Reviews

‘Christine Poulson’s wonderful sense of place brings Cambridge to life. Cassie overcomes the problems facing her with wit and guile aplenty and ensures the reader’s empathy from first word to last . . . an enthralling and engaging read that underlines Christine’s burgeoning reputation as a crime novelist to watch.’ [Stage Fright]

- SHOTS MAGAZINE

The Flight from Solihull

il_340x270.785414979_12jjOn Wednesday the train I caught from Sheffield to Oxford went through Solihull and I felt a deep sense of relief even after all these years that I didn’t have to get off the train and go to work there. It was a long time ago – so long that people were still allowed to smoke in offices – when, struggling to finish my MA thesis, I decided to take a civil service exam and get a proper job. Coming out of the exam I was aware that I had probably got full marks for the literacy paper and had barely scrapped a pass – if that – on the maths paper. So I still can’t quite understand how I ended up as an Executive Office (Higher Grade) in the Inland Revenue at the Solihull office. I am inclined to think it was a simple administrative error. I was fine on the training course, but when it came to doing the job . . . I had my own allocation of tax cases – you learned on the job under a supervisor. The nadir came when I was out at lunch one day and my supervisor took a call from an unfortunate man whose tax code I had altered. Instead of spreading the extra tax deduction over several months, I’d taken the whole lot out of his pay packet in one fell swoop – and it was a couple of weeks before Christmas, too. It wasn’t long after that that I handed in my notice. Altogether I was there just over four months, but really I had known pretty much from the start that it wasn’t for me.

What miserable months they were (though my boss and my colleagues couldn’t have been nicer). I was living with my boyfriend in Sutton Coldfield and every morning he would drive me into central Birmingham and drop me off at a station where I caught the train to work. It took every ounce of will power that I possessed to get off that train at Solihull, and not be carried on to Leamington Spa.

There was a bookshop near the station and that was where I bought the copies of Trollope’s Palliser novels that carried me through. I worked my way through the whole lot. One of the other novels that I remember from those days was Iris Murdoch’s The Sacred and Profane Love Machine. I was hungry for narrative and for richly textured worlds that I could escape into. I read in every possible spare moment.

I went back and finished my MA, then did a Ph.D and embarked on my career of museum work and university teaching and writing. I don’t often think of those days when I was a square peg in a round hole – but on the rare occasions that I go to Oxford and the sign saying ‘Solihull’ flashes past, what a wonderful feeling that it is. I say a silent thank you to Trollope for saving my sanity.

 

6 Comments

  1. Amandarainger
    March 31, 2017

    What a wonderful story! I had a job a bit like that calculating the interest due on mortgages for Hammersmith Borough Council. It wasn’t really me… I used to go to a Turkish restaurant for lunch every day to cheer myself up and consequently put on about a stone!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 1, 2017

      The road not travelled . . . perhaps if I’d been sent to a different department, I’d have stayed and I’d have retired by now on an enormous pension! I can see that job wouldn’t be you. I too can remember where I went for lunch – it was the best bit of the day

      Reply
  2. Moira, Clothes in Books
    April 1, 2017

    What a fascinating sidelight on your career and life. I always think everyone should do one job they hate – so nothing else ever seems so bad. But usually it’s waitressing or dishwashing, not career civil service! And oh aren’t our lives measured out in the books we read – I can so clearly remember the books that got me through difficult times. Dickens for me… This isn’t me being superior, but I honestly don’t know how people cope if they don’t have books to help them or cheer them up, the joy of bookshops, and that magic feeling if you find the book you really really want in the library.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 1, 2017

      That’s just it, Moira. And there is that wonderful feeling when an author becomes a friend and companion. How do people distract themselves otherwise in difficult times? I suppose these days they watch Netflix on their smartphone! And yet in spite of the ubiquity of these devices, I find it heartening that I see so many people still reading actual physical books on the train.

      Reply
  3. Susan D
    April 4, 2017

    Thanks for sharing that, Christine. We do manage to avoid whole pathways in our lives sometimes.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 4, 2017

      Thanks, Susan. Yes, that’s true and at the same time, looking back, one can’t help wondering ‘what if?’

      Reply

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