What did you want to be when you grew up? An astronaut? A nurse? A teacher? Is that what you are now? Probably not. To quote an old Jewish proverb, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.
As a teenager, I considered becoming a dictator. There seemed to be a lot of it about. After all, I grew up in a world of Mao, Franco and an entire football team of South Americans bedecked in braid, with big ideas when it came to self-portraits, fly-pasts and marching bands. The limos alone looked like a lot of fun, and that pest of a wee brother of mine would finally leave me in peace.
My only taste of the life dictatorial came during my sixth year at school when I became a prefect. The gold braid on my uniform quite turned my head and I took to stalking the school corridors shouting at the first years.
I know, it’s a shocking thing to admit, but it has left me with an abiding understanding of the impact donning a uniform has on otherwise sane, ordinary people, particularly if the get-up involves a peaked cap. Looking at you, parking attendant on George Street three days ago.
To be utterly honest with you, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
The subject came up the other day when the son came home from school, clutching an application form to be allowed to do his fifth and sixth years.
Jings, all I had to do was turn up. Now kids have to sit an interview to sit exams.
It looks like the sort of job application forms I encountered back in the 1980s, wittering on about goals, targets and personal statements, which is a bit of a stretch for a teenage boy whose most profound personal statement to date is which size of pizza he prefers.
So, if there’s an application form, can he be turned down? If he gets the position and then gets fired, will he be regarded as underemployed or understudied?
If that’s the case, what on earth am I going to do with him? The only time I get to clean his room is when he’s at school. I dread to think what’s brewing in the stoor under that bed.
Tackling the black art of white lies
I’m quite fond of Section 6, snappily entitled “General Information – use this space to add any information about yourself that may be relevant”.
You know this question. You’ve met it in job applications. You filled it in saying you enjoyed hillwalking and stamp collecting and you spend your evenings at first aid classes.
Truth be told, the only time you’d ever tackled a hill was the slope up the High Street to get to the Jolly Judge, the only stamp you ever collected was on the back of your hand from that dodgy nightclub you went to in Dundee and it’s a bit of a rebrand to refer to binge watching of ER as “learning first aid”.
This is an excellent question, since it teaches the valuable skill of making things up on application forms.
The school of hard knocks
Amongst the demon selection of questions we find “write a short statement about your reasons for wishing to return to school for S5”.
Well, at the risk of being howled down for being a bit obvious, how’s about to continue education?
Oh, wait, perhaps it’s a trick question. If they answer “because my mum told me you couldn’t leave school until you were 18” then us fibbers have been rumbled.
Plan ahead? Don’t be silly
My favourite question asks applicants “how you see your plans the next five years” (sic).
Well, for one thing, if you want to ask a question to spark, inspire and provoke ambitious thoughts, I suggest it should be grammatically correct. I could be wrong here, but I think the word “for” might be helpful in there.
Five years? It’s a teenage boy we are dealing with here. If I can get him to plan five minutes in advance, and that includes the brushing of hair and teeth, then I’m doing just fine.
Well-planned teens are terrors. Some of us are old enough to remember the spectacle of a long-haired 16-year-old William Hague, pictured, haranguing the 1977 Tory Party conference. And you bet he had a plan.
And just what’s so great about a teenage planner, anyway?
What if that short planning statement reads: “I will hit straight As in my exams, so I’m going to look really, really good in your league table stats, and then I’m going to pass my driving test. After that, I’m going to hire a car in Turkey and hightail it across the Syrian border to become a bride of Jihad.”
That’s a plan.