It’s a proud day when your boy goes for his first job interview with a career in mind and says he wants to borrow your suit. He left school two years ago, aged 16, knowing a bit about the Nazis and how to bake a scone and that’s about it. He gained no qualifications, something of an achievement these days. The parents’ evenings I attended each year were like going from one party political broadcast to another. Through their unhappy smiles, his overworked teachers assured me that my boy was either ‘brilliant’ or ‘doing brilliantly’. Which was a strange thing for anybody concerned about academic excellence to say about a lad who has never read a book in his life, nor shown the slightest inclination to do so. Neither can anyone at home recall a single occasion when we saw him flourish a pen. I reconciled myself to this discrepancy by assuming that the language of approbation has become so devalued that the word ‘brilliant’ now means, at best, ‘crap’.
He is aiming to join Her Majesty’s Prison Service. He’s been making applications via the internet since his 18th birthday. The supermarket checkout job and latterly the care-in-the-community job he saw as time-fillers until he was accepted as a prison warder. What suppressed instinct, in Freudian or any other terms, could be satisfied by spending one’s life keeping recidivists under lock and key, doesn’t bear thinking about. If pressed to give a reason for settling his ambition on such an authoritarian career, he says it is mainly because he has always enjoyed watching the TV comedy series Porridge, starring the late Ronnie Barker.
I don’t laugh at this, or accuse him of naive romanticism.
I was once influenced in my choice of career by a movie.