Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guiding me to the Forest Path

On a Sunday lunchtime, a group of us get together in the 'Rat & Ferret' to enjoy a couple of pints of Dr Ethaniel Nightswerve's Velvet Cudgel and generally socialise. Topics of conversation are wide ranging and eclectic.

There are the common themes like our discussions on Evar's latest attempt at inclusion in the record books, postulations on the miracles of engineering that must constitute the barmaid's undergarments and the prospects of Oundelian Wanderers qualifying for European football. The latter topic we discuss with much head shaking and tutting now that the Oundelian star striker, Stan 'Twinkletoes' Ferchop has been injured in a freak pedicure accident.

As the level of the ale lowers in our glass, the conversation diversifies and starts to meander through life's little mysteries. (See Note 1).

On Sunday, the conversation had somehow found its way to the subject of teachers. As I recounted a memory of one particular teacher, I suddenly found Bertram Willder at my elbow and thrusting his card into my hand.

Trust me, you do not want to have a person like Willder at your elbow. He is one of those people who seems to be able enter a room without opening a door, so the shock caused me to spill a few drops of the Velvet Cudgel on my sweater. (see Note 2).

I looked at the card. For that particular event, Willder was operating as ‘B. Willder’, solicitor and partner in ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ law practice franchise.

Willder looked genuinely shocked as I declined the offer and started to start on his well rehearsed sales pitch. (see Note 3). However, when I made to tip some of the Vevet Cudgel on his sharp suit, he backed off. Muttering under his breath, he slithered away to pester another regular with an opportunity to invest in a steam powered toothbrush company.

You see, my setaceous yeomen, I am not a litigious soul. Besides, the subject of my anecdote, my ‘careers’ teacher, is protected by the simple fact that I cannot remember his name.

I can picture him well enough, the crop of unruly sandy hair, the patchy moustache that sat unevenly under his bulbous red nose. I can see him sat opposite me, eyes desperately trying to focus, the vein on his temple throbbing gently as he tried to control his natural aversion to teenage boys.

He wasn’t a dedicated careers teacher. His main subject was maths. It was generally accepted that the reason was that he became careers master was because he was the last to find an excuse when the headmaster asked for volunteers. His unfortunate and ironic assignment as the teacher to set young people onto the ideal career path was probably due to his need for constant nips from a bottle of Johnny Walker whenever faced by pupils.

The method for helping us making the career choices was ‘computer aided’. We were given a questionnaire with a number of questions. You answered the questions on a card which were collected and sent away to be processed by a huge computer.

It was the early days of computing.

Some weeks later the results came back and you were scheduled a meeting with the careers teacher.

I went in with an air of expectation only to be knocked sideways by stale whisky fumes. I recovered, sat down and waited for teacher to focus on me. He put the bottle, badly disguised as a brown paper bag in a drawer. At the third attempt, he grabbed a sheet of paper and thrust it my approximate direction.

Forest Ranger.” He slurred.

“Eh?” was my response. “I have a tree pollen allergy.”

He shook his head, grabbing the desk for support as he did so. A short monologue ensued in which he evangelised on the infallibility of the modern computer before drawing the consultation to a close with a bellowed “Next!” (see Note 4)

My career as a Forest Ranger was short lived. For a start there were a lot of us Forest Rangers roaming the Wiltshire countryside trying to herd trees into a forest. For those of you who have ever tried to herd trees, you will know how difficult it is. The task was made all the more difficult by there being more Forest Rangers than actual trees, so hardly a day went by without some squabble breaking out over a copse. In the end, they decided that perhaps we would be better employed elsewhere and they made me work in an office, doing menial and repetitive tasks while being ordered about by a man in a shiny polyester suit.

I didn’t last at that either. Perhaps, I was a bit harsh on that poor careers teacher. After all, I did end up working with computers. Maybe his monologue on the infallibility of computers did have an impact on me after all. Mind you, I just wish that somebody told me that if you really wanted to make money, live in a huge mansion and always have a pretty girl on your arm, you should set up your own international porn empire.

Note 1 : It widely accepted that on Padstow's birthday, when the drink had been flowing particularly freely we had actually managed to solve the riddle of the meaning of life. Sadly, none of us thought to write it down and the answer was lost amongst the resulting hangovers.

Note 2 : Which is a real shame. I liked that sweater. Now, instead of the happy faces of those chirpy Disney characters, Chip and Dale, exalting the world to smile on the front, it is now a mass of holes. It looks like it has been the victim of a swarm of moths on acid.

Note 3 : A sales pitch that apparently swayed Stan ‘Twinkletoes’ Ferchop, who has not thought this through. While he did undoubtedly stagger away from the pedicure, the circumstances are likely to cause a media frenzy that could cause him to lose his lucrative endorsement from Borthwicks, the family horse liniment supplier to the stars. Just what he was doing in an unlicensed foot parlour in Soho on the eve of the game against Aston Villa is going to be hard to explain. However, it is the fact that the pedicure was being administered by a naked girl smeared in boiled rhubarb that will probably lose him the sympathy of the court.

Note 4 : It transpired later that using the logic of the infallibility of computers, 60% of school leavers that year were destined to be Forest Rangers. 20% were going to were going to be bankers and bring the world economy to its knees and 18% were going to be car mechanics. The other 2% were going to have a long and happy career on the stage as drag queens.

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