At the end of our Estonian contract, we’d been offered jobs teaching in a newly-opening British Council centre in Sofia, Bulgaria. However, just as we were preparing to pack up, we were told that the project had been postponed. We’d fallen out of the recruitment cycle, and had to return to England.
I got a shelf-stacking job in the Co-op, and my wife (then girlfriend) worked on the fish-counter in Sainsbury’s. After a few months, she managed to get a marketing job with Canon (the camera company) and I went to work selling books to bookshops for the publisher, McGraw-Hill.
From there, I worked as a sales & marketing manager for a dictionary publisher. I tried my hand at writing resource books, co-writing a workbook to prepare students for a language exam. On the turn of 2000, I saw an advert for an education content developer, working for the fruitiest of the mobile phone networks.
After going through a series of bonkers assessments and interviews, they rather impulsively gave me the job. I then spent a couple of years living a kind of cut-price Wolf of Wall Street lifestyle developing innovative (abortive) products for a nascent (non-existent) market. These were the days of WAP: small green and black screens upon which people were prepared only to make phone calls, send SMS and play Snakes.
I developed and launched a translator, a language learning SMS service, a dictionary and (my absolute nadir) a ‘diet buddy’ SMS service (example text: ‘Feeling hungry? Try cleaning your teeth to quell the pangs’). Good grief!
From this point, I basically tumbled through reorganisations, redundancies and relocations (the stuff of early noughties’ life) from telecommunications to electronic publishing and finally resting in a Hong Kong-registered consumer electronics company.
I distinctly remember standing in front of several techie journalists at a product launch, extolling the virtues of a globular white speaker, blaring Basement Jaxx from a small iPod in a wireless docking station a few metres away. I was jabbering away, teeth gleaming, suit shining, and I started to feel slightly disembodied. The over-riding sensation was that I was essentially useless. I was selling products that had ephemeral value to people who would discard them as soon as the next conspicuous innovation popped up.
Coming home from work, I stopped and rang my wife (we got married somewhere between Diet Buddy and the speaker). I said that I was sorry, but that I didn’t think that I could continue on the track we were on. I’d been spinning off into infinity ever since falling off the teaching circuit between Tallinn and Sofia.
We moved north. My wife got a job at Newcastle University and, rather fortuitously, I got onto the PGCE at Newcastle.
In the final part, I meet OFSTED and become an exuberant dancer.