I’m just reading James Corden’s autobiography, which I bought a while back and never really got started on. He mentions the difficulty he had in choosing his GCSE options as his school weren’t supportive in them, refusing to let him do Music or RE as there weren’t enough pupils that wanted to study the subjects.
I remember having to choose my own options when I was 14. Even at that age, I realised that it seemed daft asking a 14-year-old to pick subjects that would probably ultimately help decide his future when he didn’t really have a clue as to what he wanted to do when he grew up.
Chis & Sid was an old school with a proud tradition. In other words, it was dated. At the time - though this has changed now - it didn’t teach football in Games lessons. A rugby-playing school, it only really branched into cricket, hockey and athletics as it’s other main male-orientated sports, with the basics of basketball and probably a couple of other sports that escape me now.
When it came to seeing a career guidance counsellor (is counsellor the right word?), I was given my appointment to see the guy who I think was a member of staff at the school that had never taught me before, and so knew very little about me. I sat down, ready to draw on the knowledge that he would provide, willing to listen to his ideas and interpretations and generally unsure, though feeling positive, about what it would bring.
“What is it that you want to do?” I was asked.
“I’m not sure, Sir, I was hoping to get some ideas from this meeting.”
“Well what subjects do you enjoy in school?”
“I don’t really enjoy any subjects Sir. I don’t excel at any of them, none of them really capture my imagination.”
He carried on with a sigh. “It says here that you have chosen your options already - Information Technology, History, Graphical Communication and Home Economics (Food), so you must have chosen them with an idea of what you wanted to do after school?”
“No Sir, not really.”
“Well why did you choose them then?”
The school was a grammar school, and prided itself on the general high calibre of it’s students, so the teacher was obviously getting annoyed with me who - unlike my schoolmates in the same year, and indeed unlike all the years before - I really didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do.”
“Well Sir, I chose Information Technology as I like computers.”
“Good. And the other subjects?”
“History, I chose because I HAD to choose either History or Geography, they were the only two options…”
“I see.” He didn’t sound impressed, but I ploughed on anyway.
“Graphical Communication. Well, it was either that or Classical Civilizations, and I’m not even sure what that means.”
“It’s the study of ancient - you know what, it doesn’t really matter. How about Home Economics.”
“I can’t remember, Sir. I think I had to do that or needlework as I didn’t want to do Science - so I had to settle for doing Single Science and Home Ec.”
The meeting started badly and went downhill, very similar to the reign of Roman Emporer Florianus. At least, I assume it was similar. If only I had taken some kind of GCSE that would help me back that statement up with something. The upshot was that I was asked what career I wanted when I left school, what I wanted to do with my life. This was it, my last shot at saying something - anything - that would at least be a concrete suggestion and help the school to give me the information I needed to pursue such a course.
I thought on my feet. I wanted to earn money, and my uncle, with whom I had very little contact, was a self-employed locksmith. I’d seen him throw money around in the past and figured that may be a good career.
“I want to be a locksmith.” I said, as confidently as a shy teenage boy who had been a moments thought away from studying a GCSE in needlework could possibly be.
There was a moments pause. Images flashed through my mind of this teacher helping me. Of him telling future generations how he’d had an unusual career choice from a boy once and had helped him achieve this unusual dream of mastering the secrets held by locks and safes. Of him using his contacts gained through years of careers advice to get me something tangible to apply to my schoolwork.
The silence was broken pretty quickly.
“We don’t have anything like that. Have you ever thought about working in a bank?”
The transition from denial to suggestion was a smooth one on his part, though the sheer finality of the delivery of his first few words surprised me. No, I hadn’t envisaged working in a bank, and left the meeting feeling annoyed that the advice I had received had been virtually non-existent, and that the careers teacher really didn’t seem bothered at his lack of help.
Maybe he was psychic though. A few months later I ended up doing a two-week work experience placement at the Head Office of Woolwich Building Society in Bexleyheath which revolved around doing lots of photocopying, being shown how to use a fax and filing paperwork which had been sitting around for months. I vowed at the end of that fortnight that office work - and bank work in particular - was not for me, and that I would never do it.
I left school at 16, attended college briefly for a two week period and ended up working as an apprentice locksmith. Within a couple of years I was basically working in a shop doing paperwork and putting together locks. In the decade that followed I worked in offices and in a bank.
Funny thing, life.