‘Being Paul Chicken’

At the age of eight, Paul decided to change his name. He was angry at his parents for giving him such an ordinary first name, and he was convinced that his journey through life, unavoidably cursed as he was with Chicken as a surname, would be much easier if he had an extravagant first name to pair with it. A kind of dramatic diversionary tactic, if you like.

He kept a shortlist of names in a small green exercise book dedicated to the cause. He paired each candidate with a brief assessment, which often changed as names vyed for the top spot. Magnus – too old. Old was crossed out, and Swedish was written in its place. Abraham – too religious. Felix – too catty. Documentation was important. Choosing a name was serious business.

The name he eventually settled on came to him in a flash, after watching a documentary on the History channel. He would become Garibaldi. He practised saying it in an Italian accent, in front of the mirror. When Garibaldi Chicken announced himself in the playground the following day, the other children were so overwhelmed by the opportunities for comic nicknames that they ended up calling him, quite simply, Gaz.

Paul was most irritated at this abbreviation, and the butchering of his true, chosen, name. Within the month he had reverted back to Paul, and resigned himself to an inevitable lifetime of jokes about unwell poultry.

Until, one day, in his forties, he found himself at a job interview. It was a prestigious accounting firm with offices in Mayfair. A tall, broad man in a well-cut suit greeted him at reception.

“You must be Paul,” he said.

“Yes. Paul Chicken. I’m not too early am I?” Inside, Paul cringed like he always did when he introduced himself. He had grown accustomed to hiding it.

“Not at all. It’s good to meet you. I’m Roger Ham. Look, I won’t beat about the bush. You’ve got the job. Come on up. You’ll fit right in.”