Tuesday 17 January 2012

Psst... Wanna Be a Spy?

Today's Daily Mail reckons that women have been watching too many episodes of Spooks on television. So much so, that they've been put off applying to join MI5.

I remember watching the very first episode of Spooks. As I recall, a major character was murdered rather graphically by having his head stuffed into a chip pan of boiling oil - it set the boundaries for the rest of the programme in that no character was ever "safe" and MI5 went through officers with alarming rapidity. There were some glaring errors in the storylines in my opinion. How Fiona ever got recruited is a mystery - given that she was once married to some Middle-Eastern terrorist, yet somehow managed to keep it so secret that her second husband and the British Government never knew about it. And the ability of their techies to find and follow a suspect on the streets of London by security cameras alone remains more than improbable in my book. But it was a good series.

And women got their fair share of deaths and dirty jobs. No sex discrimination or chivalry in the BBC's MI5. Maybe that's what puts women off applying. Jo went from journalist to fully-functional operative in a few episodes, only to be deliberately shot by one of her own team (it made sense in the story context, trust me). We've had hangings, poisonings, kidnaps, shootings - I'm amazed anybody in MI5 is still sane. Of course, it's fiction, but it still conveys the idea that you can't be a spy and have a normal life and family. How can you have kids when you are putting your life on the line every day?

I have to admit, I never realised you could actually apply to be a spy. I thought it was one of those jobs you got the nod for, the tap on the arm in a lift somewhere, the passing of a business card, followed by a swift resignation from current job and a disappearance off the face of the known world, where you can't even tell your wife/husband what you do for a living. Now I've worked as an investigator; I've done jobs where you go to work on Monday morning and don't get home until a week later. I've spent several nights in one hotel room with six blokes and gone to breakfast with a different one each morning (and that got some interesting looks off the hotel staff, I can tell you). But there comes a time when you look forward to knowing you will be at home every night, when you can eat at more-or-less the same time and actually see your partner rather than just meet in the bathroom occasionally. The warm fuzzy feeling you get from knowing your small efforts might help to keep the country safer is replaced by the warm fuzzy feeling you get from tucking your kids into bed at night. So I have no desire to join MI5.

But now you can apply online! Like ordering your groceries or buying a book off amazon. You can take MI5's recruitment test and presumably if you score highly, you may be invited to proceed further. Here's the job description. Interesting stuff - if you're young, free and single. Good luck!

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