HOW DO others see us? How do they see us in our work - as labourers in that great gritty garden that is post-school education? The answer can be surprising.
Last week, I was invited to join a book club. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, but this particular come-on was interesting because it was addressed to me as a lecturer. Or, to put it another way, someone, somewhere, thought that the 80 books they had on offer at knock-down prices were the ones lecturers most wanted to read.
A quick glance showed that the titles fell easily into well-defined categories. The first and largest category was sex. In the fevered imagination of one bookseller at least, what we most want after a jolly evening of marking and preparation is not a nice cup of Horlicks but hour upon hour of sexual athletics.
Indeed, the very first title on offer is that old and trusted favourite of further education practitioners everywhere, The Kama Sutra. And this edition, we are promised, is not just any old edition, but The Complete Kama Sutra - lest we feared any of the 437 limb-crunching contortions would be omitted.
The accompanying blurb promises to introduce us to "the pleasures, techniques and etiquette of sex". I can picture lecturers the length and breadth of the land sitting up in bed and declaring: "After you with the whip Alicia." "Oh, no, after you!"
Next up we have The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. While it isn't specifically mentioned, I can't help thinking that this must come complete with a special lecturers' appendix: 90 naughty things to do with a general national vocational qualification marking scheme.
More suited to the market, perhaps, is the academic-sounding, Sex in History (not to be confused with that other concept current amongst the greying constituency that is FE, Sex is History). And then there is the real downer. The slim volume which shows you what they really think of us: Sex for One. At first sight you might be forgiven for thinking that what you had, so to speak, in your hand, was the coy sub-title for The True Confessions of Prince Charles. But no, it really is about what it says it is about. To quote, once again, from the booksellers' blurb, Sex for One, by Betty Dodson, is "an inspiring guide to increasing sexual pleasure through self-love".
So, abandon ecstasy. Put aside etiquette. Forget history. What we are is what our students are always telling us (behind our backs at least): wankers!
Maybe we should turn to something more edifying. Examine some of the other titles specially selected to intrigue and entice us. It seems that we are obsessed with our bodies and our minds and how both can be improved. At least a dozen books are devoted to these activities - such as Banishing our Bellies and Mapping our Minds.
Clearly, though, we do sometimes think of higher things, as there is another cluster of books with the word Bible in the title. Although, now I come to think of it, wasn't that where Sodom and Gomorrah first hit the headlines?
Then there are those titles that seem to be more directly connected with our employment. In fact some of them look as if they might have been deliberately planted by our bosses. Could money have changed hands, one wonders?
After all, who stands to gain most by alerting lecturers to Steven Silbiger's little classic The 10-Day MBA? With that established as the norm, it's surely only a matter of time before we have The Three-Week BTEC National or the snappily-titled A-level Archaeology in two Wednesdays and a Saturday morning.
And who else but an employer, with a warped sense of humour, would add to a book list for further education teachers in 1999 the title: The Joy of Work?
Then there is that book-club stalwart, Nostradamus. Here we have The Secrets of Nostradamus, a major new interpretation by David Ovason. Obviously, this is on the list for a purpose. Could it be for the passage "as the millennium year draws nigh, men will mutter, women will wail and a great darkness will fall upon the land" - surely as clear a prophecy as any for the creation of the Further Education Funding Council?
To sum up then, to see ourselves as others see us, as the bookseller sees us: by day we work hard, attempting to package up our courses into ever smaller parcels. We strive to keep fit for this great task by remaining supple in both body and mind. We love our work and read the Bible every day.
But come the night and we are different animals. Tirelessly ascending towards the peaks of sexual ecstasy, we fulfil the criteria for an NVQ in multiple orgasm at levels 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously. And then, when our poor partners cry "no more", we sneak off to the spare room with the title designed to be read with one hand, and practise "self love".
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London FE college