Inaction man

10th July 1998 at 01:00
I first understood the efficacy of inaction and general sabotage tactics during a student job I had one summer in Scotland. Everyone on the building site was self-employed, so when I received a set of tax forms I felt surprised that they could really apply to me.

I took them to Chappy the Banger. "Fill them in," he told me. I was shocked. I'd expected better. "Come from Edinburgh, have they? Well, send them back to Fort William. When Fort William query it, send your answer to Glasgow. That's what we've been doing for years."

I got the idea. What a man. And an early headteacher of mine was of similar stature. I was in his office one morning when his secretary came in with the post. When she had gone, he picked up the whole pile and dropped it in the bin. "If it's important they'll phone," he said.

He taught me a lot, that one, but you needed nerves of steel and the ability to lie and deny. "If they do ring up," he told me, "and start bellyaching about some form or memo or something, I say, 'I sent it to you' or 'It's on your desk, you haven't lost it have you?' Appeal to their sense of guilt - bureaucrats all feel guilty. Set them rummaging for a couple of days."

My own slant was inaction: simply don't do anything. This can, of course, provoke terrible consequences, but only if you let yourself think of them as terrible. Someone being cross with you is hardly terrible and, for the most part, crossness is all bureaucrats can manage.

There is a choice of tactics. You might, for instance, deny everything:

"Never received it, no one sent a form like that to me." Or, as above, "Done that weeks ago, not lost it have you?" Then, as a favour, you agree to do it again - and don't. Slow-talking John from PE called this "The Implacable Yes".

All of this really does work most of the time. It carries an element of risk, of course, but as I discovered when a pupil myself, suffering the cane is easier than doing the homework.

After a while, a wonderful thing happens - they stop asking you. They know you don't do that sort of thing, that you are eccentric, hopeless, unrealistic, a liar, a fool. And they leave you alone. You've cracked it.

Some things you must do - get exam entry forms right, for example. But be careful - don't be drawn in. Get the entries right and the final marks, but be as tawdry and scant with the rest as possible. On no account be painstaking or conscientious in such matters as coursework forms. It is not necessary. "They" will be cross. So what?

No, this is not irresponsible. This is something that has to be done, or rather not done, if there is to be any space left in the day for teaching the kids. Colleagues of mine were sent on a course which went on for several days. They weren't there to learn about their subject, oh no. They were there to learn how to fill in a new lot of forms. They came back with a TDLB qualification.

"What's TDLB?" I asked Slow-talking John. "Tick Dem Little Boxes," he told me.

* Alan Smith left teaching a year ago after 26 years. His second novel was published earlier this year

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