I grew up in a small town in the west of Scotland. It had its charms, but with hindsight I sometimes think the best thing about it was the view away from it. The people were (mostly) honest, hard-working types but it was a tough place to grow up. If you reached 50 without having had a heart attack, you were doing well. And let’s just say you could tell by the smiles of the locals that one of the town’s major exports was sugar.
So when I told Mrs Weston, my guidance teacher at school – the one supposed to, er, guide you away from a career in dealing heroin towards something that might actually be useful to society – that I wanted to be a journalist she gave me a disappointed look that indicated she didn’t have the leaflet for that one.
‘But journalism’s really hard to get into,’ she said. ‘Wouldn’t you rather be a nurse? Or a teacher?’
Those were the default career choices for those pupils with anything resembling a brain. Fine career choices they are too, for some. Trouble was, up to this point I had never expressed any interest in caring for sick people, or children. Indeed, since then, my enthusiasm for those tasks has remained at a remarkably similar low level. On the other hand, I spent my teenaged weekends writing music reviews for the local paper and got good marks in English. No, nothing there that would indicate an interest in writing for a career. Nothing at all.
But this was Greenock in the 1980s. Aspirations were low. You were doing well for yourself if you had a job, any job. There was no room for lofty dreams of doing something you might actually be interested in, or be good at. The blitz and the demise of the once-great shipbuilding industry had proven to people that even when things are good, they can turn to shit – so why not just settle for what is safe?
Fortunately my parents had raised me to be an argumentative little cow (which I consider a good thing) and to question the accepted view wherever possible, so I applied to journalism school – and got in. Not only that, but I did quite well. (Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mrs Weston!) The skills I learned there have fed me and clothed me ever since and only occasionally have I had to come into contact with sick people and children – usually when I was interviewing them.
But over the last couple of days, I’ve had to reach inside my cold, uncaring heart to find some kind of nursing skill to look after my poor husband, who had his four wisdom teeth extracted under general anaesthetic. One of them was upside down, completely buried under the gum, and had a cyst on it alarmingly close to a facial nerve. (I know, ouch!)
The first sign that I might not be the perfect nurse was my response to the fact husband’s surgeon was a woman. ‘Well, that’s good,’ I said. ‘When she kneels on your chest to yank the teeth out she won’t leave as big bruises as a big bloke would.’
And when I arrived at the hospital to find him dopey from the drugs and with ice packs strapped to his chipmunk-like cheeks, I lasted oh, at least 10 minutes before I raised the idea of maybe taking a photograph for putting on social media. Husband knows me so well after 20 years that he pre-empted me and uploaded a selfie so at least he could control the message.
So if you’re out there, Mrs Weston, just think about what you might have inflicted on the world. Far better that I am left alone with a keyboard.