Decisions. There’s a thing. Some decisions can change your whole life. Generally speaking there’s not a lot I would change about my past decisions, except for maybe some earlier crucial ones; some of the ones I made at school. Way back then, my two top subjects were English language and art. In fact, now I think of it, I was the toast of the art class. People loved my paintings and drawings and I loved art. Our art teacher was a guy called Mr Markland. He wasn’t a man with a great affinity for people. In fact he was a rather cool customer but I always liked him and got on well with him.
Another teacher, probably the most disliked teacher in the school was Mr Ashton, the metalwork teacher. He had a rather bad habit of getting very angry at his students and throwing whatever was handy at them. As this was the metalwork class that would be something metal, and heavy. Many a time a hammer or a chunk of metal flew past my head towards some offending pupil. What would have happened had he hit someone well I don’t know. Maybe he had a good aim and was choosing to deliberately miss students. That was an age prior to the current politically correct and health and safety conscious one we live in now.
Mr Markland was a superb artist. I remember one day sketching something. I think we had to produce some kind of large figure, I had chosen a cowboy for some reason and Mr Markland took my pencil and started to make some gentle curves on the paper. He held the pencil not like someone would hold a pencil to write but in the way someone would hold a paintbrush, holding it lightly at the top and making these confident curves on the paper. After a few moments the shape of the cowboy became apparent: The waistcoat, the bandana tied around the neck, the gun belt at an angle. The hat and so on. I have always wished I could draw like that.
One day there came the moment when we had to choose. Choose which subjects we wanted to study and to take forward to O level or beyond. When I look back now my thinking then was just, well, bonkers!
My number one love in those days was motor racing and I harboured some kind of distant idea of working in motor sport, of perhaps even being a racing driver. Problem number 1: we had no family car and my Dad couldn’t drive so any idea of doing what Jensen Button and his Dad later did in Karts went out of the window. Anyway, that’s why I chose metalwork because I thought I could become a mechanic, get work with some motor sporting garage and maybe break into motorsport like that. The thing was that when we came to choose our subjects it wasn’t just ‘I want to study this’ and ‘I want to study that’, it was a case of this OR that. Chemistry or biology for instance, you couldn’t do both. I wasn’t happy and it had come to a straight choice of metalwork or art. Foolishly, metalwork won. After all, a metalwork O level would help me get a job whereas an art O level, well, what could that do for me? (What a fool I was!)
One day I met Mr Markland in the corridor and he stopped me and said “Steve, you’re going the wrong way. We’ve moved to the new art room on the first floor.”
It was then I had to tell him. “Mr Markland, I’m going to the metalwork class.”
“Yes. I’m in the metalwork class.” Clearly he didn’t understand. “I chose metalwork.”
Mr Markland looked as though he had been slapped in the face by a wet kipper. “You chose metalwork instead of art?”
“Yes,” I said meekly.
Mr Markland thought for a moment and then said, “I see,” and walked on. He never spoke to me again.
It would be nice to record that I excelled in metalwork, left school and became a mechanic for a formula one team. The fact is I hated metalwork although the hated Mr Ashton became a much nicer teacher now he knew (well, thought he knew) that I actually liked his class. After many years of hard graft I produced a metal bolt that was rather stiff. I thought I could attach it to the back door but when it was screwed to the door it proved rather difficult to open. One day my Mum told my Dad, “Get that bloody bolt off that door. I can’t get the door open in a morning!”
I gave up the idea of working in a formula one team. Instead I had a new vocation. I would become a journalist. I went to my careers teacher, Mr Sherrif and told him.
“So how are you going to do that then?” he said.
Wasn’t he the one who was supposed to tell me what to do?
“I’m not sure,” I answered.
“Ever thought of going to the Manchester Evening News?”
Now, that’s more like it. “That’s a good idea,” I said.
“Only they don’t take trainees.”
“Anyway, I’ve got just the thing for you.”
Mr Sherrif rummaged around on his desk, produced various papers, flicked through a notebook and dialled a number. After some idle chit chat he seemed to be arranging an appointment, I could hear my name mentioned and something about ‘nine thirty’ tomorrow. Of course, He’s onto the evening news. He’s got me a job interview, and to think people say Mr Sherrif is rubbish and all he ever does is get people interviews at Barclays Bank!
“There you are,” said Mr Sherrif when he put down the phone. He scribbled something on a slip of paper.
“Tomorrow at nine thirty. You know where Barclays bank is don’t you?”
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