Friday, 19 February 2010


It's been a long week; I've rebuilt mail servers, carried out radio surveys, attended meetings, written reports and finally got around to some billing - mustn't grumble, after 6 months of searching around for any bit of business that would fit my repertoire it's nice to be gainfully employed.

The choices made for me by a well intentioned guidance teacher at 14 set me on this course "No arts! Science and maths - that's what you'll study" my choices of music, art and history binned at the stroke of a red pen.  Although I haven't quite 'lived to regret' that decision there are times, quite often these days, when I wish I had chosen another career - but hey no regrets, at least I have a modicum of marketable skills.

My last appointment of the week was to deliver a younger member of the clan to Glasgow Caledonian University for his degree interview.  I was up at 6:00 this morning to deliver him safely, after dropping him off I drove out of the city centre intent on a walk around Hogganfield Loch to kill some time.

I haven't been there in years, Hogganfield Loch is one of those little idylls in Glasgow, one which I have fond memories of: Playing with brothers and cousins, rowing boats, ice cream and family picnics as I burned in childhood summer sun, you know that sun - the childhood one; hotter, brighter and set in a perfect blue sky, the like of which we never seem to fully recapture as an adult.

This morning couldn't have been further from those distant days (well I'm old for one thing) - it was misty and below freezing, the island in the middle of the loch hidden by mist's gray curtain; occasionally peeking around its veil to show me the vague outline of a denuded winter tree as I circuited the loch's shore.   The confused waterfowl were clumsily skating on the ice capping the loch, stopping to beak-butt the glassy surface in a vain attempt to access the larder below, then skating off to what they believed might be a more rewarding location only to repeat the whole comical beak-ice interface thing again.

I got to a-thinking not only of long gone perfect summers but of the exciting adventure my young charge was embarking upon.  He is being interviewed for admission to a BA course in Journalism, his enthusiasm for this opportunity inspiring to witness.

He has worked hard on his Highers; having given up a sought-after engineering apprenticeship (against the wishes of several family members) and is returning to study in order to pursue this dream. This was the right thing to do, in his case a mature decision based on real life experience.

View this in its stark contrast to the 14 year old high school student choosing subjects that will determine their future, with no life experience and more importantly work experience.  Is it any wonder we have so many colleges and universities offering beauty, health, sport, fitness and other pointless over-subscribed courses - these are students studying subjects based on childish choices, informed by immature interests.

Furthermore is it any wonder we have a population of unhappy, poorly motivated adults and record numbers of mature students?  I have no idea what the solution is, if there is one, what I do know is that to restrict a 14 year old through the imposition of academic blinkers in a second rate target driven education system is damaging to any modern society and the best interests of the individual.

I'm just glad some of us manage to fix the damage before it's too late, perhaps I'll pick up a prospectus from the faculty of arts - now what is it to be, gel nail technician or personal trainer?

This post is dedicated to you R - good luck honey, I'm jealous...


  1. In a way, you were lucky. I had something of the opposite experience. Although quite technically-minded, I was a late developer in Maths and was consequently excluded from all the sciences at A-level. On the basis of one careers interview and one questionnnaire, I was pushed towards an English degree and a career in teaching. Of course, that's the wrong way round. Earn your living with an actual hard skill, and read books/play music/write poetry in your spare time, that's the better way. I got out of teaching by 40, and have had a jack-of-all-trades career ever since, but I get my kicks from tinkering with machines, and always have. I suspect that all this should have been the other way round. Glad you have some work coming in, anyway.

  2. Good luck to R, hope he makes a wise decision.
    Polaris, you should not mock those who opt for studying "beauty, health, sport, fitness". Some will have a better chance of earning a living from those things rather than a degree in meeja studies from Luton 'University' which, in my view, would do better reverting to a Technical College teaching hairdressing and motor mechanics.

    Love the pic btw, reminds me of some swans that got stuck in the ice during the recent cold snap and had to be rescued by the RSPCA.

  3. I remember a teacher telling me 'if you're half interested in something you'll do well in it. Less than half interested forget it'.

    It's only now I'm old that I can calculate the difference between half interested and half enthusiastic!

  4. The most radical improment in my life came when I went self-employed. Lots of different things to do, not one boss with the power of life-and-death over your income, making you repeat the same mind-numbing stuff you did yesterday.

    I still resent the paperwork, but can sub that out to a book-keeper.

    So, when I'm asked what I do for a living, the glib answer is that I play with toys. What passes for work is in the same field as what I would choose to do if I had time to burn; the only thing that confuses people is my definition of what a toy is!

  5. A teacher once said to me

    "Your a thug and you will end up in prison"

    he was right!

  6. Agreed, my best subject by far was English and I was reasonably good at biology, which seemed to offer a better career prospect.

    I didn't realise at the time that only a handful of science graduates end up in research and academia and it pays a pittance at first...not even reaching this lofty height, I ended up joining the air force and leaving (after the Iraq debacle) to start another career, based around an interest in maps. Pays reasonably well and is even interesting occasionally!

    Sometimes I wish that I had followed my interest and studied English literature, but in a way I always have. Lifelong learning, both informal and formal, is one of the greatest pleasures.

  7. I, like one of my daughters, for various reasons, passed through Primary and Secondary Schools quickly and sat my O grades at 15 and first set of Highers at 16.

    In 5th year, aged 16 I thought to myself what would happen should I not make the grade at the Highers. So come the Milk Round of "Career Counsellors" I took myself down and what should I do with myself.

    He said I should get a Lab Techs job at Beardmores the steel works in Glasgow.

    I had been studying for Higher Geography and my teacher, David Lambie, who went on to be a Labour MP, has chosen to push the economic aspect of Geography. Thank God it was not today or he would have been toeing the Party Line on Gaia and AGW.

    I know that Beardmore's was doomed because it was in the wrong place and was also inefficient at what it was doing because of changing technology and a lack of investment in the site.

    I left that interview with my respect for the Teaching profession sliding down a helter skelter.

    I have since developed a healthy scepticism for Doctors, Lawyers and Scientific Academics. They only know more about something than I do because they got to the books first and then adopted a group language and culture that made it difficult for me to learn from the outside.

    I went onto Uni and became a professional Brewer then Distiller. Today I live in France and work in the area of wine technology.

    There are not many days when I don't thank my old Geography teacher for arming me to see through that idiot teacher's advice when I was 16. I wonder if he died in a single end with rain pouring down outside.

    Fuck him I say and my life has been dedicated to this day to doing so.

  8. My 14 year old son is making higher choices this coming week.

    As a quite level headed young chap he's interested in Music and a possible career in production.

    He's sitting eight standards in this his third year at age 14, this gives pupils two years of study for their highers.

    I was quite perplexed that given timetable restraints and the interplay between other subjects that he has no other option than to take 'Hospitality' as his fifth higher. He assures me he'll get the chance to cook, which could hold him in good stead when McDonalds come calling. Where it sits with his physics, english, music and drama highers dumfoonerts me.

  9. I went to a boys' Grammar School and was fairly bright at age 12. On the strength of this, they made me skip a year and also put me in the 'fast' stream for O-level, so I ended up taking them at age 14. This meant I did badly (I was fairly immature) and got into a bad crowd of wasters. I then had to retake the Lower Sixth year and had to backpedal for an extra year in the Upper Sixth in order to be the right age to go to Uni. I'm pretty sure this has fucked me up in many ways. The main one is that subjects I thought I was bad at (like Maths, technical stuff and History) I now love and follow out of choice. The stuff I did well in (English, mainly) is something I could easily have followed in my free time while earning a living at something else. If I had been allowed to take exams at the right time, I'm sure my life would have been much more successful. As it is, I have been a decent B-plus throughout my life, and live with a persistent feeling that someone tore page 1 out of the book I am trying to read. Schools can really fuck up your life without trying. I spent 18 years as a teacher trying not to do this to other people.

    Sorry, self-pitying rant over.

  10. I've got a lot of time for mature students. A lot of people marry young, have kids, and miss out on the chance to take some time out of having no time to think. Many more of them are now taking that chance than used to be the case, not because of the expansion of university places but because people are not as class-bound as they used to be and more likely one day to think, 'Why not me too?'