My dad, a lorry driver, would say to me, he’d say ‘You don’t want to be a lorry driver, son.’
And then he’d slap on a Bruce Springsteen record, bolt down several cans of Stones and slump back on the carpet of our living room whelping ‘Bruce!’ and thumping the air out of time with ‘Born To Run’.
I say ‘slap on a Bruce Springsteen record’; he wouldn’t slap it on: he’d carefully remove the vinyl from its inner sleeve and – with freshly Swarfega’d hands – gently lower it onto the turntable. I was only 8 or so at the time and I’d already learned that it was part of a ‘separates system’ – it was his pride and joy, the altar in our bungalow.
Every so often, my older and bolder brother would sneek downstairs to change the volume on the amplifier, knowing that dad’d notice and ask which of us had been fiddling with it. I’d never had the courage to do the same. I wish I had.
I didn’t want to be a lorry driver, mainly because of what he’d said. Well, that and his twenty-or-thirty-year-or-so moaning on and on about how dull and thankless his job was. His constant whingeing must have been quietly hilarious to my mum, who’d silently and stoically mucked out hens in a battery farm and later silently and stoically emptied bed pans in an old folks’ home (an old folks’ home that, incidentally, I would later play a fateful game of ‘knock down ginger’ upon).
My parents have now retired. Long retired, indeed. For nigh-on twenty years (they are now in their mid-seventies), they’ve been sat on those outsized reclining leather chairs (with matching leather poufs) trying to figure out how their remote control works. Periodically, either myself or my brother will pop back for a blazing row or just to fix their wireless router (or a bit of both around Christmas), but essentially that’s been the steady state of their lives for as long as I can remember. Not bad for a lorry driver, really, is it?
I don’t know whether my parents ever had to write a CV, but if they had gotten round to it, I’d hazard a guess that it would be considerably shorter than mine. It’s not that I’m peripatetic or a job-hopper, it’s just that it seems normal to do something for two or three years – and then to do something else: either the same thing in a different place, a different thing in the same place or a different thing in a different place. Sometimes I have a choice, sometimes it’s redundancy, relocation or some other seemingly arbitrary reshuffle that requires humans to shuffle out and other humans to shuffle in – like an Escher portrait that is neither mesmerising nor beautiful to look at.
And so, to cut a long story short, I’m packing up my little knapsack and moving on once more – a rather more weathered and less telegenic Littlest Hobo (with a rather better theme tune). Later on this year, I’m decamping to another school in another (yet another) country.
My dad never seemed to derive an ounce of pleasure from working life – least none that he ever shared with me. Sometimes now, in the mornings, I find myself huffing around the house, getting ready to go to work, and Mrs Whats will ask me ‘What’s the matter with you?’ And it’ll be nothing. Simply learned, observed behaviour. Just like those words that spring into your mouth that are your mothers: I’m simply playing at being a working man as I’ve been taught.
But, as I contemplate my departure, someone has seemingly changed this particular record.
As I work out my days here and ready for the next, I’ve found something I wish I could share with my dad…
I love my job.
And so, as I work out my days, seemingly unbridled of consequence, I am going to give my students a parting gift. I am going to read to them that little bit more. I am going to talk and listen to their strange meanderings that little bit more. And, finally, I am going to give them the greatest gift I think that a human can give to another human.
I am going to miss them.
And so I say to my own child, as she riffles through her wicker basket of Lego, I say ‘You want to be a teacher, girl.’
And then I slap on a Major Lazer audiofile, chug Old Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine from a mason jar, and slump back on the parquet flooring of our kitchenette whelping ‘Bubble Butt’.
Maybe she won’t want to be a teacher, and I really don’t mind, but at the very least she’ll have grown up near a man who loved his job – even though it was bloody hard work. Who knows, she may grow up to be the best bloody lorry driver on the roads that she drives.
Nothing would make me more proud.