Read After Burnout.
It makes no sense.
Read After Burnout.
“Several years ago, when the Author retired to his native mountains with the hope of being enabled to construct a literary work that might live, it was a reasonable thing that he should take a review of his own mind, and examine how far Nature and Education had qualified him for such an employment.
“As subsidiary to this preparation, he undertook to record, in verse, the origin and progress of his own powers, as far as he was acquainted with them.
“That work, addressed to a dear friend, most distinguished for his knowledge and genius, and to whom the author’s intellect is deeply indebted, has been long finished; and the result of the investigation which gave rise to it, was a determination to compose a philosophical Poem, containing views of Man, Nature, and Society, and to be entitled the ‘Recluse;’ as having for its principal subject the sensations and opinions of a poet living in retirement.
“The preparatory poem is biographical, and conducts the history of the Author’s mind to the point when he was emboldened to hope that his faculties were sufficiently matured for entering upon the arduous labour which he had proposed to himself; and the two works have the same kind of relation to each other, if he may so express himself, as the Ante-chapel has to the body of a Gothic Church. Continuing this allusion, he may be permitted to add, that his minor pieces, which have been long before the public, when they shall be properly arranged, will be found by the attentive reader to have such connection with the main work as may give them claim to be likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in those edifices.”
And so it was. And so it must be that a teacher of literature should venture out one afternoon into the choppy waters of GCSE revision. After stealing a boat before lunch, he feasted before returning to the lake.
The students were bloated from their own repast of fizzy drinks, crisps and other such snacks, and bone-melted candy. Nevertheless with a wind in behind him, he set off on the guilty adventure of rowing this group through the last waters of their preparation for the next day’s examination.
The lake of tumultuous despair had already quietened. It was flat as glass, straightforward, nothing that could challenge his recently found boatmanship. And, I hear you think, there would be catch, the vault-face, the moment when the teacher’s vain-glorious nature would be sunk.
And in the other world of words, that is what should have happened.
In my classroom, on that sunny afternoon, with no sight of overbearing peaks, or undue currents, and with the aid of a four-wheeled swivel-chair for a boat, he rowed up and down, the classroom door to his back then the windows, and his lesson ended with a note of things having reached their natural end, and he being able to square himself with what had gone before and what was still waiting for him.
What can teachers do to escape the yatta tat tat of the classroom?
I have made a number of escapes throughout my life, both literal and metaphorical. I have never raced a motorbike up an Alpine slope and attempted to jump over ten feet of barbed wire, but it is safe to say that I once had the tee-shirt, and the chinos.
My greatest escapes have been to foreign lands.
London, although not another country, was an alien environment. My love of Hemingway had led me to believe that experience was essential for understanding who you were and what the world was made of. The industrial landscape of West Yorkshire had not prepared me for the vastness of what lay beneath Watford. London, in the early eighties, was not the place it has since become. Back then it was shrouded in a greyness that sat upon its citizens like a weight from the past. Blair Peach, a New Zealand teacher and left-wing activist, had been killed by the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group. It had happened close to Southall police station during a protest march. Southall was a Sikh area that had experienced its fair share of racial incidents. There was little doubt that many of these incidents had been fuelled by a repressive police force. After Sixth Form, I joined the Met in a vainglorious attempt to put things right. Three years later, found me retreating back north and regrouping.
My memories of the Met are like pages that I have read from a book; long, long ago…
There was the initial interview at Scotland Yard in which a medical involved bending over and having your backside inspected. This had nothing to do with concerns about northern cleanliness but they were bothered about unauthorised entry. At Hendon training school, we learnt to march. We exercised and expended ourselves to the state of exhaustion under the neo-sadistic eyes of our instructors. We learnt to understand the salvo of barks and orders that were constantly fired at us. We pressed uniforms and shone boots to mirror-like quality and we studiously digested each page of the police instruction manual. We played at being policemen in mock-ups. I began to understand how stupid my accent appeared to others and started to smooth it down. More than any other thing, we were slowly being inducted into an order of authoritarian, misogynistic, racist, rightwing and wrong-minded Visigoths from another era. Life on Mars got it spot on with its depiction of characters who belonged to that time.
I use my experiences in the police as anecdotes that are rolled out on different occasions to shed a little more light upon my past. I try not to embellish these tales but am well aware of what time does to ancient events. Playing the role of storyteller amuses me. It’s a story, my history, an evolving narrative that has been changing and adapting; at both chronological ends for some time. The further I get away from the opening, the closer I get to it. This is the paradox of time that shortens the lens of experience and changes horizons and limits. The defeats I suffered during my earnest spell in the Met should have set me up for the rest of my life, but I was always an optimist who thought that things would definitely get better. Like Santiago, the old man of the sea, I have the worst type of bad luck; never knowing when I am beaten.
A fellow whom I met when my wife and I worked in the Basque Country of Spain once noted that we were always striving to better ourselves, always talking about the future as if it was a world waiting to be shaped, never sitting back and letting the tide do the work. It was perhaps easier for him as he was of the upper-middle classes and had chosen to slum it as a teacher of English as a foreign language. He couldn’t ever understand the need to make things better. He could not contemplate the desire to build defences for that time in the future when outrageous fortune might wash against them. Jacob (double-barrelled surname) had a pile to fall back on and could therefore fail in comfort. For us, failures howled in our dreams and shook us from sleep with the cold sweat of realisation that it would be like this for life. So, every day became a battle to hold our ground and to move forward, inches at a time. Stoicism can get ever so dull.
Sophie takes charge of our operations on the battlefield.
My wife is tough, resilient and generally forgiving of my escapist nature. Life has been very difficult for her with almost all of her original family now dead. Ironically, the only one still living is her natural mother. The clue lies there in so much that the woman gave birth to her, looked after her for several months, brought her to a state of malnutrition, and then handed her over to her own mother and her step-dad. My wife was adopted and then grew up wondering why her parents were so old compared to those of her school mates. There is a stagnant sea of loathing that now stretches between Sophie and her birth-mother and it is safe to say that we will never cross that vast expanse any time soon. Whatever life throws at her, she continues. I, on the other hand, have a tendency to throw it back, slam the door open and start again.
All of our escapes had been prompted by me.
I am thinking about the parachute and the German airmen in that garden all those years ago. There is me, tail-end smoking, guns stuttering and half a squadron of enemy planes swarming. I have my parachute and am pressing the ejector button. Soon only the air will be between me and the freedom of the ground. Sometimes however, they attack a helpless escapee and, when they come again, there is nowhere to hide and nothing to hide behind.
The most unusual thing is happening today.
As we are out in the garden, mowing the lawn, tidying the borders, and pulling up the weeds, the church bells are sounding as if in recognition of our travails.
The sun is shining, my wife is smiling, our youngest daughter is watching some state event on TV as she is totally unaware of what moment of significance is taking place at the rear of the house.
Together in matrimonial splendour, me and the important She are making sure that the future of our great garden is protected for another year and that upon the union that we have formed, peace and harmony will rule alongside justice and intolerance for flowers and weeds alike.
And now I must be off as I hear the sound of trumpets hailing my reappearance on the lawn.
The Missus is now sitting with the youngest watching some reality TV thing on the old Goggle-Box.
As more and more people seek the exit door of divorce to solve their marital disappointments, it seems that they are able to hold all the advantages. People have stopped getting old. Fifty is the new thirty and sixty is as well if one so desires. An awful lot of those not-so-oldies have more disposable income. They have realised hidden capital from previous assets like houses. Kids have grown up, sprouted wings and flown the nest. All in all, it sounds like a win-win situation. So, why do we know so many older singles who are desperately seeking someone?
Rebecca is a middle-aged woman who is recently divorced. She and her husband were married for 25 years when he told her he wanted a divorcebecause he is in love with someone else. For the past few years, Rebecca was unhappy in her marriage, but she never thought that they would divorce. She became accustomed to her life and it’s routine. Rebecca had no idea that her husband was cheating on her and so his revelation came as a total surprise.
She is now living alone and wondering what will become of her life. Her family and friends are there for her, with her married children living close by. Rebecca continues to work part-time at the same job she’s held for seven years. Financially, she is okay, but not as monetarily “comfortable” as when she was married.
My wife and I have been married for almost twenty-one years and we have been married to each other all of that time. It’s not always been plain-sailing. My mental health issues have sometimes made life very difficult for the both of us. There were point when we could have given up. I always tell her that she could still get a very good-looking and financially endowed partner, but she tells me to stop talking such nonsense. The bottom line is that we have stuck together and hopefully will continue to do so.
Some of our friends have not done the same. They have taken the exit door when the whole performance became a little too much or too little. Unfortunately the next big act seems to refuse to appear.
Two of our divorcee friends have spent the time since their previous relationship trying to discover the one that is meant for them. It ought to be easy in this world of instant digital-dating. Indeed, the act of getting a date does not appear to be the difficult part. What is difficult is finding another fish in the sea that has not been damaged over-harvesting or just constantly harbouring the need to be wanted for any time between five minutes and an hour.
Sex is easy, but talking to the other person before, during and after the main event seems beyond many. The end result is a whole tranche of middle-aged singletons who are going to spend the rest of their lives living alone, but with the addition of occasional sex.
Another friend of mine (male) has accepted that his lot is to satisfy his own libido and the libido of other transient sexual encounters. He doesn’t desperately go searching for anything other than the instant gratification of skin on skin.
The very first impression I gained from Read After Burnout Adventures in Everyday Madness is that it is a very professionally written and highly competently constructed book. It is most certainly necessary to have such qualities since it presents itself in what are the popular Kindle categories of memoir.
The style has prowess and clarity, and the superb narrative technique engages the reader immediately. It is notoriously difficult to write such a personal and all-encompassing book about one’s life, particularly the darker aspects, and make it entertaining as well as stimulating for readers. But you achieve this without any difficulty and this fact alone places the book head and shoulders above others of the same type.
But the book as a whole has a great deal to recommend it, not least the carefully considered and generally well executed content which I found to be very suitable for the target demographic. The references to your time in the Met, your teaching career, and struggles with mental health, allow the reader to see a very rounded and honest snapshot of your life. Furthermore, the eclectic mix of literature, poetry, and films which are peppered throughout the text, coalesce to make this book so much more than a memoir. Overall, this is undoubtedly one of the best books of its type that I have read for some time.