Stiff Upper Lip

Unlike most of the population I’m completely uninterested in genealogy, mine or anyone else’s. I can sort of understand the fascination but I can’t share it. All I know about my own ancestors is that my paternal grandfather in Dublin was the first man to put Guinness in half-pint bottles; while, on my mother’s side, my grandfather was 58 and my grandmother 17 when they got married. In their Devon village this seemed to have attracted no opprobrium. He was the local GP and so it was regarded as being a good match. If a 58-year-old GP tried to pull that stunt with one of his patients now he’d be struck off. That aside, I know nothing about my forebears and am happy to leave it that way.

Given this indifference, it’s therefore odd that several of the jobs I’ve had have involved genealogy or genealogists in some form or another. There was one that might have been added to this list.

This farcical event took place in the early 80s. I was two years out of university and starting to realise that a Cambridge history degree was not the automatic passport to wealth and happiness I’d somehow hoped. I was living in a rat-infested flat in Vauxhall and spending most of my time playing guitar, cadging pints off friends and getting fired from a succession of jobs in pubs and warehouses. Money was running out. Something had to be done. The shades of Thatcher’s Britain were drawing in: the miner’s strike was looming, Brixton was in flames, discord was stalking the land. I was contributing nothing to this changing world and, more practically, in danger of contributing nothing to the landlord’s next rent demand.

It’s possible all this had started to unhinge my mind. Certainly there’s no other explanation for why I decided to write a letter to Debrett’s asking them for a job. I cannot imagine why I chose this company, nor what career path I thought it might lead me to, nor how this would square with my rather unfocussed bohemian lifestyle. However, any misgivings I had were obliterated when, a few days later, I received a civil reply inviting me to attend an interview at their offices in Winchester at 1pm the following Saturday. Matters were now out my hands. I’d asked for it: now I had to go.

My good intentions of spending Friday evening soberly at home ironing my shirt and researching this company I had so spontaneously contacted vanished in the face of a party invite that seemed, as they always do, too good to miss. Saturday morning found me slightly shaky and hunting for something suitable to wear. When I looked at myself in the mirror I realised that nothing quite matched and that the whole effect was wrong, regardless of what job I was applying for. Then I sensed something else was wrong. Ah, yes – I needed to shave.

All went well with a new razor until I tried to do that tricky bit just above the top lip and briefly stopped concentrating. A few seconds later two identical and deep cuts had opened up just where the lip meets the skin. Blood flowed freely, some of it onto my shirt. I had no other shirt.


• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).

It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop and you can place your order here.

Copies are also available at the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.

You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.


Brian Quinn
• For further articles, please click here
• For rants and musings set to music, please click here


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