John used to work at the Job Centre but lost his job and now when he visits he sits at the other side of the desk.
When clients met with John they had to agree on three work sectors in which to concentrate their job applications. These, to give you a typical example, might be retail work, catering work and factory work. One day a small, gnarled man from an eastern country visited John for the first time. His daughter also attended as this man spoke no English. John went through the usual preliminaries, halting several times to allow the young woman to translate, after which the man would look gravely at John and nod twice; always twice.
John asked the man what kind of work he was looking for and the daughter informed him that her father was a camel salesman. John explained that there was little trade in camels in this part of the country, but that his selling skills may well be transferable to other areas of the retail sector. John typed ‘Retail’ into the computer, pointed at the word, and the daughter told her father what John had written. The man shook his head twice and spoke rapidly to his daughter. No, she said, he was only able to sell camels. He had sold camels all his life, as had his father and his grandfather before him, and he was too old to change now.
John typed the job description Camel Salesman for the first time in his life and his fingers tingled. He then asked him what other work sectors he would consider and the man gazed at him, neither nodding nor shaking his head, and smiled. It was a winning, toothless smile and John typed Camel Salesman twice more. He pointed to the screen and the man nodded three times and smiled again. He was beginning to understand written English.
Surely, you ask, John wasn’t sacked for this impulsive transgression? Surely a warning would have sufficed?
Alas, the story does not end here. John was so taken with the new job category that he urged other clients to consider it. He spoke of an emerging market, a new direction, diversification and an under-skilled sector. Several people agreed that Camel Sales was a profession they could no longer ignore. What motivated the clients to make this choice I will leave the reader to surmise. I suspect that their reasons ranged from extremely lateral thinking, through bloody-mindedness, to sheer stupidity.
When the quarterly report was published, much to the delight of a conscientious local journalist, it indicated that 172 citizens of this small northern town wished to pursue a career in Camel Sales. John was interviewed by a panel of mental health assessors, deemed at least as sane as they were, and sacked.
John now sits at the other side of his old desk and, try as he may, he simply cannot convince his former colleague to type the words Camel Salesman under Category Three.
This story is one of ‘Thirty Brief Tales from England and Spain.’