Sunday, September 10, 2006


I have just been accused of being a spy. What a laugh!

Not by the police, thank heavens. No, by a chance acquaintance I met at a wedding party last weekend. It seems I somehow impressed him with a certain quality of spyiness. Apparently, my surprising athleticism (I run marathons, but only very slowly) and enormous capacity for alcohol were cited as evidence for his suspicions. No reference to a Bond-like smoothness with the ladies, alas. I rather think this bizarre supposition has more to do with my determined evasiveness about my background (I occasionally try out the line: "I could tell you what I do.... but then I'd have kill myself."). I'm far from complaining. Spying is generally perceived as an oddly glamorous profession, isn't it? I've been trying to cultivate "an air of mystery" for years, and it seems I'm finally succeeding.

I fear, though, that I am far too impatient to tolerate starting off as an entry-level spy, especially one of those poor street surveillance plodders (Do they still call them "lamplighters"?). I see myself more at the Evil Genius level. I always aim high. But you don't see those jobs come up in the classifieds very often.

The great irony of this little episode is that my 'accuser' is quite clearly a spy himself. Nobody actually knows his full name; he is invariably referred to simply as The German. He attends regular meetings with his old Oxford tutor, despite not actually having been a student for some years. He briefly had a rather lucrative job in banking or somesuch, but abruptly gave that up to follow a much more nebulous career in "international development". He disappears for 6 months at a time to places like Afghanistan on mysterious "research projects", and will never tell any stories of his experiences upon his return. Now, to my mind, that all screams 'SPY'. I've read my Le Carre.

Perhaps I should take this as a useful cosmic hint; maybe spying would be a worthwhile career option for me. My need for a job of some sort is becoming rather acute. I think I'll whizz over to the MI6 website and see if they've got any vacancies in the 'Q' Section.

However, I somehow doubt they would see me as "the right stuff", since I am terminally irreverent and perhaps the least patriotic person I know.

I am reminded of a story I heard some years ago about a friend of a friend at Oxford (it is supposed to be true, but I can't vouch for it personally) who somehow impressed one of the MI5 recruiters there as being suitably bright and patriotic and - crucially - of the right social background. He flew through successive interview rounds, and passed the background vetting with ease (because, of course, none of his friends or family were likely to say anything bad about him), and so ended up in a very chummy meeting with some senior intelligence officers who were going to offer him a job. They asked him if he had any final questions he'd like to ask. "Well, yes," he said. "I'm an alcoholic homosexual gambling addict. Doesn't that matter?"

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