What's wrong with a little mellow mood music?

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Our house is wired for sound. No matter where you go, you can't get away from - well, usually it's something like cheery old Van Morrison. I have over the years learnt to tune out pretty successfully. In fact, sometimes my students have noticed this.

As I stacked the dishwasher, however, I found myself tuning in. The syrupy tones on the radio painted the career choice in binary oppositions; the job you've gotthe job you want, boring and dullchallenging and exciting, old codgersyoung vibrant things.

You would listen, wouldn't you, on a snowy December night when you had had a rough day and a late meeting and your sugar levels are down and you can't eat until you have unpacked the dishwasher because there isn't a single fork left.

"Want a job where nobody talks about pensions and retirement, but instead about the exciting things they're planning for the weekend?" Oh yes, pretty please. Give me a pen and I'll sign up.

"Teaching!" he revealed, with the panache of a magician pulling a fluffy white rabbit from a shiny top hat.

But that's the job I've got! Wailing at the radio does no good, I have found. I mean, tell me any workplace where people don't talk about pensions. Take the girl who cuts my hair. Hazel, 19, usually regales me with tales of her on-off romance. During long pauses between scissor snips, she fixes her stare at me in the mirror and tells me what he said and what she said.

Last week, though, she stopped in the middle of a really interesting story about seeing a UFO on the way to work, and started on about pensions. "I've been paying into my pension since I was 17," she told me. "The earlier you start, the cheaper it is."

Excuse me, I felt like saying. I come here to have my hair cut and hear salacious gossip and true confessions. But you see, everybody's at it.

Retirement plans, pension forecasts. And teaching is no exception.

By the time I had put some food on the plates, I had managed to overcome my playground response of stamping my foot and thcreaming till I was thick, and could argue with Mr Radio Voice on a more adult level. "With respect, Mr Radio Voice, you've got it all wrong. Teaching is not light versus dark, but rather chiaroscuro, light and dark. It is not exciting versus boring, but exciting and boring. It's full of young eager things and old cynics."

Sometimes it's light comedy. "Marilyn Monroe's in the ladies' getting ready," a colleague informed me during break. That'll be my class then, the class who have taken to heart the idea of delivering a presentation in a role. So we have Miss Monroe in a polka dot skirt, polka dot stilettos, a blonde wig and full slap, tottering down the corridor.

Sometimes it's serious drama. In my afternoon class, trouble flared up between two of the lads. I sent one to walk the corridor for a bit to cool down. When he came back, they still glowered at each other. At break, I asked them to stay behind while everyone left. The refereed session ended amicably, with the boys calling each other "man". As far as I know, they haven't knocked seven bells out of each other yet.

By the time I'd eaten and restored my sugar levels, I had warmed towards Mr Radio Voice. It's difficult to write an honest ad for teaching, I conceded.

It's not a bad job on the whole. Van Morrison came over the speakers. You know, he's quite good really, isn't he?

But hey, I thought, I'm mellowing a tad here.

Dr Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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