What do you do when someone that you consider to be a friend betrays you?
Not everyone will know this, but in a previous life I was a firefighter. It was the job that I had wanted to do since I was a boy, so much so that when I reached 18 years of age, I went to a preliminary testing day for my local fire service. My Dad gave me a lift to the hosting fire station on his motorbike (a Honda CX500 for those that like to know these things) and I joined the queue to climb ladders, roll out hose and pretend I was in a burning building. Having a chat with the recruitment officers after the physical tests, I was horrified to find out that I was physically disabled from joining up. At that point in life, I didn’t sport the comfy, natural spare tyre that I have cultivated over the last couple of years and was pretty fit. My eye sight was 20/20 and I could hear a drunk girl puke from 500 paces. What was this unfortunate, excluding condition then, you may ask. I was too tall. At 18 I was pretty much at my full grown height of 6 feet 6″. The height restriction to join up was a mere 6 feet 4 inches. 2 inches away from being able to satisfy my childhood dream. Never let anyone tell you that 2 inches isn’t disappointing. It is. Extremely.
This left me, somewhat, in a professional vacuum. I had plunged all of my eggs in this one flimsy and ill fitting basket. I decided that, having filled in the time between turning 16 and reaching the mandatory fire service age of 18, I would continue with my education. I was never an educational high flier, more of a “will never be a trier”, but I passed just enough A’Levels to be accepted into University to study Law. A quick interview with the Law faculty cemented my place after trawling through the clearing system. I enjoyed parts of Law, but wasn’t really going to set the legal world alight. Especially when studying European Law. Never was there a more dry subject in the entire world. There were people who studied Library Studies who used to point and laugh at us for borrowing the European Law books. “Jesus, look at that poor, boring tosser! Come on Alan, let’s get a glass of milk from the refectory and rock the Dewey Decimal Classification system until our trousers twitch!” All through any aspects of European Law, right up until I graduated, I was haunted and taunted by the thoughts, “when is any of this going to be useful to me in any way, shape or form?” It was, a few years later, when my European buddies decided that employers would no longer be allowed to discriminate against potential employees due to being tall. This made me very happy. Especially as I had accidentally fallen into the world of banking. And it no longer mattered that I was a giant. A giant fireman.
Fast forward to my posting at a fire station. Despite what you may have seen on London’s Burning, it wasn’t a big place. In fact, it was tiny. There was room for the fire engine in the appliance room and squeezed in at the side, was a 4×4 used to access moorland. The day to day offices, kitchen, toilets and showers were upstairs. Everything was squeezed into the available space with little room for cat swinging. We were having a morning cup of tea when we were informed that new rules insisted that we had to have the provision for female showering facilities. “But we have no women firefighters here?” It didn’t matter that there were no women that were likely to require a shower after a particularly sweaty and dirty trapped seagull incident, we had to have female showers. And we had to lose half of our already caravan-like kitchen to ensure that the imaginary women could wash themselves with phantom soap and refresh themselves after the exertions of the jobs that they hadn’t attended.
A quick meeting and we, as Blue Watch, decided that we were outraged and needed to approach our boss and tell him that we would fight to keep our tiny kitchen from becoming a camping stove and a toaster. The two highest ranking Watch members would go in and tell him that under no circumstances would we let this happen and offer the alternative of a small shower room to be built at the back of the appliance room. Our leaders steeled themselves for the confrontation ahead. Jack and Neil (Names changed for protection) would tell him how it was going to be and no mistake! The rest of us would listen by the door.
And that is exactly what happened. For the duration of time that Jack was talking. He was doing us proud! As he paused to take a breath, Neil began his onslaught. “I suppose it will be OK to lose half of the kitchen as we can just take it in turns to cook our lunches. I mean, if that is what the management want to do, I am sure we can help.” In that one instant, Jack and our kitchen were left high, dry and hamstrung. After all of the table banging indignation Neil had exhibited, here he was tugging his forelock at the first sign of the boss’s disapproving glare. Jack was a man with plenty say and a sharp wit, but all he could summon as he joined the rest of us, open mouthed at such a betrayal, was a deflated shrug of his shoulders. Think Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, when he realises that he is not going to be “made”, but executed. And obviously not standing in a poorly painted and doomed fire station kitchen.*
It is always difficult to know how to react to betrayal. I have experienced it a few times in various personal and professional environments. Take my 18th birthday. I planned to go to a small local village pub on that fateful Sunday night for my first legal beverages. One by one, everyone who had agreed to come along bailed out as we had college the next day. Even my best mate, who gave the stunning excuse “I don’t want to go to The Royal Oak on a Sunday because it will be shit.” The fact was, two other mates insisted on taking me to the Oak, even in the absence of everyone else and it still remains as one of the best nights out I have ever had, despite chipping my tooth after a dare to bite a chunk out of a pint glass. This was heightened by the affection and gratitude I felt for these two cavaliers and their selfless insistance on ensuring that my birthday didn’t pass by without recognition. I believe there was also a half price offer on John Smiths Ale and single girls from other schools too, but I am certain that it was my birthday that motivated them. You rarely see any offers of half price single girls from other schools these days. That’ll be the Labour Government and their politically correct policies.
What do you do when people do you wrong? Even worse, what do you do when they seem to get away with it? Maybe they cover their tracks, have a plausible story or the authorities that should keep them honest, fail to do so. Who knows? I just hope that these people look at themselves and are proud of their actions. Remember what Winston Churchill said. “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened”. For my part, I have sometimes fought the urge to prove my innocence and attempted good deed and, very unusually for me, chosen to keep my mouth shut. What goes around, comes around? Not in my experience. The unscrupulous rarely seem to get their comeuppance and the righteous resort to venting their spleens on an internet blog with just enough alterations to the story to prevent legal action.**
I still don’t know how to deal with people stabbing me in the back. While I have become less shocked when it happens, I am still left feeling impotent and humiliated when it happens. I have stamped my feet and fought for honesty. I have exacted silent, knowing revenge (involving the perpetrators tooth brush being used in locations and cavities I ought not to mention). I have taken the moral high ground. I cannot offer any advice to you, dear reader, about the best psychological way to deal with the crushing blow that comes from having your trust and respect abused.
All I can tell you is, watching Filthy McLying-Bastard brush his teeth and taste more of Yorkshire than he ever intended, does nothing to repair either your reputation or trust in your fellow man. But it does make you smile in a way that only a biological ninja can.
*The kitchen was eventually saved and located where we suggested. I know you were worried.
** This paragraph has been edited by request, for sympathetic reasons.