True mark of reality show

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Doesn't everybody sometimes want to be somebody else? I know I do.

I sit on the train (as a London commuter half my waking hours seem to be spent on trains) and look at the others around me and want to be them. Why? Because the things they have to do are not the things I have to do.

To be precise, they: look out of the window; jabber on the phone; glance at the headlines; read books. And what do I do? I mark.

On the way to work I mark. And then on the way home I mark some more. And just occasionally I stop marking and look around me, and notice that ordinary, run-of-the-mill, sane people do not mark at all!

I was at it again the other day. This time the others whose lives I was coveting were not just peering into space or fiddling with their phones.

They were talking - talking shop - the "shop" in this case being the television industry.

There were two of them - 30-something men complete with laptops and neat little pony tails and each carrying one of those mysterious silver boxes that you know are full of even more mysterious hi-tech equipment. They were talking loudly, as such men do, and there was a lot of stuff about money and camera angles, technology and shooting schedules, and about the importance of making their current show "lively".

Both of them were very sure of their judgments, with plenty of verbal slaps for both opposition (crap) and colleagues (pathetic). There was more talk about budgets, chat, celebrities. Then one of them suddenly exclaimed:

"That's it, that's reality."

At this point they began to get excited. Having bitten the reality bone, they just could not leave it alone. It seemed that the ideal show would be to take a party of C-list celebs, cast them away on a desert island, then parachute in Keith Floyd and a state-of-the-art hotel kitchen.

A mystery guest would then kidnap and imprison the celebs one by one, while the dwindling pool of survivors were forced to create a pound;100 meal from three sticks of celery and a lettuce.

OK, so I made that last bit up, but it is still true to the spirit, if not exactly the letter, of their conversation. Forget sport, drama, news, reality is the only game in town.

So now the question is, how much did I really want to be like them, these masters of the media universe? At that precise moment my own reality was provided by Charmaine. Charmaine's paper was at the top of my marking pile.

In fact it had been there for quite some time. That is because it is quite possible to lose the will to live when confronted by the wit and wisdom of Charmaine. The name on her paper catches your eye, and your enthusiasm slips away like the tide slips down the beach at Bognor Regis.

It is not that Charmaine doesn't try. No, the problem is that however hard she tries - and sometimes she tries so hard it hurts - she just does not get it. Malapropisms are her speciality: articulate lorries; dogma that bites; Elvis the Pelmet.

If ever there are any learning sticks to be got hold of, you know straight away which end Charmaine will go for.

But then you have got to hand it to her. She is always ready to come back for more. Charmaine is the perennial student. She's been on more courses than Elizabeth Taylor's had facelifts, so clearly she gets something out of it. Marking her paper might take you twice as long as anyone else's, but you mark it anyway because you know there is something to be gained from doing so.

And then next in the marking pile there is a different sort of reality.

Christopher is one of those adult students whose life has been changed forever by education. Every year you see half a dozen of them at least, students whose only previous experience of the classroom was humiliation and failure. And now they are slurping up the sweet aviation fuel of learning - and they are flying.

Marking Christopher's work is a joy, not only because it is good but because you are seeing movement, progress, improvement. And while most of that is down to him you are still a part of it, a little cog in that great wheel that is moving him along to bigger and better things.

So do I really envy them then, these ever-so-certain young men with their carefully crafted "reality" and audiences measured in the millions? Well ... yes.

But then again, I'm also aware of a different kind of reality, the kind that they would never recognise, even if it came up their bathroom plugholes and bit them on the bum.

So maybe that is the kind of reality show that is really begging to be made: two pony tails stuck in a tube train with only a bag of marking to keep them sane. Now wouldn't that sort out the men from the TV boys?

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