Getting out of Skid Row

I’m about seven years old.  After school, my little brother Chris and I spend two or three hours at a child minder’s nearby until Mum can pick us up after work.  Our minder, Maureen, is a large smiling women with two dogs, two cats, at least two grown-up kids and a grandchild.  She also minds between two and four other kids like us.

Amongst her various methods for keeping us all entertained is the obvious modern choice: the TV.  Back then there are no flatscreens and no DVDs.  We have beautiful, lovely VHS tapes.  We little ones scour the cupboard for the film we want to watch.  We invariably fall on either of two favourites, depending on the boy-girl ratio in the group: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” or the 80s comedy musical “The Little Shop of Horrors”.

“Little Shop” has been one of my favourite films for the last twenty-odd years.  It came out during that brief period in Hollywood when Rick Moranis was in everything.  The film is equal parts cheesy, exciting, gruesome and hilarious.  I still love it.

Why am I telling you this?

I originally was going to write a post about why I’ve finally given up on finding decent, honest, fulfilling work in the UK.  I was going to describe the drudgery of getting in an office, switching on a computer, saying ‘morning’ to similarly depressed co-workers, and getting down to the usual tiresome crap in the usual context of office politics, management bullshit, and corporate moneymaking.  I’m so tired of it I barely care anymore whether I perform as expected, get any kind of good reference, or whether my CV looks like shit.  It does not suit me at all.

 

Most mornings, I’m reminded of the opening song from “Little Shop”–

Cue a downtown New York street: filthy, stagnant with rainwater and litter, gloomy in the early morning where the sunlight can’t make it down into the alleyways.  A lone woman carrying heavy bags walks with obvious weariness down an alley, through startled pigeons and overturned trash cans.  Her soulful voice echoes out across the grimy streets of Skid Row:

 

          Alarm goes off at seven

          And you start uptown

          You put in your eight hours

          For the powers

          That have always been

          ‘Til it’s five PM

 

Slow applause for the last ten years of my life.

The rest of the song is about the hopelessness of living in that downtrodden, god-forsaken ghetto in NYC.  I can hardly claim that my life is terrible, but even in the exaggerated misery of that tune I can still relate to the feelings of despair and worthlessness the characters belt out (in admittedly camp Broadway fashion – I make no excuses).  Corporate life is soul-destroying, and office life is demeaning.

Worse, the people you meet in such places turn into caricatures: the sharply dressed Capitalist businessman (secretly hiding a shrinking spirit and a desperate fear of being discovered as a fraud), or the downtrodden admin staff who are so convinced of their inferiority that they grovel at their office superiors.  As someone who studied psychology at college, it’s fascinating to witness.  As an aspiring writer and someone who lets his feelings get away from him too often, it’s hideously depressing that these are the social structures that we have in place and refuse to dismantle.

The life of a teacher is far from perfect, but it’s something that’s been at the back of my mind for a few years.  Funding in the UK for English teachers is desperately low, and places for teaching qualifications reduce year on year.  At this point I’d like to thank the right honourable Michael Gove for his stellar work as Secretary of State for Education the last few years.  Here’s hoping his recently appointed successor  can make some small progress repairing his damage, rather than making things even worse.

And so off I go, to be called Mr Brookes by overseas students.  It will be as much of a challenge as it will be an adventure, but that’s no bad thing.

—db

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