yourself. There's no need to be afraid.
Lucy Melford: Thank you, mum, much happreciated. I confess that I ham just a little nervous. (Giggles hysterically, wipes nose on sleeve)
Lady Haslemere: Your application was satisfactory on most points, but we were intrigued about the things you mentioned as being proud of.
Lucy Melford: Oh really, mum? (Drops parasol again)
Lady Haslemere: Yes. For instance, what is this 'voice defect' you refer to?
Lucy Melford: Why, bless you, mum, it was just that I couldn't talk proper. It didn't sound right. People larfed at me. Called me funny names an' whatnot. I 'ad to 'ave lessons. With Professor 'Iggins. But it's all right now. I can talk like a real lady whenever I want, see?
Lady Haslemere: What was wrong with your voice exactly? Could you explain a little more? We need to know, in case it impacts on our customers.
Lucy Melford: Well, I hain't sure I can rightly tell you, mum. It was sort of deep and rough-like. Not like a proper woman's voice at all. My friend Sal, she says to me she says, 'Hey, girl, you hain't never going to get yourself a nice job 'less you get your voice sorted like what I 'ave.' 'Is that so?' says I to 'er. 'Well,' I says, 'I'd better go an' see that Professor 'Iggins what 'angs around Covent Garden takin' notes of what people is sayin' and stuff. 'E'll get me sorted good an' proper.' So I goes an' sees the Prof an' I says to 'im, 'ow about it? An' 'e says 'e can make me speak just as fine as a real lady speaks. In fact, 'e says to 'is friend Colonel Pickering 'e says, Pickering, I fink we can pass this girl off as a duchess, an' they make a bet on it. Next fing, I'm at Ascot all dressed up an' everyone sayin' I'm a foreign princess.
Lady Haslemere: Really? How astonishing! Well...what about this other thing you mention...your 'creative writing.' Is this poetry, perhaps? Or have you published a learned monograph?
Lucy Melford: No mum, it's me blog, innit.
Lady Haslemere: Pray, what is a blog?
Lucy Melford: You want ter get out more, mum. Why, a blog is a fing on the Internet, an' you just type out what's on your mind so that other people can read it an' make comments hif they want. I consider meself a great blogger 'cause I know lots of fancy words, and I can go on an' on an' on, longer than most other people can.
Lady Haslemere: What kind of things do you write about?
Lucy Melford: Stuff a real lady likes ter read, mum! 'Ere, 'ave I got that job or not? I've got a lot of himportant happointments what won't wait, an' I can't waste time if you fink I'm too good for the billet on the deli counter.
Lady Haslemere: Ah, yes...I'm afraid you are - as you say - too well-qualified. In fact, I'm afraid we can't really see our way to giving you this position. Sorry.
Lucy Melford: That's all right, ducks. Not sure if I wanted it anyways. My friend Sal she says to me she says, 'Girl, you want to watch it with them supermarkets, no place for a lady what is goin' places, an' not good enuff for the likes of you.' 'Sal,' I replies,'You 'ave never said a truer word. I fink that now I've got these 'ere voice skills, I'm goin' into business on me own account.' 'As what?' says she. 'Oh,' says I, 'I'm goin' to offer helocution lessons and make meself a fortune.'
There we go! A career as a champion voice coach looms!