Start at the bottom

In a meeting with the Environment Secretary, Neil Start flounders.

Tuesday: Despite my recent rapid run of promotions at the Goldfish Action Group, it is always worth knowing your value in the marketplace, just as homeowners are always checking the local estate agents' windows.

GAG is, after all, meant to be the first step on a career ladder that might, one day, bring me to the dizzy heights of having my own roof over my head.

So I had secretly booked an after-hours wine bar rendezvous with Verity from Jobs in Charity, a new recruitment agency. She was an hour late, but fortunately I had a lot of reading to do for my new role co-ordinating international goldfish protection policy. You wouldn't believe how much of a goldfish's body has been used by various cultures as an aphrodisiac.

I was wondering why close proximity to these fabled beasts hadn't done more for my chances with Anka, our Latvian receptionist, when Verity arrived.

In her odd foghorn voice, she seemed more intent on getting me to sign GAG up to do all its recruiting through Jobs in Charity than on noting my personal details. She had me as 42 rather than 22 - God knows what she had as my GCSE grades.

Thursday: David, our chairman, had fixed up an appointment with the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, through Jerome, our head of publications and an old pal of hers from the British Caravaners' Club.

We were to discuss the national security threat posed by the Chinese delegation of goldfish eaters we unwittingly entertained last week. They took me with them, which was both an honour and a way for David to avoid carrying his own bag.

The main business over, the three of them got to discussing the best caravan sewage hose lubricants.

My mind was understandably wandering - noticing how like a goldfish's mouth Mrs Beckett's is and thinking how she might make a better patron than the still-elusive Prince William - when my mobile phone went off. In a supreme gesture of self-importance designed no doubt to impress the minister, David took the receiver before I could utter a word.

He looked blank for a minute as he listened, and then passed it back to me without a word. "Hello Neil," a voice blasted out into the silent room. "It's Verity here from Jobs in Charity. We have a top celebrity organiser post just come onto our books at the Nit Rehabiliation Agency, and I wondered if you'd be interested in meeting them?"

I stabbed the red button to switch it off and looked up to find the minister, David and Jerome all staring at me. "Your face has become more colourful than a goldfish's," Mrs Beckett remarked, inadvertently paying me back for my earlier thoughts on her profile. David looked furious and scarcely managed to mutter a goodbye as we left the ministry. Career meltdown.

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