About eight or nine years ago, I took a Business Enterprise course on a whim. I saw an ad for a free class and had the crazy idea I might start a small business, be my own boss, unleash my creative side and all the stuff that came with that. So against my better judgement, I applied for this part-time course.
Now, in general, I try to avoid group activities like courses or book clubs as I am a magnet for the strange. I am known for it. Only yesterday, a friend of mine said ‘I met one of “your lot” at antenatal class.’ My lot. By that she meant someone a little kooky, a bit different and neverendingly chatty in the face of absurdity.
So being young and naive, I entered that classroom hoping I might seize the tools of independence. Instead I have, at best, a couple of anecdotes. The class was run by a woman who appeared to be both modern and new age at the same time. Her qualification for the job was that she ran her own IT company, but somehow she gave the impression she might sell homemade dream-catchers from her car boot.
The class was made up with a mixture of people, no one person akin to the next. Mostly they were friendly and sensible, just ordinary people who wanted to change their life. I felt we were all connected by a desire for a career change. The majority of the class knew what kind of business they wanted to start, mostly hobbies or interests that had evolved into something more.
One man in particular was keen on change. In fact change seemed to be the common theme in his business ventures. Every week, a different idea, always changing. I think the first was a mobile dog grooming van. Everyone in the class agreed it was a great idea, we were all very encouraging of one another.
When I look back now, there were signs he was one of “my lot”. First, he made a lot of eye contact, some might say too much eye contact (yes, I would say that). It seemed like he wanted to see how each word he said would impact on you as he said it. When he’d say something completely absurd, he said it slowly and carefully. I’ve noticed how the more ludicrous the liar, the more they relish telling you the lie. Like they are savouring each word.
When week two came, he thought removals might be for him. He decided he wasn’t at all keen on dogs, having been bitten by one when he was young. So removals would be the best for him- house clearances, furniture removal and garden clear-outs. Again, everyone was encouraging (and sorry to hear about the dog incident).
Next was some kind of delivery service. To the best of my recollection, it was either freelance fast food collection or groceries, or both. He’d decided removals were more of a two person job and he wasn’t ready to take anyone on. For the third time, the group was supportive and nodded in agreement. We were all finding our feet in our business proposals after all, so it is only right one or two of us would change our mind from time to time.
Week four is where it got harder to be encouraging.
A mobile hairdresser.
We had come full circle on his ideas and, basically, we were back to grooming. Only this time with humans instead of dogs. A soft spoken lady enquired into his background in hairdressing – none. He did, however, have a pair of electric hair clippers. He rather proudly stated he did his hair himself (a classic number two all round by the look of it) and he did his friend’s hair that very weekend, giving him the idea for a mobile hairdressers.
There was silence in the room.
It was as tense a silence as there has ever been or ever will be in a free class in an arts centre classroom.
No-one wanted to point out hairdressers need to have qualifications or the necessity of basic health and safety training or even the electricity needed to work said clippers. More than anything no-one wanted to point out most people didn’t want to have an unqualified person come to their house and shave their head with hair clippers they could probably buy themselves for twenty quid.
We all looked at the loosely termed ‘teacher’ to say something. She did not. She shuffled papers and looked out the window. I suspected at this stage she wasn’t hosting this class voluntarily.
Suddenly my brain made a connection – mobile dog groomers, removals, food delivery and now mobile hairdressers- all man with van jobs. Perhaps we could gently encourage him in another direction.
‘So, do you have a van then?’ I finally said after what felt like an eternal silence.
‘No, I can’t drive, why do you ask?’
I gave up on his ideas from then on in.
I can only leave you with the words spoken on the first day by another gentleman (and he was a gentleman) during one of those gawd awful introductions that people force you to do in these kinds of things. A man who I never saw again as he dropped out after one class, who has left me with more questions than answers:
‘Hi I’m Stephen and I am employed as a private butler and that’s all I can really say on that matter.’