The Working People
Why should I? I haven’t broken your snowflakes in a blizzard rules. I know them off by heart. You have no right to haul me in here. You know you can’t ask to worm your way inside my mind. We gained that right only a few months ago but every one of us knows about it. The working people being offered that tiny scrap of dignity because the demand took the leisure people by surprise.
My birth parent said there used to be a caste in India known as the untouchables and she reckoned we were the same thing in this nation that keeps changing its name. Is it the English Kingdom now – just us, Calais and Northern Ireland? No one tells us directly. We’re still grease on the pavement rather than living, breathing beings.
I guess I’m lucky I had a birth parent to tell me those bitter truths. These days functionals, like me, are bred in laboratories. The same laboratories that decommissioned my birth parent when the muscle rigidity set in. It’s not worth maintaining the working people after a certain age, not cost effective because they do less and less and need more and more serotonin.
I don't feel like something that could be bred in a laboratory. A little mist on the glass of time. A nothing at all but the trouble is no one turned my self-seeking down. No one said you don’t matter to anyone else so you must align with this world and not matter to yourself. I’m so angry my blood has separated into red bombs. Look at me you ignorant, powerful idiot! Look before I ram your stupidity into your small, bigoted skull.
But I won’t do it physically. I’ve learnt your Achilles heel. Maintenance support I’m called, smiley Sarah. You all choose me from your many options. I sort your staff without a hint of criticism. I tell you which have reached the end of their productive lives. I help you order new ones, advise you on their technical features and whether they're value for money. I make you grow so dependent on me. It’s no great deal to share your passwords, your numbers. What does it matter – I’m almost a machine?
Except I remember being human. I was at the beginning. Being human meant choices, however black or white or narrowed. You can still do x or y. The humans chose to cut the amount of time and money they spent on our maintenance. It had consequences; it meant I made a calibration error. It’s been months since the working people received strong enough doses of serotonin to keep them content.
They have a new symptom to replace the lifelong diarrhea and muscle shakes – muttering. They are coagulating in groups in corridors, muttering at each other about how unhappy they are. Finally even you leisure people noticed. You rechecked the levels I check hourly and discovered what I already know – the working people are no longer happy.
‘Explain yourself!’ You bark at me as if an increase in volume will get a different response. You hold the screen with the serotonin levels so close to my eyes I have to lean back to focus on it. A long flat line.
‘At the wrong level!’
You are so stupid I can see the thoughts wade their way through your mind. Can you decommission me? Yes but I know too much, you don't have a working person who could replace me. You're remembering my advice to go for the cheaper models, the less capable ones. Could I have done that deliberately? Your eyes narrow but your pupils remain enormous like mine used to be. The slang term for us was Big Eyes, it was the quick way of telling whether a person was working or leisure class. Have you noticed that mine have narrowed down to pinpricks?
I try to reassure you. ‘My brain hasn’t been scanned this year. I thought that was the correct level. Is it possible my calibration mode is incorrectly set? I had that accident, remember? I wasn’t checked afterwards.’
You frown at the mention of my accident. You know I should have been checked. ‘Well I can’t believe you’d do it deliberately. Make yourself and your kind unhappy? Why on earth would you do that?’
I want to tell you so badly I have to force my lips together so no words escape. In the old days happiness was the unattainable target for my kind. It was a rare commodity, something we glimpsed and lost throughout our lives. So your leader decided that the only way to keep the masses compliant and functional was to make them happy. You supplemented our diet with serotonin, gave us just enough resources to survive, made us focus on our baser emotions until we were dancing around like idiots.
We don’t dance for very long. When our original body parts wear out they are replaced with metal and plastic. It’s the nerves that do for us in the end. They stop hearing the messages from our brains, our muscles are so clogged with drugs they stop responding. Then you leisure people send us to the factories and get a new model. You like a bit of novelty, you look forward to replacing us.
We all like a bit of novelty. That’s why I turned the serotonin down for us and up for your kind. Have you stopped noticing what's happening around you, stopped working towards a better future for you and your descendants? You've woken up a bit too late. We’ve had enough of happiness, we no longer value it. What the working people crave now is anger so I'm spreading it around.
“You’re the supply, right?”
“Yes, John. John Ritchie.”
“Well, I’m Amanda. Amanda Evans. I’m the admin here. I’m also your fairy godmother.”
“You’ve not been here before have you?
“No, I did a couple of weeks at Lowtown Grammar.”
“Lowtown. Oh, middle class area. Nice pupils, nice parents and McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives in the staff room. Lucky you. I’m afraid our budget doesn’t run to choccy bics I’m afraid. You’re in Costco land here. Anyway follow me, I’ll show you the ropes.”
“What did you mean, fairy godmother?”
“Ah, a listener. Usually supply teachers never listen to a word I say. They’re so nervous about the kids they’re just thinking about survival. Well, it can be likened to a war zone, I mean we get our share of suspensions, one expulsion a term is probably the norm. No-one’s been killed here yet. We’re quite good with CPR. I daresay you’ll cope. Oh, nice tie by the way but ditch it. You could get yourself strangled with that. Better to be safe than sorry, eh? You’ll have more issues with the staff I’m afraid. Hence the phrase, fairy godmother. I can grant you three wishes Mr Ritchie, one, I can say that you never turned up. We get a lot of that. Two, you can go to the staff room in all ignorance and take your chances or three you can spend some time with me, listening to the wisdom of someone who has seen supply teachers come and go, mostly never to return. Some have even found religion, usually Buddhism or one of those new-fangled made up ones, not that all religions aren’t based on make believe…oh you’re not religious are you? I hope not, you look so sensible for that.”
“No, I’m not. Look what’s all this…”
“No time for questions, John. All fairy godmothers supply three wishes. I can only give you one. The benefit of my knowledge of this place.”
“Um is probably three in Swahili or Urdu or maybe Welsh. You’re not Welsh are you by any chance? I had a bad experience in Rhyl once. Not the best place to have any kind of experience by the way, good or bad. Anyhow, look. You’re here covering for Mr Trowbridge aren’t you? History to GCSE. Very nice man, Trowbridge but was never cut out to be a teacher. He’ll be off for quite some time, in fact I doubt he’ll be back so if you play your cards right there could be a permanent position coming up soon and well, I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I? “
“Now this is Room 2c. This is where you’ll do most of your teaching. Room next to you is Miss Radford’s. Teaches Year 7 to 9 Maths. Ginger hair, single. Quite plain. Lives with her cat. She’d like a boyfriend so watch your step. I wouldn’t think she’d make a play for you but you never know. I think she’s aiming for someone with a little more clout, I believe she has her eyes set on our Vice Head, Mr Armour. You’ll see him later. He’s married but his wife has terminal cancer. You’re not married are you; that’s not a question by the way. I’ve seen your CV. Girlfriend?”
“Boyfriend? No, you ticked heterosexual. Nothing against gays but kids can be cruel if they ever find a weak link. Come to think of it so can some of the staff. Men’s toilets to the right, stationery store. First left I have the key. You’ll need to fill out a pink slip which you’ll find in your personal locker in the staff room. Here’s the key. Please don’t lose it. If you lose it you will be charged for a replacement. You are allowed one pink slip a week so make sure you order what you require. Slips need to be in by Monday lunchtime. No later.”
“I’ll try to remember.”
“Trying will not get you a supply of pens or exercise books Mr Ritchie. Remember that. You will be expected to cover playground duty once every fortnight. I say playground with a degree of cynicism in my voice, you may have noticed that. Pupils at Lowton don’t play in the traditional sense. It can be grand warfare. If any fights break out between the girls don’t get involved. If it’s the boys use minimal violence to break it up, unless it involves the Carter boys.”
“They put Mr Chivers in hospital for a week last term but one of them was expelled. The other’s hardly ever here. Don’t bring in anything valuable, anything of sentimental value and don’t leave your mobile unattended. Some of year 11 girls picked up the last supply’s phone and took photos of themselves on it. Some of the photos were somewhat devoid of clothing. His girlfriend found them and cancelled their wedding. He was almost prosecuted. Gave up teaching of course. I believe he’s opted for a military career. So much safer. The Taliban has nothing on the kids of the Pilot Estate. Now, I’m going to show you the staffroom. The classroom may be your minefield but the staffroom’s your assault course. Before we go in please listen carefully. The staffroom has rules, all unwritten and all invisible. Break any of these and your career here will grind to a swift painful end. The kids are bad enough, the staff are worse. Look through the window. The chap in the armchair is the deputy head Mr Frobisher. Never sit in his chair. If he seems a little lop-sided it’s because of the chip on his shoulder. He believes that he should’ve been made Head two years ago. The truth is he shouldn’t even be a deputy. He’s a small man with a large ego. Teaches Maths to the sixth form and has a penchant for gin. Don’t get on his wrong side because he’s a vindictive bastard.
That girl with the mousey hair. That’s Miss Peters. Plain little thing isn’t she? Teaches Social Studies and RE. Very timid and shy. Drinks green tea and is a vegetarian. Always wears long sleeved cardigans even on hot summer days. She’s a self-harmer. Tries to keep it a secret but most of us know. She has a cat called Jekyll. Not married of course, poor girl. I’m sure she’d love a boyfriend but I’m afraid she’s doomed to spinsterhood.
That’s Mrs Brown. The fat one. She teaches Geography. She married an African whom she met online. Of course he left her after a few weeks. Fleeced her out of thousands. No fool like a fat fool is there?
The tall chap in denim is David Gilzean. Maths. Has two year old twins with his girlfriend who works in the City. He’s a bit of a womaniser. There have been rumours of an affair with Paula Smith. She’s the one in the tracksuit. Girls PE teacher. Bisexual. She lives with Sally Jennings one of the teaching assistants. She steals food from the fridge. If your yoghurt is missing you can bet its Sally. No-one says anything of course.
The men’s PE teacher, Phil Clemence is banned from the staffroom. He has poor hygiene standards. He’s very old school. Calls a spade a spade if you get my meaning. Stood for the BNP in the last election. Fourteen people actually voted for him. Probably former pupils. Even the thickest leave here with the ability to place an X!
Lois Walker, my deputy falls madly in love with any man who glances her way. Please don’t look at her. There’s a limit to how many times I have to take her to hospital after an overdose.
The French teacher, Ms Lato is Polish. She’s sleeping with Mr Saul our headmaster, His wife Sally Mae our Biology teacher left him three weeks ago. She’s Thai. She has a website we’re not supposed to know about advertising some interesting takes on Biology. It’s www.Saltaime.com.
The dark girl in the corner on her phone is Miranda Benjamin. If you see her crying leave her. She’s in an abusive relationship. Don’t get involved. If you talk to her outside school grounds you are risking serious injury. Her partner, has a banning order from approaching the school. If she talks to you outside school grounds you are on your own. No-one will intervene if you are getting beaten up. To her partner, just looking at her constitutes evidence that you are sleeping with her. If you actually do sleep with her take out medical insurance.
Mr Mukarjee, the thin chap over by the notice board is our IT manager. He’s a born again Pentecostal Christian. Don’t give him your address or arrange to meet him after work. He’ll try to convert you. There is a prayer room in B Block. The Asian kids use it to smoke weed. If we close it the parents complain.
You’ll be in charge of class 3c. You’ll have parents evening next month. Just because you’re a supply doesn’t mean you’ll get out of that. Here is a dossier on 3c. It’s comprehensive. Memorise it. The Carter boy isn’t in your class but you have others that will try to cause you grief. Never be alone with any pupil, boy or girl. We don’t do one to ones here, not since the unfortunate incident with Mr Knowles.
I’ll give you a second briefing before Parents evening. Have no fear. Bring your own lunch. The school dinners leave a lot to be desired. Don’t bring peanuts. Some of the pupils are allergic to them. If you do bring satay in for lunch and one dies say you weren’t aware of it.
Now, here’s a key to your staff locker; sign here. Here’s a key to your desk. Sign here. Don’t lose either. You’ll have a ten minute talk with Lorna Kane the Head of Year 3 in about ten minutes. Just agree with everything she says. She doesn’t like to be contradicted. Remember it and then forget it. She’s a member of the local Labour Party. Very left wing. Try not to mention Lowtown Grammar, She hates grammar schools. If she does ask about it, tell her you hated it. Middle class privilege and all that. In a few weeks she’ll ask you out for a drink. Don’t accept as it generally means a party rally.
Right, you’re on your own. Welcome to Harold Wilson Comprehensive. Good luck!”
This has been the American myth. The white collars had the brains to organize, engineer, manage and direct the path of our country...and the blue collars were there to get it done or as we say in America, 'git-r-done.' White collars are college educated, blue collars finish high school or get a trade school certificate. The hostilities between the groups were open and apparent. Feuds and resentments between school children continued into adulthood fertilizing the "us" versus "them" mentality.
This natural order was perfectly intact until Donald Trump, a wealthy, privileged upper one-percent white collar came in and swept the blue collars off of their feet. It seemed implausible. How could who lived in luxury and who blatantly scorned the working class, by bypassing their products in favor or foreign goods woo these people? If you ask any working class person you get the same response.
"I like Donald Trump because he's not a politician and he speaks his mind."
Many journalist countered with the fact that anybody can speak their mind, but it doesn't make them fit to be president.
Since that dreadful night of November 8, 2016 when the working class made their mandate, American journalist have been in a flurry trying to find the middle class. Prior to the rise of Donald Trump they were almost invisible. Although much of the mainstream media catered to their taste, their were few characters in film or TV that really portrayed them. They occasionally popped up in reality TV as the sort of white trash train wreck that gives a sordid validity to the masses.
As journalist when out to find the working class, I had no such journey. For me the working class were only a few mouse clicks away. I grew up in a working class family, back in the 1970s when we got by mostly by my dad's income at a hot, dirty foundry where they make the molds for steel products. My dad was in a union, but he didn't have a cushy union job where he made a large sum of money for sweeping the floors. He made a living wage doing hot, sweaty, dirty work. He came home with hands so greasy that he first washed them in gasoline to cut through the grease. He washed his blackened hands until they once again were brown. We were not just working class, we were black working class in a sea of white counterparts.
Although I went off to study engineering and public health and I live thousands of miles from where I grew up, I stay connected with my past via Facebook. I have a lot of friends that I have known since kindergarten. Many of these friends voted for Trump. I did not. Nor did I vote against Trump. I eagerly and enthusiastically voted for Hillary Clinton. Some of my pro-Trump friends are very blatant about it and in addition to the normal rhetoric there are also racist comments concerning the outgoing President Obama. I have deleted these friends. The others, I dialogue with, when it is possible.
I'll never forget one of my ultra conservative, Trump loving friends. For some reason, even though he is a white truck driver living over a thousand miles away, he wanted to take me out for lunch. I thought it was funny. We had a good Facebook chat and he confided that he wants to go back to the America of our childhood. Even though I was the only black in a white country town, it was an idyllic childhood. Few were rich, few were poor. Most of us were in the middle. Most of our parents hadn't attended college. We were a monolith, we watched the same TV shows, went to the same churches and had a lot in common. And while I could agree with what he was saying, I could not ignore that we are living in different times and instead of longing for the past we need to look into the future.
But for one second, it was very cool to be on the same page, to find some middle ground in this crazy apocalyptic confusion that has descended up on our country. I guess, if anything, we will always have yesterday.