Teaching is a strange profession: great if you like it, not so great if you don’t. I sometimes think you have to be a little bit odd to become a teacher or, at least, to go on being a teacher once you know what it’s like. All my colleagues seemed odd, often in the nicest possible way, but odd nonetheless. I am odd too, or so I have been told, but possibly not odd enough or not odd in the right sort of way because I never actually liked the job of teaching. I only did it for so long because I couldn’t work out what I really wanted to do. In the end, with the job getting ever more stressful and bringing me to the edge of something pretty close to a nervous breakdown, I decided to leave.
I went to work for a well known chain of bookshops. This was wonderful for many reasons. For one thing, I was no longer a Principal Lecturer with responsibilities but a “bookselling assistant” with none. There were no lessons to plan, no exams to mark, no board meetings, no taking work home with me. Instead of ordering people about I was now a skivvy but a happy one. I forgot to mention in Lazy Sunday that we popped down to Covent Garden. My old bookshop had disappeared and that gave me quite a jolt, as if part of my life had suddenly ceased to exist.
The problem with the bookshop was that I worked late shifts and had to come home from town at night. No big deal, except that the tubes were often in disarray by that time and also full of drunks and other sorts of nasty people. It seemed a good idea to get a job nearer home. Working in a public library appealed to me so I applied. It took me two shots but I got there at last. Bookshops and libraries are similar in some ways except that the traffic is two-way in the library. In both you spend an awful lot of time shelving. When I go into bookshops and libraries these days, I have to put my hands in my pockets in case the old reflex sets in and I start tidying the shelves. Not that they would mind. In fact, I think they would appreciate the help…
Library work had all the advantages of bookshop work with some more added. For one thing, in the library there isn’t the commercial pressure of the bookshop; for another, libraries these days are information providers. This is interesting work and leaves you feeling you have done something worthwhile. I enjoyed working in the library and to some extent still miss it, and the people. Unfortunately, the public library system is suffering. A lot of boroughs are squeezing the libraries to save money. The result is that the libraries are less able to do what they are supposed to do so less people use them and this is used to justify further cuts. It’s a real tragedy.
If I had my life again, I might well decide to go into library work straightaway, assuming there were any libraries left. Or the antique clock business. I love clocks: they are the nearest that a machine comes to being a living creature. Or a philosopher: I can just see myself arguing with Socrates though he would trump me every time. Or something to do with animals. Not a vet, because I am too squeamish. Maybe someone who observes and studies animals and writes learned articles showing how wonderful they are and how little we really know about them. Or village idiot.
I think the career of village idiot is too often overlooked. I like the idea that society can afford to support a few people who don’t produce but simply pursue their own idiosyncratic interests; people who assume no responsibilities and live off charity but do so uncomplainingly; people who take without any need to show gratitude or fear of the future; people for whom the world is one big toy box inviting to mysterious games incomprehensible to ordinary folk. Or am I talking about cats? Maybe that’s it: maybe what I’ve always wanted to do with my life is become a cat. Naively selfish; wisely indolent; luxuriously minimalist; as much at home among wind-blown grasses as on a warm lap.
It’ll do until I think of something else.