This turned out to be rather long so I will post it in two parts, one today and one tomorrow.
Sometimes I play a little game called “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” This is a particularly challenging game for me because I have never been able to think what I wanted to do with my life. It’s not that I have never given it any thought or never had a job.
I have had quite a few jobs. My first was as a petrol pump attendant in a filling station. I did this during the vacation from university. It kept me out of mischief and made some money for my keep. It was also valuable experience for later when I had to go out and work for a living. My colleagues treated me, “the college boy”, with a sort of amiable contempt but I took it in good part. They even let me help in the repair shop and drive the pick-up truck into the garage each evening, despite my not having a driving licence. Knowing I was “just filling in” and wouldn’t be spending the rest of my life at the job made it easier to bear and even fun.
Having got a degree and moved on to postgraduate work, I got a job as a night school instructor. In fact, I taught at two colleges, one in Sheffield and the other in Chesterfield. My little group of students in Chesterfield were very keen and the job lasted a couple of years. The one in Sheffield collapsed after a few weeks as class size plummeted. This work was useful for two reasons: firstly, it prepared me for a career in teaching and secondly, accustomed me to classes of mixed age and ability.
Having hung on as long as possible as a postgraduate student, I finally had to go out and earn my living. No knowing what I wanted to do with my life made choosing a job quite difficult. In the end, and under the urging of necessity, I plumped for that old stand-by of language graduates: become a teacher. I applied for two jobs and was lucky on my second attempt. And thus I became language teacher in a large comprehensive school. It was fun and daunting at the same time. I had classes with very academic pupils and classes with pupils whose only thought was how soon they could leave school. One class in particular was very difficult to manage and I never really got to grips with discipline. Somehow I survived the year and was not looking forward to being “promoted” to assistant housemaster, when another job dropped in my lap, or rather, on my doormat.
It came in the form of a letter inside an envelope with the seal of a well known college of the university of London. They were looking for an assistant lecturer and my old professor had mentioned my name. So off I went to London in my best suit for an interview. I thought of it as an interesting day out, nothing more, and no one was more surprised than I was when I got the job.
Relieved at not having to become an assistant housemaster, I upped sticks and moved to London. I stayed at that college for two years. My memories of it are somewhat mixed. It was very exciting becoming a university lecturer but I found it hard work and I don’t think I ever really got into the role. You have to be a single-minded academic to succeed and I am too much of a butterfly, always hopping around from subject to subject as new sparkly things catch my eye. In the end, the college decided to part company with me but they gave me a year’s warning and, in any case, luck was with me again.
As a lecturer’s hours were fairly light, I had been teaching part time at one of London’s polytechnics. It was a doddle as I had only to repeat what I was doing in my other job. Coincidentally with the termination of my contract at the university, the polytechnic decided to abolish my part-time job and advertise for a full-time one. I applied for this and got it. Bear in mind that I was still wondering what to do with my life and that I took this job “just to tide me over”. In fact, I stayed there a couple of decades and rose to the dizzy heights of Principal Lecturer.