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England

The Town that Architects Forgot

Swindon is a “new town” which is British for a town that architects forgot. I had an interview there recently for a job as an IT director at a computing society. I don’t particularly want to be the IT director at a computing society but my company is in the middle of laying off half the global workforce and so it seemed like I should at least take advantage of the interview practice.Husband was very excited about this interview. He would be excited if I had an interview for a job as a window washer in Swindon. This is because Swindon is within commuting distance of our cottage in the Cotswolds. His vision: I could live full-time in the Cotswolds, we could sell or rent our London flat, and he could downsize to a studio during the week when he needs to be there. This is one step closer to his dream of a full-time life in the country. He thinks if I jump first this will embolden him to make the entrepreneurial move he dreams of in a year or so’s time.

Chicken.

We decided to drive to Swindon on the Sunday before the interview to scope it out. It was raining and cold and there was supposedly a movie theatre there to help us take our minds off the fact that we don’t seem to be having a summer this year. We drove to the train station first. Husband loves train stations and bemoaning the demise of the steam railways that used to connect many of the Cotswolds villages. Swindon in the rain was the most depressing place I’ve ever been. How could a city on the edge of the Cotswolds look this way? It shouldn’t be allowed.

I was impatient and wanted to leave the train station. Husband shouted, I pouted, and we drove back to our cottage without seeing a movie.I know it’s unrealistic to think I can work in a building that looks like the inside of the Mondrian hotel on the Sunset Strip forever, especially now that my company is owned by a cost conscious private equity firm. But for now that is where I work, all gleaming white and glass, nestled in the posh London neighborhood of Kensington, moments from Hyde Park and Holland Park and the only Whole Foods in England (another topic worthy of it’s own blog – oh the glory).

Aesthetics matter. I’m not just being shallow: philosophers know this and Alain de Botton wrote a whole book about it, The Architecture of Happiness.After the interview I was a little more optimistic. The building is in an office park with all the charm of Heathrow, but you get your own parking space. After three years of buses and tubes in London, the idea of driving to work and having a parking space reminds me of life in L.A. in a good way – lots of commute time to listen to Radio 4, the KCRW equivalent. The guy who interviewed me and would be my boss was nice, I could definitely work for him. As he walked me out of the office after the interview he pointed out a basket of fruit on a filing cabinet and informed me that free fruit was a perk of working at the company. He was being serious. I didn’t think it a good time to tell him we have a bar at my office. A week later I learned I didn’t get the job. Something about an epiphany when interviewing another candidate that they needed a much more technical person than spec’d. He didn’t even ask me any stupid technical questions! Nevermind how I feel about Swindon, my pride was hurt. If anybody’s looking for me I’ll be taking solace in Schopenhauer.

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