Friday, 10 September 2010

The road to work

Go a few doors up to the top of our late Victorian terrace and you come to a main road we'll call the A666. Turn left and you are heading for the centre of town, turn right and you are heading for work. At least, you were nearly two months ago. I think we should be careful of drawing analogies here, though. At the moment it really doesn't look as if turning right is taking the nation to work.

A couple of days ago I turned left at the top of our street. It was sunny and warm but early autumn had nipped the leaves of some of the trees. As far as I was concerned, it was early afternoon too, because it wasn't long since lunch. Lunch used to be about getting food all over your tie and the papers on your desk as you ate with one hand and got ready for the next lesson with the other. The cup of coffee after it was not a gentle post-prandial treat so much as an urgent necessity which could be scuppered completely by a student at the door with a complicated piece of paper.

Not so the other afternoon. Walking in the opposite direction from work into the sunshine, I ran into an old student. We'll call him Bulent as he's from Turkey. He was in my Business English class, so he's used to me providing lesson materials that promote a jaunty view of the global economy. "Hello," said Bulent's lips, "Nice to see you. How are you?" while his eyes said "Pardon me, but what are you doing in the middle of the afternoon in jeans and no tie strolling down the road?" As I explained, he said he had heard a lot of people had gone from my old college. He then told me that his job and his wife's were at risk too. At the very least he might have to go down to less than £6 an hour.

I said I was afraid that it was going to be like the eighties again. Bulent, who wasn't here then and to whom Margaret Thatcher is a piece of folklore, asked me about those days. I was out of work briefly then too, and made redundant. Demons in folk tales, like bad dreams, have a habit of coming back. While Bulent went off up the road and I went down it, he wished me luck getting work and I wished him luck keeping it.

Further on and nearly at my afternoon's objective, I met another student from my Business class. This was Timmy (young Chinese people often choose an English name for use here - which sometimes comes out a bit Enid Blyton). I remember teaching Timmy's class what 'commodities' means. As we talked grandly about gold and oil, Timmy said his father was in steel and construction, so I asked him to bear me in mind when he went into business himself. This time, meeting me on the sunny street, he cheerfully informed me he would be coming back to college soon. When I told him that I and his other English teachers wouldn't be there, his eyebrows disappeared into his fringe.

I bought some bread (my objective), which is made from the commodity wheat. The price of wheat on the markets is sky high right now. And the high early autumn sky was still blue as I got on a bus full of school children, and we went back up the A666 in the direction of work.

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