And its entirely funded by private individuals? Theres no grant from the
Who runs it?
Nikolas Jarolmek. A Pole. His family have lived in Britain since the war.
And how did you get the job?
Through the Guardian. I responded to an advertisement.
Against how many other candidates?
I couldnt say. I was told about a hundred and fifty.
Could you describe an average day at the office?
Broadly speaking, I act in an advisory capacity, either by speaking to
people on the telephone and answering any questions they may have about setting
up in business in the UK or by writing letters in response to written queries.
Im also responsible for editing our quarterly magazine, the Central European
Business Review. That lists a number of crucial contact organizations that might
prove useful to small businesses that are just starting out. It also gives
details of tax arrangements in this country, language schools, that kind of
I see. It would be helpful if you could send me a copy.
To explain why I am here.
The interview was set up on the recommendation of a man I barely know, a
retired diplomat named Michael Hawkes. Six weeks ago I was staying at my
mothers house in Somerset for the weekend, and he came to dinner. He was, she
informed me, an old university friend of my fathers.
Until that night I had never met Hawkes, had never heard my mother mention
his name. She said that he had spent a lot of time with her and Dad when they
were first married in the 1960s. But when the Foreign Office posted him to
Moscow, the three of them had lost touch. All this was before I was born.
Hawkes retired from the Diplomatic Service earlier this year to take up a
directorship at a British oil company called Abnex. I dont know how Mum tracked
down his phone number, but he showed up for dinner alone, no wife, on the stroke
of eight oclock.
There were other guests there that night, bankers and insurance brokers in
bulletproof tweeds, but Hawkes was a thing apart. He had a blue silk cravat
slung around his neck like a noose and a pair of velvet loafers embroidered on
the toe with an elaborate coat of arms. There was nothing ostentatiously
debonair about any of this, nothing vain; it just looked as if he hadnt taken
them off in twenty years. He was wearing a washed-out blue shirt with fraying
collar and cuffs and stained silver cuff links that looked as though they had
been in his family since the Opium Wars. In short, we got on. We sat next to
each other at dinner and talked for close on three hours about everything from
politics to infidelity. Three days after the party my mother told me that she
had spotted Hawkes in her local supermarket, stocking up on Stolichnaya and
tomato juice. Almost immediately, like a task, he asked her if I had ever
thought of going in for the Foreign Office. My mother said that she didnt
Ask him to give me a ring if hes interested.
So on the telephone that night my mother did what mothers are supposed to do.
You remember Michael, who came to dinner?
Yes, I said, stubbing out a cigarette.
He likes you. Thinks you should try out for the Foreign Office.
What an opportunity, Alec. To serve Queen and Country.
I nearly laughed at this, but checked it out of respect for her old-fashioned
Mum, I said, an ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for the
good of his country.
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