Sunday, 30 September 2012

The journey begins - Excerpts from The Runaway Children Volume 1

 The Global Order Brotherhood

Miles squinted under the orange glow of a nearby streetlight and eventually made out what looked like a metal ball with a piece of rope hanging down from it. He then realised it wasnt a rope, but a snake twisting upwards before splitting into three heads, which coiled around the ball. Whether it was the night air or the image, Miles couldnt tell, but he began to feel cold and shivery, as though a hundred cubes of ice had been poured down his collar. What is it? he asked, scarcely able to breathe.
This, said Jeff, is Babel - the symbol of the Global Order Brotherhood. You see the globe? Thats the world and each head of the snake represents a different means of controlling it - Fear, Corruption and Lies. Take a good long look at it, Miles. 
Its horrible! said Miles. I wish I hadnt seen it now.
Promise me something, Miles Jeffs hands gripped his shoulders even more tightly and his voice became harsh and urgent, much as it had when talking to Miles parents.
Promise me! If you ever see this symbol, the three-headed snake, youll run. Run for your life! For your own sake, your parents sake, the sake of the whole world - run! Run and never look back! Promise me!”  

Men in macs

Then something awful happened. Joe let go of Alices hand and stopped. He didnt know what was happening. He didnt know why Miles and Alice were running, or who the big men were. All he knew was he wanted to be with his parents. Slowly and deliberately, he started to walk home.
In her panic, Alice didnt notice Joe slip away. She and Miles kept running, not daring to look behind them, jumping over ditches, scrambling under barbed wire, panting until they felt their lungs begin to burst. At last they reached the trees and flung themselves into a mass of dense undergrowth until they could catch their breath.
Only then, did they realise that Joe wasnt with them anymore. Wheres Joe? cried Alice, looking around frantically. Weve lost Joe!

Fernlee Forest 

"It's ME!" came a booming disembodied voice "I'm bleeding!"
"Who are you?" yelled Miles.
"I'm Larch," was the answer, and a man's head suddenly appeared from the high branches of the tree which Miles had started to strip. "When you cut me with a knife, I scream!" 
"I'm Beech" another head popped down from the tree," and if you steal my bark, I'll die!"
"And I'm Horse" said yet another head "and if you hurt me, I will whinny and kick and bite you - hard!"
All at once, dozens of people started jumping out from all over the place; down from the trees and out from the enormous ferns that fringed the forest. At first, it was almost impossible to distinguish the men from the women, as they all sported beads and smocks and dreadlocks, and their faces were smeared with greeny-brown gunge, and their makeshift clothes, dyed to blend into their surroundings, were decorated with assorted leaves and feathers.
"I didn't mean any harm!" cried Miles "I'd never hurt a tree on purpose! Honestly I wouldn't."
Beech bent over him menacingly, his face contorted with rage and his breath foul. "The trouble with you townies, you never think! You just don't care about the environment, do you! Well? Do you?" 

The Babel Retreat 

It was only once theyd driven through the trees that Joe had his first glimpse of the Babel Retreat, a large fortress, dark and gloomy, skulking at the bottom of the valley in the middle of a mass of dark, swirling water. The nearer it loomed, the more hideous it appeared, its outer walls impossibly high and laced with broken glass and vicious razor wire. Only the moorland springs gave any hint of life, and these bubbled merrily downwards from the hills before converging into the lake. This treacherous water served two purposes. Firstly, it formed a moat around the building making it impossible for unwelcome visitors to reach; and secondly, it provided a constant water supply through a series of aqueducts leading to the cellar.  
On their approach, Joe heard an ominous creak as a large drawbridge was dropped, allowing the limos to cross the moat, and two enormous iron gates opened before them to reveal a large cobbled courtyard. Here, several women stood waiting, all dressed in long robes of purple and crimson, while their heads were covered with crisp, white veils and weird headdresses, which reminded Joe of the paper aeroplanes he sometimes made in class. The tallest of these women stepped forward to greet Mordant as he and the rest of his men left the comfort of their limousines, dragging Joe out with them. Grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck, Skinner rasped in his ear. Now mind your manners, you little scumbag. That lady there is Sister Prism, head of this joint and your boss from now on. Sisters her title, so remember to use it!" 

Sister Prism 

Slowly, Joe glanced up into those cold, dead eyes. 
"Well?" said Prism, menacingly. But Joe was not going to be intimidated. Even if he was afraid of this tall, pointy-nosed lady with the alabaster skin, he would rather die than show it. Resolutely, he glared back at her, refusing to answer. Sister Prism was not accustomed to people defying her, especially rude little boys.
"Tell me your name, boy!" she warned, "Otherwise, I might think you are insolent, and insolent children have to be dealt with in a very uncomfortable way."
"I think he's shy," suggested Skinner "he's not said a word all the way here."
"Or perhaps he's dumb," said Sister Prism "which would be a pitiful waste of a tongue. Perhaps we should pluck it out and give it to someone who'll make good use of it. Like my cat, for instance!" She chuckled unpleasantly, and her finely chiselled nose began to wrinkle again.  

The canal chase 

"Is he coming after us?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"Just keep running, Joe!"  Roots urged, but Odi couldn't resist a backward peek.
"He's coming all right", he said. "Is he gaining on us?" said Alice.  "Heck no," Odi replied, "that guy's too cool to run!" Sure enough, Bevis had hardly accelerated. Even when the party he was following disappeared round a bend, he kept his pace to a confident stride, his long leather coat trailing obediently.
Roots led the way, feeling more unnerved by this stranger than by all the other agents put together. Somehow, he felt they wouldn't shake this one off so easily. How right he was. No matter how fast they ran, or how far they got, they had only to glance behind them to see the sinister figure advancing on them purposefully. 

The narrow boat

As the Judith Rose cut a swathe round the bend, Miles saw the lock zoom into focus, getting rapidly nearer.
"What do I do?" he called to Roots. "I don't know how to stop it!"
"Switch off the key!" Roots called back, but it was no use. "It's jammed!" shrieked Miles. "I can't move it!"
"Try turning the wheel" suggested Roots. That didn't help either. In fact, the whole engine seemed to work automatically and simply wouldn't respond to anything. And, all the time, they were getting closer and closer to the lock. To make matters even worse (if that were possible), the men in the dinghy were hot on their trail. Miles took a deep breath and did the only other thing he could think of. Only yards from hitting the lock, he pressed the button marked 'Boost'!  

The Blue John Cavern

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.   Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!"

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The final showdown - excerpts from The Runaway Children Volume 3

The Island of Dreams

“We must be nearing land!” cried Captain Bob. “Watch the horizon, boys!” They peered intently ahead, willing the land to appear with all their might and were at last rewarded by a faint strip in the distance.
“Ahoy there!” everyone cried excitedly.
“Where do you think it is?” asked Joe.
“Oh, somewhere friendly, I hope!” The Captain was so pleased at having arrived anywhere, the exact location didn’t really matter. Besides, the mere sight of the island as it blossomed into view was enough to lift the saddest of spirits. Fringing the beach of perfect white-gold sands, palm trees and other exotic plants swayed in the warm breeze and beckoned invitingly. The waters surrounding this jewel were a clear turquoise rippling gently over reefs of spectacular coral. Joe and Odi had, of course, visited many islands during their voyage with Mr Smyle, but this was different. There was something magical about the place that took the breath away.
As the Mersey May drifted slowly towards shore, its passengers heard the beat of distant drums and other instruments; pipes and flutes and strings; all united in the sweetest melody. “It’s like a dream,” whispered Joe. “A wonderful dream.” 

The ‘Exquisite One’

“Salutations,” replied the visitor. “I am Nimros, High Priest, devoted to the humble service of ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ and on whose behalf I command you and your party to attend her at the temple tomorrow.”
“Thanks very much, but we’ll be far too busy working on my boat, which is why we came here in the first place.”
“No!” boomed the visitor. “It is forbidden for any work to take place on the Island of Dreams until ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ has departed.” Bristling at the word ‘forbidden’, the Captain snorted derisively. ”Oh really!” he bellowed, “We’ll just have to see about that!”
“Tomorrow,” Nimros insisted, “you will pay homage to the Exquisite One at the temple.” Captain Bob was about to tell this Nimros chappy exactly what he thought of that idea, when the High Priest gave another imperious wave of his hand and turned to leave.
“Until tomorrow then!” he concluded, only adding to Abihu as he passed, “All must attend, or be cursed for ever!” 

The Nunjas

Pulling alongside the Mersey May just long enough for the children to climb aboard, the Captain sped off in his dinghy again, heading straight towards the nunjas’ canoe. “Geronimo!” he yelled, as much to encourage himself as scare the women, and he veered dramatically in front of them, cutting right across their bow.
“Out of the way you old buffoon!” bawled Prism contemptuously. Captain Bob’s reply was to turn back and once again attempt to head the canoe off course. Unfortunately, his inflatable was no match for the heavier craft, and when the two collided, it was Captain Bob who ended up in the water, his great weight dragging him down to the coral reef below. “Goodbye fool!” Prism cried exultantly, before turning her attention towards the Mersey May.
“And now for the brats!”

The Tsunami

For the second time that day, Bob Craddock prayed, but the wave kept coming, closer and closer, remorselessly rising higher and higher all the time so that, when at last its shadow towered over them, it was topped by a foaming white crest of surf and began to curl over, set to crush them under a trillion tons of saltwater. 

The Vision

        "What we have here, Miles, is the world of the future. Concrete as far as the eye can see.  Flyovers, runways, carriageways, motorway services, leisure complexes, shopping malls, skyscrapers five miles high. That's the future, Miles. The day will come when there won't be a tree, or a straggly blade of grass, or one nasty, messy, prickly plant to spoil the view!”
"You can't have a world without trees!" Miles argued, lamely. "They provide oxygen and shelter and homes for the birds....and, anyway, they look nice!"
        He was answered by a contemptuous snort. "Now you sound like Roots! Miles, Miles, Miles. I can see you have a lot to learn about economy. You can't have trees taking up all that space just because they look nice! If it's nice you want, you need solid things - like gold and diamonds, things that last forever!" Then he paused, bending down to stare eyeball to eyeball with Miles so as to have the maximum effect. "Like ME!"  

The Hero

       "Never mind the old guy!" yelled Mordant from a very safe distance. "It's the kids we want - especially the blond one! Come on, lay off the old geezer!"
Skinner, Brown and Griswold would have been only too glad to lay off Captain Catastrophe. The only problem was Captain Catastrophe refused to lay off THEM. He'd already brought Griswold to the ground and was sitting quite comfortably on the poor man's head, while at the same time twisting Skinner and Brown's neckties with such an iron grip, their faces had turned puce.
"Pick on little children, would you?" he was growling "I'll teach you to pick on people smaller than yourselves!" and he bounced on Griswold for all he was worth and gave the other two men's neckwear an extra tug for luck.
The Fond Memories

"I feel very bad about what happened," Wisteria kept saying "But then, if things had been different, I'd never have met my Gordy!"
When he could get a word in edgewise, Gordon took up the tale from when the children had disappeared.
"As you know, we put up a terrific fight against the sheriff and his mob, so much so, they called in the Marines......."
"Not to mention the riot squad and the entire mounted police......" Wisteria echoed. 
        "Black Marias, fire engines, armoured cars, ambulances....." mused Gordon, his eyes dewy with happy memories.
"Poor Gordon broke his finger!" Wisteria exclaimed.
"Aye, and a few ribs besides!" he crowed. "In fact, if it wasn't for Wisteria here...."
"I shudder to think what would have become of him!" His wife took up the tale. "There he was lying face down in a hollow, right in the path of an enormous digger crashing through the forest at full throttle......"
     "When the brave lass grabbed me by the feet and pulled me to safety! We've been an item, ever since.” He stopped to beam fondly at his wife who gazed fondly back at him.  

The Roots of the matter
"But that's Roots!" said Joe, reeling with shock. "I thought he was your friend!" 
"Not any more!" said Gordon "Oh, we've tried. When he returned here at first, we were forever inviting him round, cooking him meals, washing his clothes....."
"Darning his socks" Wisteria chipped in. "Cutting his hair, cheering him up....."
".....but it wasn't any use. He'd just sit there accusingly, as though we were to blame for his stupid forest being chopped down. Anyway, I couldn't handle it any more, so I told him to go...I mean it got to be embarrassing....."

The final showdown
Huddled under a rock in the shadow of Flinder Mount, Roots sniffed the air. "There's a storm brewing," he said "about two hours away if I’m not mistaken."
"Do you think Prism's still looking for us?" asked Joe anxiously.
"You know her better than I do, Joe," his companion replied "but we'll be safe here, at least for a while...
Joe nodded wearily. He just wanted a place to rest his head and was content to let Roots make the decisions. If only he could sleep.....
Before long, he felt himself drifting and was vaguely aware of Roots putting a fleecy jacket on top of him. He began to dream that he was home again with Mum and Dad and his brother and sister, sitting in front of the fire with a mug of steaming chocolate and the neighbour's cat rubbing itself against his leg. It was all so quiet and peaceful.......until Mum switched on the vacuum cleaner!
"Wake up!" she said "Wake up Joe!" and he opened his eyes to see it wasn't his mother but Roots, shaking him urgently.
"We've got to get out of here, quickly!" Sitting up, Joe became aware of another noise, the noise of several engines, and he could feel a stiff breeze swishing through the valley.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Meet The Tree People - Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas

Scene from Fernilee Forest on which Fernlee is based

An hour later, the whole village had congregated and everyone was sitting cross-legged round a huge fire which Beech, Larch and Horse had built, using a mixture of dead wood and peat, which smoked horribly and stank even worse. Miles was staggered to see how many of the villagers there were at least a hundred people, all living in total invisibility from the outside world. Normally, theyd be strumming home-made fiddles and guitars, and relaxing with mugs of gooseberry wine and mead made from honey, chatting happily about the days events. Now, however, the urgency of Laurels call to council had created tension amongst them, so they waited in silence until Laurel stood up and began to address the assembly.
"First of all, let me introduce you. This is Miles Hadwin and his sister Alice who have just survived a horrible and traumatic experience. Their mother has been arrested on a trumped up charge of treason and for all we know, their father's in custody too. We DO know that their younger brother has already been abducted and, considering hes hardly eight years old, must be feeling very scared right now."
"So what are WE supposed to do about it?" Beech piped up, as he chewed on an apple, apparently unmoved by the childrens plight.
"Yes, what's it to us?" Horse echoed. It wasnt that he didnt care, but he enjoyed the peace of the forest and was loath to get involved with outsiders.
"If you'll give me a moment, I'll explain," replied Laurel. "Now, like me, you have all come to be here largely due to our disappointment with the modern way of life. We're dropouts, hippies, crusties, whatever people like to call us, but we're all united in this respect. We hate the way the world is, we despise its materialism and greed, and we despair of seeing a just society, which cares about the environment. So, we've rejected it, and here we are, minding our own business, looking after ourselves, and keeping out of the rat race...."
"Actually, I'd like to challenge that remark". A young man with a long ponytail and a bone through his nose stood up. "You can speak for yourself but I've faced water cannons with the best of them!"
"Yeah, and I've broken a few shop windows in my time!" agreed another villager who glowered indignantly from under generously pierced eyebrows.
"And I've knocked dozens of policemen's helmets off!" exclaimed another tree person proudly.
At this, several others started boasting about their past achievements until Laurel had to clap her hands to get their attention.
"Look, I'm not here to criticise anyone. What you do or don't is entirely up to you. The fact is we may be very quick to join a riot when it suits us, but are we willing to get personally involved? Are we prepared to help three kids who, for no fault of their own, are up against sinister powers intend on destroying their family?"
"So what's in it for us?" asked a villager.
"Yeah" said another "is it ecological, I ask myself?"
"Or ethical" remarked Beech. "After all, these kids' parents could be fascists for all we know."
"They might even be bankers! Or tax collectors!" someone suggested. "Or meat eaters!" cried a wag, wearing what looked like a bin bag over his head. Some of the villagers laughed, infuriating the more fanatical vegetarians amongst them. Laurel sighed with frustration. "Can we please stick to the point!" she begged.
"The point being.....?" came the bored reply from a man who was virtually covered with tattoos.
"The point being.... who is prepared to help these children find their family and rescue them?"
The village council began to groan again with most of the members unable to see any reason to help two snotty little middle-class school kids. All except for one rather pale, skinny young man with extraordinary dreadlocks, which twisted and twirled in every direction but his scalp. Hed been listening intently to Laurels pleas and was deeply disturbed by them.
Noticing his thoughtful expression, Laurel turned to address him directly. "What do you think, Roots?" asked Laurel.
"I think, he began falteringly, I mean…that is…what I think is, that every little person who gets stolen away from his house should have an automatic right to be rescued, and if no-one else will do it, then…then it ought to be us. That's what I think..... and I'd like it to go on record, please!"
"Rescued from what? School detention?" someone demanded. There was another roar of laughter, which quickly died out as Laurel took her position in the middle of the circle and, with arms akimbo, she turned gradually to challenge each villager with a long hard stare. Miles was very impressed. "Not even Alice could compete with that!" he thought.
Once satisfied she had everyone shifting uneasily at her silent reproach, Laurel spoke softly but with authority.
"From forces so corrupt, so pitiless, so.... EVIL, they make your worst fascist, capitalist nightmare seem like a fairytale in comparison!" There was a pause, broken only by a few nervous titters. Then Laurel continued. "Has anyone here heard the name Elymas?"
Most of the villagers shook their heads, although one or two gasps could be heard. Eventually, a large, ginger-haired man in a homemade kilt rose to his feet.
"Did I hear you say Elymas?" he asked gravely.
"That's what you heard, Gordon" Laurel replied.
"And you say hes after these poor wee creatures?"
"He is", said Laurel.
Gordon spat with contempt. "That's what I think of Elymas! And if he's got the clout to be rounding up innocent children from their schools and dragging them out of their very beds.....then anyone with any decency has a duty to use every skills and every wit and every fibre of their souls to stop him!"
Another man stood up. Unlike most of the others, his head was shaved and he sported a goatee beard. "I've heard of Elymas too, but I thought it was just another conspiracy theory. No one can be that evil, that depraved. And if only half of what I've heard is true..... then there's no hope for any of us!"
"Rubbish!" snarled Gordon "He's a mere mortal who can bleed like anyone else. Count me in, I'll help the children, right enough! Who knows, I might even get the chance to spit in the devil's own face, him and his cronies!"
Laurel glanced around the council. "Anyone else prepared to volunteer?"
After a while, Larch rose to his feet. "Not that I'm bothered about the children, mind," he mumbled, desperate to maintain his hard man image,  "but it's a long time since I last saw any action and I'm getting rusty."
Beech too rose to his feet. I could do with some practice, myself. He announced. I dont know who this Elymas is, but Im always up for a riot in the interests of justice, of course! He added, a little too quickly to be convincing.
Just then, Miles thought of another very important reason for the tree people to help them and he sprang eagerly to his feet. "And I'll tell you something else about those horrible men. When we were trying to escape, they set fire to the wood near Alice's school and burnt it!  ALL of it! All those wonderful trees!
Gasps of horror engulfed the Council and, almost immediately, to a man (and woman) the rest of the assembly stood up, including Horse who growled angrily, "I haven't a clue who this Elymas is either, but anyone who murders my brothers deserves a good pasting, and no mistake!
Laurel hugged each one of the volunteers. "I knew you'd help!" she said.
"There was never any doubt of that with me" said Gordon swirling a rope enthusiastically.
"You're such a big softie!" Laurel exclaimed, and flung her arms around his massive neck.
"Soft in the head, you mean" Larch said. "So let's get practical. Tell us Miles, where did these nasty beggars take your brother then?"
Miles wracked his brain. He remembered one of the men referring to a place, which was on the tip of his tongue. "I think it was....Bab...babble...babbly....."
"Come on Laddie, stop babbling!" rapped Gordon. "Have you any idea what SORT of place it is?"
It took several more minutes for Miles to think, but at last, he remembered something. "It was a treat, I think he said. Yes, a Treat....the Babel Retreat at Moorside!"
"The Babel Retreat!" cried Larch. "You must be joking! We'll never get in there!"
"Aye, it'd be easier to break into Buckingham Palace!" said Gordon, and then his craggy face broke into a grin. "But then, Im always up for a challenge. So, whos with us then?! Who's for Babel?" And the whole assembly cheered.
Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 - Flight from the Nunjas

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Brief History in Pantomime

       The theatre is now full. The audience, made up of children, parents, grandparents, friends and schoolmates, are full of anticipation, chattering excitedly amid rustling sweetie papers and the restless shuffling of feet. Suddenly, the music begins; everyone focuses on the stage as the lights in the auditorium grow dim. A strange woman appears wearing bizarre clothes in garish colours, her face heavily painted with slashes of crimson lipstick, circles of rouge and thick giraffe-length eyelashes. This grotesque vision is topped by a gravity-defying wig in colours you’d never find at your average hairdressers. Then, as if her presence hasn’t already been noticed, she calls to the audience in a very loud, very raucous and suspiciously deep voice!
       Welcome to Pantomime – one of the world’s oldest, most enduring theatrical experiences. Like any dramatic performance, pantomime has its roots in ancient Greek amphitheatre where tragedy, satire and even knockabout farces were based on strong moral themes by Aesop, Virgil and other poets and writers.
       Pantomime - ‘Pan’ [Greek word for ‘All’] and ‘Mimos’ [Greek for  ‘Imitate’) -does exactly what the word means. Whether mimed silently or outrageously noisy and over-the-top, it mimics people we’ve all encountered in real-life. Think of Norris from Coronation Street, or Eastender’s Peggy Mitchell and Dirty Den – like pantomime, no matter how exaggerated soap opera characters may be, they all have traits from people we recognise. 
       The Romans were the first to see the enormous potential of comedy which, along with “bread and circuses”, could be used to appease the masses. Larger-than-life roles included thinly disguised caricatures of oppressive Emperors, impudent servants and valiant heroes. And let’s not forget the love interest - beautiful princesses who were always played by men, as women were forbidden to perform, a tradition maintained to this day (most notably by the Pantomime Dame). Unfortunately, Roman pantomimes were not suitable for children, due to their sexual innuendo and gory violence.
       In time, Comedia dell Arte was born, a highly physical, seemingly anarchic form of Italian comedy in which all the protagonists wore masks. While bringing stock characters up to date, this new genre continued to use the same elements, but with more lavish costumes, becoming closer to traditional pantomimes of the present day. (Mr Burns from the Simpsons is actually moulded on Pantalone, as are many of today’s favourite film and TV villains.)*
       Ancient myths, fables and legends later gave way to a rich seam of tales from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Anderson and even Shakespeare who, when not killing off his entire cast in tragedies such as Hamlet and Lear, no doubt enjoyed a little light relief with comedies like Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Midsummer Night’s Dream, which could be extremely rambunctious and surreal. At the same time, English Mummers’ Plays came into their own, touring the country and establishing the traditions of modern pantomime. 
       Actors, comedians, singers and other entertainers look forward to a good 'run' over the winter; beginning in December, many pantos can last well into February, providing a welcome antidote to post-Christmas blues and a touch of magic for the kids. OH YES THEY DO!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Looking for a job? How to give yourself an edge

       A world-renowned actor was once asked the secret of his success. He replied with three simple words: “I turn up.” Not JUST turn up, you notice.
       ‘To turn up’ meant to present himself for action, ready, able and having memorised his lines. Always willing to listen, eager to learn, happy to follow direction and co-operate with cast and crew, he never threw his weight around even when he became famous, but played all roles to perfection - except for that of the ‘divo’. It all came down to attitude. Because he took his work seriously and behaved with modesty and courtesy, he was pleasure to have around. So he got the parts.
       In the same way, people in other fields who seem to get the breaks also rely on ‘turning up’ rather than on any amount of natural talent or luck. And with fewer jobs available these days, you need all the ‘turning up’ you can get. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve left Cambridge with an Honours Degree or are hoping to get a part-time job at your local Tesco – the principle holds good – a willing pair of hands, a pleasant demeanour and a co-operative spirit will give you a definite edge. Get the attitude right and the rest is purely a formality. 

Be determined
       Getting a regular job really starts in your first year at school. No matter what career you eventually choose, you’ll need to be both literate and numerate, which is why parents and teachers always seem to be on your case! Okay, so you may not want to be a brain surgeon, but truck drivers need to read road signs, factory workers have to fill in job-completion forms, and it really helps if you can tot up your pay cheques every month. To give yourself a fighting chance of a reasonable job, any gaps in your reading, writing and arithmetic need to be plugged – even if it means a short period at night school or an adult learning centre.
       When looking for work, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to be advertised. With some jobs, such as shop work or bricklaying, you may find the most effective course is to visit the premises and introduce yourself – to simply ‘turn up’. Remember, first impressions really count, so dress smartly and modestly, avoid slang or sloppy speech and, above all, be respectful. Ask the manager or whomever you meet to bear you in mind for a future opening. The fact that you’ve shown initiative will go a long way, even if there’s nothing for you at the time.
       For many positions, however, employees prefer you to go through the usual channels – a covering letter with a well-presented CV. If writing isn’t your strong point, ask someone who’s good with words to draft one up for you. Include any achievements at school, any voluntary work you’ve undertaken, Saturday jobs and other work experience, such as babysitting, car cleaning, pot washing or paper delivery. Even family chores or walking the dog can be included. It’s not so much the skills which employers are looking for as your readiness to work. In short, how willing you are to ‘turn up’!
       Good reference will also help: ask your teachers, scout master, religious minister, doctor, piano teacher - anyone who can give a fair account of your trustworthy character.

Be presentable
       Job counsellor Cleveland Jones advises: “Before going on a job interview, remember, first impressions are lasting impressions.”  Jeans, tracksuits and trainers are definite ‘no no’s’, as employers believe that the way a person dresses is the way the person will approach his work. Always dress appropriately and ensure clothes are clean and pressed. If applying for an office job, wear a suit or, if female, wear tights and dress shoes with a suitable outfit.
Be persistent
       Not many people get the first job they apply for. If you fail at the first attempt, just put it down to experience and keep looking. The more applications you send out, the more likely you are to find the right position.
Be grown up
       Go alone to job interviews. According to Jones, the presence of your mother or friends could make you look immature.
Be honest

        Never try to bluff, as employers are quick to see through any fabrications. He or she will, however, respect your honesty.
Be attentive
       Show an interest in their company and the job for which you have applied. Ask questions. Never use the ‘what’s in it for me’ ploy, which is the biggest turn off ever! It’s up to you to convince the prospective employer that you really want the job and are capable of doing it.
Be persistent

       Employment recruiter Cleveland Jones advises: “Never give up if you are out of school and looking for a job. Do not go out on two or three interviews, then go home and sit and wait. You will never get called for a job that way.” One young candidate took seven months to find the job he wanted, spending eight hours a day, every day searching and applying.  
Be prepared

       Some years ago, a New York State Employment Services Office brochure* gave a list of do’s and don’ts that still hold true for job candidates today:

1.       Address the employer as “Mr Whoever” and not as “Buddy” or “Pal”. At this point in your relationship, he’s very far from being either!

2.       Don’t slouch. Sit up properly in your chair. Concentrate on being relaxed, poised, interested and alert.

3.       Don’t be pressured into answering off the top of your head. Carefully consider each question and take time to formulate our thoughts. When answering, be respectful, honest, modest, frank and accurate. Whatever you do, don’t exaggerate and don’t try to impress!

4.       Savvy interviewees take a guide sheet with them, listing past jobs, dates, salaries, duties and reason for leaving. You should also be ready to say how your experience and training will help you with the job you’re seeking. Another must is a list of at least three references with names, addresses and contact numbers – people who know you and for whom you may have worked.

5.       One of the worst things you can do is talk too much. Answer the interviewer’s questions clearly and distinctly and don’t try to bluff.

6.       Listen to what the interviewer is saying, be polite, tactful and don’t interrupt or, worse, get into an argument!

7.       Steer clear of personal information such as home, health or money worries. The employer is only interested in your ability to do the job.

8.       If the employer feels that you’re not suitable for that particular job, ask about other more relevant positions that may arise in future.

9.       No matter how the interview goes, follow up with a ‘thank you’ letter or email.

10.   And finally, if you get the job, remember to ‘turn up!’

Update – Feb 2013 

Do YOU fidget? Surprisingly, according to a recent study by the University of Roehampton, fidgeting could also help you land that amazing job – but only if you’re male!

A man who drums his fingers, wriggles in his seat or scratches his ears actually demonstrates far less tension at interviews and performs much better in mental arithmetic.

On the other hand, a woman who fidgets displays higher levels of stress, makes more mistakes and is far less likely to impress.

During mock interviews, male and female ‘candidates’ were asked to give a presentation followed by a complex mathematical test -  subtracting units of 17 from an initial 4-figure number.  The men who fidgeted the most got the highest scores, whereas for women the opposite was true. Women who tapped their feet, flicked their hair and generally found it hard to keep still were less able to concentrate on the task and making double the number of errors than females who kept their cool.   

According to a spokesman for the University, while fidgeting may reduce tension for men, their female counterparts may be more aware of doing it and so try to stop themselves, which in turn creates more stress.

 “Why do you keep fidgeting?" said Mr Smyle.

“I’m just dancing in my head,” replied Odi.  He’d always had a problem sitting down for long. The Runaway Children Volume 2 – The Astonishing Mr Smyle by Jacy Brean