Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 14

Emma B. returns, and presents us with more Best Blessings of Existence.  In which she treats of choices, and comparisons.

The week began relatively well - she was paid early and settled some debts. But it was a rotten way of earning a crust - akin to pocketing alms instead of a salary. She had measured her life by unopened bank statements and final bill demands. Always overdrawn - but wasn’t everybody?

Before, never a hitch in the smooth   purchase of flats; houses; holidays; the right clothes and dinners in good restaurants. Perfume Chanel; face creams Clarins. Her life.

Until she lost her seat.

You’ll be spoiled for choice , fawned the Chief Executive of a charity she had championed in her salad days; closing the door to both his office and her hopes of a consultancy.

What an exciting CV – let me get my hands on it; enthused the florid Principal of the Executive Head Hunting Agency. (But only if you stump up £5,000).

No vacancies at the moment – but we LOVED your presentation: Director of a Policy Think Tank.

And so on and so forth - until it became obvious that a backbench MP was exactly right for precisely nothing that was remotely prestigious, well paid or even interesting. Meanwhile, debts accrued. Hands to the plough! After a respectable interval, she joined a supply teaching agency in a neighbouring city. Her cover was blown on Day One and she clocked off when it emerged that pupils and staff were interested in her views on Westminster but not her analysis of poetry. It was scarcely a wrench; the role was remunerated baby-minding; satisfying neither career ambition nor pecuniary advantage.

Of course, her original decision to teach had been neither decision nor choice. It was a chess move in the Paul Preservation Project, so traitorous thoughts (could have been an actress/writer/academic) were dismissed as she skipped along the primrose path to her first post, two months after the wedding. But renegade musings were not quelled; simply placed in the Coulda Been a Contender box where they rested; primed for deployment during her rows with Paul.

She had never attempted any of her preferred professions and could have graced or disgraced them – in equal measure. That was their beauty. Age did not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety. They remained virgin and incontrovertible and were admirably fit for purpose.

She was engaged as an Assistant Teacher of English and Drama at Oaks-Haven School, an 11-18 Mixed Sex Comprehensive, situated about thirty miles from Dorlich in the part of the Oakshire countryside not colonised as a weekend retreat by lesser scions of the royal family.
The children she taught did not mix with the minor royals at polo, dressage and horse trials in the smart part of Oakshire.

They might, however, assist their parents with light farm labouring after school.

Other family members could be employed at the Open Prison or the Children’s Home. Some of her pupils lived in the Children’s Home. A ‘good job’ was a traineeship with the Local Authority or Marks and Spencer; boys joined the police force and girls became beauticians and hairdressers. During the Falklands War, some of the boys responded to media populism (Kill an Argy and Win a Metro), and signed up for the Army.

Oaks-Haven had a small Sixth Form and she shared a teaching group with the Head of Department.
Andrew Penn was pleasant enough, but at 48, considered himself and his Dorlich degree wasted upon the likes of Tracey and Wayne. This was the settled view of a good cross section of her colleagues; many of whom had taken their first post at Oaks-Haven and had stayed for the next fifteen years. They were glad of the relative freedom from the discipline problems so prevalent in the large Dorlich comprehensives and rejoiced in the knowledge that Tracey and Wayne could be bored into submission by the completion of interminable worksheets produced en masse by the trusty school Banda machine. This noxious object occupied pride of place in the School Office, next to the rubber plant. Along with the Grenadier pub, venue of choice for staff at Friday lunchtime, it enjoyed the status of a mini household god.
It could not be used without prior appointment, courtesy of School Secretary, Mary Hadleigh. Its distinctive purple ink ruined outfits at an impressive rate and its worksheets emitted a unique odour, sniffed by pupils in the Remedial Block as a substitute for glue. But it created a dangerous dependency amongst teachers who relied upon it as a source of mass pacification for children considered to be incapable of scaling the peaks of academia – or even the molehill of a place at a lesser polytechnic.

She had been used to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Middlemarch and Middleton and had fantasised about unlocking these treasures for a generation of eager pupils. The fact that she was expected, like the teacher she had replaced, to cram their heads with comprehension questions on the first five chapters of Carrie’s War, took major feats of adjustment.

The English Department stock cupboard contained boxes of used worksheets with lesson plans for every text – thereby ensuring that no member of staff would ever be required to teach an original lesson. Book choice was strictly limited and poetry was only available in teaching anthologies. The obligatory Chaucer text for the Sixth Form came equipped with Neville Coghill’s translation.

As Andrew explained: You’ll need to translate Shakespeare and Chaucer for them – it’s a foreign language! And even Dickens --- I’ve been thinking of getting a new set of Brodie’s Notes if the budget holds out.

She spent the first term cowed into submission by the Banda machine and Andrew Penn and then discovered that things worked out better if she ignored them both – an approach that paid off with the Whips’ Office many years later.

Working life became all right; sometimes enjoyable – especially when Tracey and Wayne justified her faith in them rather than the expectations of Andrew and Banda.
Shelley Johnson’s place at Cambridge was a case in point. But although it became something, it wasn’t enough and the Coulda Been a Contender box was the object of frequent visitation.

Chudleigh and Oaks-Haven had about as much in common as the children of farm labourers and the offspring of minor royals. The former were schools and the latter, human infants. And that was all. At first, she had rushed home from work, aching to see Paul; longing share her new experiences and compare teaching ideas.
His interest was perfunctory at best. Her colleagues were merely names to him and her leaving party three years later was excruciating because he insisted on calling Andrew ‘Anthony’, whilst quizzing him on his literary taste. At the mention of Basil Bunting she left the room.

The shades of Chudleigh, by contrast, polluted every aspect of her life. Whilst studying at Dorlich, she had remained in blissful ignorance of its existence. Now it lurked at the corner of every street and penetrated her private living space in the form of the Oxbridge set ; the thirty or so boys taught by Paul in small groups at home in the run up to their entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge. She detested these evenings.

Paul would conduct the tuition at 7.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the sessions were scheduled to end at 9pm. Invariably, this meant 10.45pm, because the formal proceedings were merely the prelude to a type of social party when wine was served and the boys were allowed to smoke. Paul was in his element, directing proceedings from his wheel backed throne in the living room, pipe lit and tumbler of Jamieson’s to hand. She spent these evenings crouching in the bedroom, correcting essays on the bedside table.

The Oxbridge set became a major bone of contention between her and Paul. At first, she had tried to work at the opposite end of the living room. It was spacious and with a supreme effort, she managed to ignore the general braying that characterised these occasions. But Paul seemed unable to accept this and kept drawing attention to her presence.

Darling, could you just pop to the Offie --- I forgot to get the Sancerre – and while you’re out, what about some of those cheesy nibbles?

Sweetie – we need the Annotated Donne --- didn’t you use it recently? Doesn’t seem to be in its usual place --- be a dear and check it out……..

And she would obey commands, with an increasingly surly aspect, unable to avoid the smirk of contempt upon the collective face of the flower of Chudleigh.
She was simply unable to concentrate upon her own work and became increasingly irritated by the pompous rubbish spouted by the entire group; Paul included. Matters (and her subsequent decision to retreat to the bedroom), came to a head during an especially sententious analysis of Sons and Lovers.

Now you might want to consider the presentation of Miriam and Clara: opened Paul. Of course, Paul Morel’s intrinsic creativity and intellectual freedom is inhibited and then crushed by the spiritual frigidity of Miriam and the cloying physical vulgarity of Clara. The female imperative is presented and then vanquished at the end of the novel when Paul rejects them, and in so doing, chooses life.

Yes, yes sir, yelped Dominic Crutchley- Waters: He’s the original Lawrentian High Priest of male oneness – like Gerald and Birkin in Women in Love!!!

She could stand no more and rose to her feet:
Oh bollocks! Paul Morel wanted to fuck his mother so he couldn’t fuck his women. Couldn’t get it up, that’s all. She then swept into the bedroom and listened at the door.

Shuffling; tittering.

Oh – well, my wife’s got an MA from Dorlich, laughed Paul.

Girt MA!!!!!!! shrieked Crutchley-Waters – and normal service was resumed.

The heavens opened when the last pupil left – at 11 30pm. She suspected that Paul had deliberately prolonged the session – and she was right. He thought she was paranoid; insecure; rude - had humiliated herself. She called him selfish; insensitive; opened the Coulda Been a Contender box and then slung the grenade:

Ooh yes sir, ooh no sir; can I lick your arse sir!!! Why on earth you encourage them to regard you as a literary guru I have no idea. You even lied about your degree! You didn’t get a First at Cambridge – you scraped a Third. ERIC TOLD ME!!!!!!!!!!!!! (with a flash of the eyes and a triumphant flourish).

Paul smiled wearily:

Not a lie, Sweetie. Everyone knows that a Third from Cambridge is better than a PHD from Dorlich!! Now, if you don’t mind, I need to check out my timetable for tomorrow. Garfield Proctor needs an extra lesson on Keats – his interview is on Friday and I promised him a One to One.

They made up in bed; there was nowhere else for her to go. 


Anonymous said...

Loving this.

Still, not yet sure what the blessing's of Helen/Emma's existence are. Probably not Ian/Paul.

Can't wait for the Parliamentary years.

Jane Griffiths said...

me too! more coming v. soon!