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Donal Fogarty explores blurring the boundary between fiction and non-fiction in his personal narrative “Bad Parking”
Me & Kirsty
It was Kirsty Young that did it. It was Sunday, 17th December 2017 and I was sleeping in my van in an underground car park below an office block in Swindon, which was problematic for two reasons. The block and car park belonged to my employer and I worked in an office six floors up. Well, I say “worked” in an office six floors up but that’s not strictly true. The previous Friday they’d put me on gardening leave, pending the outcome of a gross misconduct inquiry. Now, not only did I not have a garden, I also didn’t have anywhere to live and I was pretty sure that when the gardening leave was up I wouldn’t have a job either.
I knew they didn’t want me. They’d been looking for a way to get rid of me for a while now. This gardening leave idea was just them treading water so that they could be seen to be doing the right thing.
Anyway, back to Kirsty Young and my epiphany. I didn’t recognise that feeling I always got for what it was. I didn’t realise that that feeling I got at job interviews or first days at work was actually the latent chill of discrimination.
So, Kirsty was interviewing this policeman – another Irishman. I mean, until then, I didn’t really identify as different. I’d apply for jobs and there’d be that – what’s it called – ethnic diversity monitoring form. There’d never be a category for me though, or if there was I found the label they chose very un-21st Century and derogatory to boot.
Most of the time I wouldn’t fill it in, or I’d just tick the “prefer not to say” box. On the occasions when I didn’t think I had a chance of getting the job anyway, I might forego my designated pigeonhole and instead tick “other” and, in my worst handwriting, write “Celtic – wanderer”. I don’t know, I think when you’re different but not that different it can be harder.
You come up to them for the first time, these people in suits, you know, you try to look smart yourself. From a distance it’s alright. It’s all there: the smiles, the body language, the acceptance. You look like one of them. But then you get close enough for the handshake and you say your name and they’re like “Oh, that’s a bit different.” And then after a while they realise one morning that perhaps you haven’t had a shower. Or maybe you’d only managed a shave the night before and you’re not looking quite as pressed and pristine as the other male managers. And then it really starts.
I didn’t know what it was. It took a policeman on Desert Islands Discs to make me see it. You know the one, Dave Cummings, that celebrity detective. I don’t have a television so I’d never heard of him, but apparently he’s all over the BBC now – he’s like Brian Cox except instead of astrophysics his thing is catching bad guys.
So there I was in the back of the van, making a brew for the security guard, with the radio on low and Kirsty introduces this Cummings fella and – bang! – it hits me.
Kirsty & Cummings
“So Dave, ‘What’s Up Fatlip’. That was quite an unusual choice as your first record.”
“Well, I suppose things have happened pretty fast for me, and I’m in a privileged position now, but I’m very aware that there’s a flip side to rapid success. I know it could all change, and maybe this song makes me mindful of that.”
“That’s very insightful. Do you think that comes from your experience of moving to Cornwall? Am I right in saying that your transfer from the Met didn’t happen under the best of circumstances?”
“You could say that, Kirsty. I’d been, errr… Well, it wasn’t really said, but we knew it was… Umm, there was friction, and they moved me. Let’s say they moved me. A lot of senior management at the time were boys who’d passed out of Hendon during the Troubles. So they’d been bobbies in London at the height of the mainland aggression. They didn’t say so, but you knew. What can you do? Some people never move on. Anyway, I wasn’t happy about it, but it ended up turning out okay for me.”
“Well, I think it turned out more than okay. You were literally an overnight success weren’t you? It was your first day in a new job and you made the biggest ever marijuana seizure on UK soil.”
“Kirsty, it was actually my second day on the job, and I should say that it was the biggest haul in the West Country, not the UK. And I was just lucky to be in right place at the right time.”
“Oh, I think you’re being very modest. Well, let’s have your next track and then perhaps you can tell us how a detective gets to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Okay. Well, appropriately enough record number two is an old Merle Haggard number – ‘Okie From Muskogee’.”
So, thanks to Kirsty and Desert Island Discs, I heard how Cummings went from banging his head against the invisible Irish ceiling to being a rich celebrity detective, and I realised that all you need is a bit of luck one day and discrimination could turn out to be a positive thing.
Well, that’s the 12” version of the story I spun to the parole board. They didn’t buy it. Apparently guerrilla gardening with a chainsaw is still considered criminal damage even if the company that owns the ornamental garden in question has put you on gardening leave.
So I’m stuck in confinement for another year or so. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the confined space I mind, it’s the fact that my cell doesn’t have wheels – that’s my real punishment.