I remember that bitter cold snowy winter when Max first went to Brighton, all eager and excited to see the town that nearly ate Maggie Thatcher. The famous pier, the fantastic student night-life. FDM was the company that had brought him there. He was set to endure 3 months intense training, before getting unleashed in to the world of financial IT.

Getting a pad in Brighton back then, just before the 2008 crash, was pretty much as it is now, I mean Brighton was boom-boom-town UK. The university had taken up all the slack on cheap accommodation. Max was on a list of possible rooms, but they always seemed to fall through. Some long legged blond Fraulein would offer, way over the odds. And he was back at the end of the queue again.

Just when he was about to despair. I discovered one of the underbelly gems of old Brighton,now closed, but back then, Sluggies was, ‘The Hostel to the Stars.’ Online and bookable by the week.

“Get in there son.”

So I booked him a week and we headed down to Brighton on Sea.

It looked cold and grim from the outside. The smelly tramp limping by, with his plastic bag stuffed full with bottles of, “El Cheapo Hooch,” was perhaps a sign.

But he didn’t go by. He went in.

With now, no choice in the matter, we entered, “Sluggies Hostel to the Stars.”

It looked pretty rough and had that very distinctive waft, of wood-rotting fungi. There were four tough looking guys at a table, speaking some angry East European lingo.The tramp was swigging from a bottle and harassing them, about a broken microwave and the current world political situation. The hostel clerk was completely trashed. But still trying, unsuccessfully, to smoke a giant spliff. Jesus, a week, I thought, Max can survive a week.

I cursed all the blond fucking German bimbo bombshells that have ever lived.

Max signed in and we brought his stuff upstairs, to the so called, “Bunk Room.” The door wouldn’t close. The windows wouldn’t close. One of the guys had a heater plugged in from the landing. The wire snaked its way back into the bunk room. So there was an ever present danger, of falling over it and possibly plunging out the window. Max, hanging precariously out that window, waved to us, as we drove away in the falling snow.

One week, just one week. He can survive one week. Then he’ll find somewhere better

FDM, Max’s new employer, was a company that required all their employees to turn up for work, suited and booted, and here was Max in the land of the great unwashed juiced tramp and the ganja smoking, loud nattering, dust covered, Eastern European builder’s mates. Needless to say, his first night in Brighton he didn’t get much sleep. Sleeping in a business suit to keep warm. Priceless.

He told us, he heard the other dodgy denizens arriving and slithering into their bunks and next morning they all sat up in bed. Looking like dressed dummies in a sales window. Joe was a store manager with a local low cost supermarket. Dave was a graphic web designer, for a new start-up and just like Max, a newbie in Brighton. Ali was a trendy cloths shop manager. And so it went on. All working, but unable to get a pad in Brighton.

All stuck for that eternal moment in time, in down-town “Sluggies Hostel to the Stars”.

The FDM clever marketing ploy was, “The Mounties program,” with a blazing red uniform and matching hat. Which is why, the newbie IT consultants were called Mounties. It’s how I spotted them in a Computer magazine. Back then, they took just about anybody, with a bit of computer savvy and trained them up, for life in the financial IT fast track. I knew how hard it was, to get in the front door of these Blue Chip companies. So I said to Max, who was near completion of a Computer Business Degree. This was his way in.

There was a hard economic rain coming our way. And I knew if he wasn’t in somewhere out of it. He may be on the breadline for years. Who knew what was coming down the line. All he had to do, after graduation was pass their test. It turned out it was a close run thing. The test was heavy on Linux. Not something that was pushed as essential, during a Computer Business Degree. His final test was making some sort of hangman game without using the usual Linux commands. The test was due in at noon and I think he managed to finish it around 11:55am. A close run thing indeed.

The company operated a school for real world training, for their consultants. In Oracle, Java, Unix/Linux. The education was free unless you decided to leave early and then you were hit with the full cost. After training, FDM placed their Mounties, with one of the Blue Chip companies. Charging around five times what they were paying the new Mounties. The contract, or indentured servitude, was for two years. After that, they were free. Max asked my opinion on the whole setup. And I of course told him how life really worked. “Yes, in the ideal world he would walk into Goldman Sachs or Barclays Bank with his shiny CV and get the dream job. The dream pay. The reality was, he wouldn’t get past the doorman. This way, you’re back doored into Goldman Sachs and if you prove indispensable, they’ll buy your contract. FDM is a business. It’s how they make their coin. They want you to succeed, as much as you do. In the end it’s all about being the best you can be.”

Back at “Sluggies” the builders were still caught up, in their never ending war with the tramp, over the broken microwave and the current world political situation. The situation was solved, after Max bought them all some strong beer and got the builders thrashed, on some excellent ganja weed. Max ended up loving “Sluggies”. As it turned out to be a great place, to spend an eternal one month.

The night scene in Brighton was steaming and Max did manage to use the famous “Sluggies” curve ball….

Always tell the girls you’re staying in Sluggies.

1: They have to invite you back to their place.

2: You get to have a decent shower.

Next stop for Max, was an FDM position with one of the major banks in New York, New York. My parting piece of advice, was one I had been hitting him with, since he was a kid. I retold Max, the story of Gustav.

Gustav worked with me and 1500 other guys in Burmeister & Wain. A famous shipyard in Copenhagen. Now long closed by a bunch of greedy American bankers. Back then, we knew jobs had to go. But who was going first? Gustav was a typical Danish worker. A very quiet type of guy. Always on time. Dedicated to his work. An excellent welder. Murf, my pal, was the complete opposite. Loud, always joking with everybody. Never on time. Missing lots of work days due to an eternal hangover. He too, did good work, mostly with a bottle of beer in one hand. So on the day of the redundancies. I checked the list only to see Gustav’s name on it. Shocked, is not word I felt. Shit, was my name there to? No. And no Murf either.

Poor Gustav was speechless. And I couldn’t blame him. So I cornered the boss and said, “What the fuck was that all about. Gustav is a model worker and you’re making him redundant.”

He looked around, so no one could hear and said, “Listen we had to pick from a list. Somebody had to go.”

“Yea,” I said, “But Gustav?”

“Well,” he said, “we were going through everybody we wanted to keep and nobody could remember, who the fuck Gustav was.”

Here he was working away doing a great job. But nobody knew who the fuck he was or what he was doing. I told Max, make sure, in any position you work in, everybody knows who you are and most important, everybody knows what the fuck you are actually doing. Too many fuckers in this world suffering from, ‘The Gustav-Syndrome,’ get the push.

Yes, you may be doing a fantastic fucking job. But does anybody even know? Perception my son, perception is king. So Max has been working the rooms when he starts a new job. “My name is Max, my work area is,” etc. etc. The big Kahuna arrives in the office. Everybody keeps their head down. Except Max.

“Who’s that?”

“Why that’s Max, and his work area involves etc. etc.”

“And who’s that?”

“Oh that’s, let me see, I think that’s Joe, no it’s Bill, or was it Steve?”

You getting the picture. Don’t be like Gustav. Don’t end up a Syndrome.

Cover image courtesy of greg lilly via Flickr

If you enjoyed this piece why not check Frank’s tale of Ireland in the 80’s, here.