I had a chat with my friend Dave last night. He is still working at BHASVIC and enjoying it, despite remote learning. It was great to chat to him and I was genuinely interested in news from my old workplace but it all seems such a long time ago. I’ve been thinking about my “career” recently and the part that luck played in moving from job to job.
After four years at Netteswell, I became Head of Year. I was far too young to be in charge of the pastoral care of 150 children. I did some good things and made some mistakes. My abiding memory of those three years is sharing an office with John, chatting with him about the children, our bosses, Van Morrison and pork pies. Great days, never to be repeated. In no subsequent job did I ever share an office with someone with the same level of responsibility and a lifelong friendship was formed with one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet.
However, Essex County Council had other ideas and they decided to close all the Sixth Forms in Harlow schools and create a Sixth Form College in 1984. This necessitated two schools to close and Netteswell was one of them. My Year group were identified as having to leave Netteswell in 1983 as they had 2 years of schooling left and it was correctly felt that it would be ridiculous to expect them to transfer in the middle of their ‘O’ levels and CSEs. I had to liaise with three receiving schools about the subject choices they would make. It was hard work, very rewarding and also worrying because my job was disappearing a year before the school closed. I applied for a job as Head of Maths at Chancellor’s School in Hertfordshire. By this time, the Headteacher of Netteswell had also left and his Deputy, Gareth (not his real name) was Headteacher. Gareth was about to retire and in order to give as much support to his staff as he could, he wrote glowing references for anyone who was applying for a job. I found out later that he wrote on every reference that this was the best teacher he had ever seen in 40 years of teaching. By the time I went for the interview, the Senior Management at Chancellor’s had seen the reference and so I was a favourite before they even saw me. There were 6 of us being interviewed. We all looked around the school in the morning and had interviews in the afternoon, starting around 1:00 p.m. The last person’s interview finished at around 4:00 p.m. and we all sat in the staffroom waiting for the result to be announced. After an hour the Headteacher came into the staffroom and told 4 of us that they could go but they wanted to interview one of the other candidates and me again. When I went in, they asked me how my friends would describe me because I had come across as very flippant. I can’t remember how I answered, probably something along the lines of hard working with a sense of humour I guess. It was clear from their question that I had failed to disguise a characteristic part of my personality, namely that I was a smart arse. A few years later I was told by the Deputy Head that the thing that clinched the job for me was the reference that Gareth had written. “It’s anybody’s game when the wheel starts to spin. Somebody’s gonna lose, somebody else wins.” In this case – me!
After 7 years at Chancellor’s I had had enough of being belittled, not trusted and overlooked. That was my perspective anyway. I’m sure that they had had their fill of a bolshie smart arse and were pleased to see the back of me. I applied for jobs in Harlow, where I still lived and I saw that at Brays Grove, the Deputy Head was someone called Harry (not his real name), who had been Head of Science at Netteswell. He and I had always got on and when I applied for the job there, he was an advocate for me and ensured I got the job. Coincidentally, John got a job as Deputy Head there one term after me. We were back working together again. Brilliant. However, I was still a smart arse and within a few months I had written Harry an unpleasant note complaining about something trivial. “Then you close your eyes and start to dream of a brand new dream in a far off town.” No – it was a closer town – it was where I lived. Pay attention Peter Case. This wasn’t a good move for me. I didn’t enjoy working there – the children were difficult – the only saving grace was working with John again. “Whether you win or lose – that’s the blind luck blues”.
After three years out of teaching between 1995 and 1998 I applied to get back into teaching. I had an interview at St. Paul’s School and failed to get the job. Afterwards I asked one of the interview panel for feedback and he told me that some of my answers were a bit vague (flippant maybe?). When asked in the interview whether or not I would take in a book sample from the department I should have said I definitely would, rather than say I might do. A few weeks later I got an interview at Oakmeeds and I was asked about monitoring the department. I replied that I thought it was very important to take in book samples. At that point everyone on the interview panel looked up and after a momentary silence, they all started scribbling notes furiously. I got the job. More good luck. “He’s always got a trick or two up his sleeve. I’ve seen him play a few tricks you wouldn’t believe”.
Having worked at Oakmkeeds for 13 years I learned that the Head had finally had enough of me and my responsibilities were going to be removed from me within a year. I met my very good and trustworthy friend Keith for a drink and he told me that his son was leaving his job at BHASVIC and there was going to be an opening there. My friend Peter was working there and I got him to help me find out about working there. That was the best job I ever had. “All the evidence points to providence. But your common sense says coincidence.”
So there you have it – every time I got a new job it was mainly down to blind luck.
Peter Case was born in New York 2 months before me. He was in a group called the Plimsouls for a few years but has since forged a well regarded solo career releasing 12 records. Wikipedia describes his music as rock’n’roll, blues or folk-rock. I would say it’s very rootsy. “Torn Again” is one of only 2 records I have by him. Listening to it again over the past hour, it’s hugely enjoyable. It features Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar. The records that Greg Leisz has played on are, literally, too numerous to mention but here are a few that I have: “Demolition”, “Love Is Hell” and “Ashes And Fire” by Ryan Adams; “The Naked Ride Home” and “Standing In The Breach” by Jackson Browne; “Shadowland” and “Ingenue” by kd Lang; “Turbulent Indigo”, “Taming The Tiger” and “Shine” by Joni Mitchell; “The Salvation Blues” by Mark Olson; “Wrecking Ball” and “Western Stars” by Bruce Springsteen; “Girlfriend”, “Altered Beast” and “100% Fun” by Matthew Sweet; “Here Come The Choppers”, “Strange Weirdos” and “Recovery” by Loudon Wainwright III “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”, “Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone” and “The Ghosts Of Highway 20” by Lucinda Williams. He is everywhere and he’s brilliant.
My favourite song is “Blind Luck” and I’ve already quoted from the lyrics. It’s got a resolute rhythm, a memorable melody, some soulful singing, heavenly harmonies, interesting instrumentation, gorgeous guitarwork and wonderful words.
Joseph Conrad said “It is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck”. There’s nothing more to be said.