Things were going too smoothly

I knew things were going too smoothly. The short term of my life was looking like a pleasant stroll through grassy meadows, as a flutter of birds twitter chirpily, while the sun beams down casting the surrounding greenery in a pleasingly yellowish hue. The long term was still looking hazy but things were shaping up nicely. The reason for this positivity was that after a lengthy interview process I managed to secure a teaching position in Singapore. I was extremely pleased, and I’m not the easiest person to get excited.

Then, alas, things conspired against me. I say ‘conspired’ – I am completely responsible for the screw ups that have occurred. I gained a 2:2 English Language degree from the University of Sussex. Being a first generation scholar and someone who has spent many years on council estates, I felt quite proud of this achievement, even if the reaction of people when I told them my grade was akin to telling them I was dying of cancer. “Are you alright? Don’t worry, it’s all gonna be OK” they say. I’m sure a few people will bring me flowers the next time I see them.

That’s not the big issue. I was under the impression – a mistaken one – that I only needed a 2:2 to jet off to Singapore and live the Far East high life. Friends and family were delighted that I found employment in lands foreign, although most gave me the same advice; “Make sure you don’t end up with a lady boy”. Aside from the extreme stereotyping, I’m disappointed that I received no practical advice. When discussing the ins and outs of living in an unknown land, there were no considered warnings about drinking bottled water, the state of the country’s motorways or how to avoid the death penalty. According to mates, my primary worry in Singapore would be performing the no-pants dance with a ‘woman’ hiding a cock between her legs. Cheers fellas.

My contract came through and a very generous one it was too. My post-tax salary was just 3% lower than my pre-tax salary, which makes Jimmy Carr’s financial arrangements look outrageously fair to the taxman. Then I read that I needed a 2:1 to qualify for the scheme and my heart sunk. It’s not that I’m not smart enough to get a 2:1 but I didn’t exactly strive to achieve it. Didn’t think I needed it. Over the past three years I have adopted a rather optional approach to lectures and seminars, which isn’t in keeping with the spirit of independent motivation needed to succeed in higher education. By the time I realised that a 2:1 was much more preferable it was too late and I was writing numbers in full words to extend my dissertation’s word count from 7400 to seven thousand nine-hundred and ninety-four.

The upshot is I lost the Singapore job. There will be no gender-based confusion for me now unless I watch the women’s wrestling at the Olympics this summer. I’m looking with a hint of desperation at other foreign jobs, not for any particular desire to leave Britain but so that I experience a different culture. If I can find a country where you can get served within four years at the Post Office, even better. Perhaps more gutting is the thoughts of others, perhaps thinking of me as a failure, when my personal assessment couldn’t be harsher. I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t keep the job quiet and now I’m paying the price (although admittedly it would be impossible to keep such a thing schtum – I can hardly turn up at work and say “Sorry boss, I’m off to Singapore tomorrow, all the best”).

But this is my life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be made to feel inadequate by a bunch of talking heads. I suppose it’s the first time I have ever really experienced significant failure outside the dating arena, so it comes as a bit of a shock. But I use writing as therapy, so hopefully putting these thoughts to paper will save me a trip to a psychologist in my mid-thirties when I’m still earning the minimum wage, tracing back my upbringing and bursting into tears when I remember the day I collected my degree results and they consigned me to a life of poverty. Besides, writing is much, much cheaper.

I’ve even been researching jobs in places like Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to vote, drive or walk unaccompanied without a male companion. I’m not sure if my conscience could accept this state of affairs but if I’m ever employed by the oil-rich nation, I would have to keep my opinions to myself as the Saudi rulers make Europe’s far right extremists look as liberal as a gay pride march. One leading Saudi politician recently said women will be allowed to drive only when society is “ready”, presumably after watching educational Western programmes like Top Gear or Formula One races, where women in the driving seat are plentiful. In other words, the principles I have been quietly cultivating for twenty years shall be eviscerated in favour of £30k a year tax free and extremely generous terms.

Oh the capitalist stooge I have become.


Unashamed classism

Young people are always being told to “Aim high” or some variation thereof. Unlike many of my classmates, I was blessed with around seven spare brain cells so this was drilled in to me. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being the best you can be but stark reality indicates that not everyone can end up a multi-billionaire. It ignores the fact that some people are quite content with being average thank you very much.

When choosing where to study, there was an option of applying for Oxford or Cambridge (I say option – my tutors kept telling me to “Aim high” so I had little choice). I was getting good enough grades and with admissions tutors at top institutions increasingly wary of the number of state school plebs among their ranks, there was a small chance I could get in. When it came down to it though, I couldn’t bear the thought of gaining a classical education surrounded by poshos called Hugo and Tangerine de Fru Fru for three years, not least because I have no idea what a fish fork looks like.

I did visit Oxford for an open day. Admittedly, a little part of me was curious about the conventions and wisdoms of one of the oldest universities in the world. I wasn’t disappointed by the calibre of my fellow attendees; most of them were quite pleasant, although there was a sharp divide between the country bumpkins who were trying to look like public school toffs and the public school toffs who were trying to look like country bumpkins. According to them, all you need is a straw hat and suddenly you become one of the fucking Wurzels.

As I was meandering around one of the many colleges, I thought long and hard about what I might learn in such an environment. Obviously, after three year’s tutelage among some of the finest minds in the land, I would be fully aware of the latest drugs sweeping the nation. There would be a strong likelihood I would develop a speech affectation that makes me say “yah”. Furthermore, I would probably have networked with half the future Shadow Cabinet. It was then that I decided this wasn’t for me.

I am unashamedly classist. I hold deep reservations about people from a rich background, even if some of them are genuinely nice people. “When have you had to struggle?” I wonder when I see floral dress-wearing Abigails talking about their gap year like I’m ghost-writing their autobiography under the instructions “tell me everything”. There is a fair amount of jealousy involved, no doubt. Imagine life when the major worry in your day to day existence is getting the smoothie maker to work. Still, the reason for this hearty bitching, baseless and prejudiced in the most part, is an article in The Daily Telegraph.

Headlined “Drunk and disorderly… Cambridge’s finest”, it details a May Day celebration in which nearly 2,000 students took part. “Police and paramedics had to intervene after students caused chaos during a party in a public park where they stripped, vomited and drank themselves unconscious” states the report, coming across like a strict maid in a boarding school, tutting as she changes the boys’ bed sheets.

In case you were under the illusion that this was all harmless larks, you should inspect the next sentence – “Some were seen urinating in the park flower beds”. Well, knock me out with a fencepost! Drunk people piss in silly places! In the students’ defence, when you’re having a good time, the last thing you want to be doing is explaining to hassled staff at the local McDonalds that you REALLY HAVE purchased some food so please press the switch for the toilet door pronto.

Pictures beside the article are hilarious, populated as they are by blazer-wearing Hoorah Henrys shifting their drunken mates into the safety position. One image shows a chap who looks like Prince William’s smugger lookalike pushing a trolley loaded with booze, helped by another upper class Herbert who resembles all five members of One Direction rolled into one, given a voucher for Urban Outfitters.

There is a history of unruly behaviour in the ranks of our finest universities, including the notorious Bullingdon Club, whose ex-members include David Cameron and Boris Johnson, smashing up restaurants and asking Daddy to pay the bill.

At the end of exams in June, things get even dicier. An event called Suicide Sunday was barred from taking place on Cambridge University premises after (wait for it) “A female jelly-wrestling competitor was arrested for punching a spectator in 2008”. In all fairness, if an event I organised was to be banned, I’d want it to be for precisely this reason.

You know you’re working class when you have no desire to be punched by a jelly wrestler.