I cannot thank the website Gumtree enough for offering me all these weird and wonderful opportunities. Some years ago, at halfway point on the journey to find myself, I stumbled upon a job ad that particularly stood out. An exclusive pet grooming service was looking for a chauffeur. It immediately caught my attention. It was something different. I knew I had the required skills: I can drive and I like animals. Yet, I wasn’t quite sure how to make my application noticed by the recruiters. Apart from the usual jargon on my cover letter about how much I adore dogs and cats, I decided to differentiate myself from other candidates by referring my looks to a Golden Retriever. I am not sure where exactly that came from. It must have been just a feeling I had that morning as I looked into the mirror. It probably also had something to do with my calm nature, but mostly because of the unusual and slightly alternative looks I had recently adapted. I had just spent three years living and travelling in the subtropics and warmer, and my skin seemed permanently tanned with that golden, Scandinavian quality to it; and my blond hair was sun-bleached, critically outgrown and out-of-control, almost unsuitable to more conservative city environment of London. If I just stuck my tongue out, I could have been mistaken for a some sort of canine-human.
Much to my surprise, my application was successful and I was invited to an interview in the wealthy part of West London. In the meeting with the owner, I talked about my love for pets and how I once had a Hovawart, a German estate guard dog. I never really had such a breed, or any dog, but my good friend had and I did sometimes look after her quite a lot. So, technically, she felt like my own at times and I had enough great stories to share. The owner of the grooming business also found my unusual reference to my appearance amusing. I was tempted to stick my tongue out again, but something inside my brain told me not to.
The interview must have gone well, since the next day I was already sitting in a small van and driving a good handful of Toy Poodles, Chow Chows, King Charles Spaniels and other luxurious breeds between the grooming salon and multimillion-pound residences of Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill. I was given a rear circle ticket with a restricted view to preview the private lives of the rich and privileged. I was allowed to look but not touch; visit the front rooms of these mansions, not the living rooms; or talk but only to their housemaids and securities. In a way, I was like any delivery boy, yet with a bigger responsibility of something so dear and valuable to them - their dogs (and cats, sometimes). And high maintenance some of the pets and their owners were indeed. There was one customer who spent over two thousand pounds a month to get supplies, food and grooming for her five dogs. That was more than I earned from my job!
The daily route plan circled the most exclusive areas around the Hyde Park and I never had to stray off course to the poorer parts. In addition, it was a summer time and a really good one. So, the first impression I got from life in London was amazing, and what I later learned, completely unrealistic. There were no signs of kebab shops or pawnbrokers – outlets I have recently become more acquainted with. But instead, I was constantly stuck in the traffic surrounded by Bentleys, Ferraris and Maseratis while long-legged hypermodels strolled the pavements followed by an aroused row of English upper class, Arab Sheikhs and Russian mafia. Although it never really cleared to me who came there first: the men or the women?
Occasionally, I was joined for those heated rides by my Colombian colleague who equally enjoyed the views. Some talent we spotted occupying the area were so stunning that the windscreen wipers of the van should have been installed inside. We must have looked so dumb together that only a sheepdog fur coating on the van would have made us look even dumber. I only remember one topic of conversation we had: he could never emphasise enough the fact that he preferred big bottoms, whereas I was always leaning towards the petite and slender. Perhaps, one of those many differences between North Europe and Latin America.
Apart from chauffeuring, I did spend a day or two a week in one of their pet stores serving customers. Occasionally, the moment of transaction at the checkout revealed what was really hiding behind the surgical faces of fame and fortune. While looking from the distance, many of the customers seemed to be easily at their late thirties or early forties, but once they started asking questions, I felt like some of them could have been ventriloquists or similar, as there seemed to be no movement on the face muscles what-so-ever, even though I definitely heard voices. Once the time became to sort out the payment and they took out their debit or credit cards and tried to insert it to the card reader, their sleeves often retracted just about enough to show their shaking, wrinkled hands that gave their true age away. There seemed to be more things made of plastic than just their payment methods.
These brief moments experienced in the store were confusing me. At first glance, I found some of the customers attractive and there may have been even flirtation going on at times. But, once the truth came out and I discovered that they could be old enough to be my grandparents, I suddenly began to miss the privacy of my little van again and simplicity of being accompanied by animals and only animals.
Eventually, it was impossible for me to hide my poor motivation to work in the shop anyway, rather than chauffeuring that I truly enjoyed, and I was sacked one Saturday morning. They were looking for a complete package that I simply couldn’t deliver.
The pain of suddenly losing a source of income was short-lived though, since already on Monday morning, another thanks to those somewhat colourful job adverts at Gumtree website, I found myself as an extra on a Bollywood film set dressed up in an oversized wedding tuxedo that I had managed to borrow the night before from my friend’s husband. I even got to meet The Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla, but more about that in another chapter.