Thursday, October 10, 2013
The Certainty of Chance
Sometimes I feel like a cork, bobbing around in a vast occean, pushed and pulled by competing currents and air masses.
The constantly changing fortunes of self-employment remind me of the introductions to each chapter in a Tobias Smollett novel:
* I journey to London, where I shall establish myself as a merchant of some import
* On a lonely road I am assailed by vagabonds
* I am left ragged and destitute
* I meet a gentleman of some distinction, who is searching for his long-lost son
* During a tempest we retreat to an inn and I relate the tale of my antecdents
* The gentleman becomes animated
* I learn that this benevolent stranger is none other than my father
* I am the heir to a vast fortune
Or something along those lines. These days, we could accuse Smollett of 'spoilers', but somehow they add to the absurd charm of his picaresque tales.
But it isn't just self-employment that has proved to be unpredictable. A few months ago, my older son suddenly announced that he wanted to go back to school. A year and a half of home education had left him feeling isolated and his social contact was largely limited to online, multi-player games.
These games were not a success. My son regularly chastised American teenagers for making homophobic remarks, which didn't win him many friends, while they wondered who the weird kid with the squeaky voice was. Why wasn't he at school?
The prospect of getting my son back into full-time education seemed too good to be true. But there was a catch. He was determined to go to a Steiner school that he'd heard about from one of his online 'friends'. If he went, I would have to find £2,100 per term and spend the next three years driving him to the school, which was eight miles away.
Naturally, I put any objections to one side (including some reservations about how I could earn the extra £6,300 if I was spending two hours a day driving to and from the school). A few people warned me about some of the more eccentric aspects of Steiner education, but could I really deny my son this opportunity just because Rudolph Steiner believed in gnomes?
I was completely focused on getting my son out of the house again, socialising with his peers, gnomes or not.
In the face of growing pressure, I did what any sensible person would do and started watching boxed DVD sets of 1970s drama serials.
I began with this:
Described by the New York Times as "the best spy series in television history", 'The Sandbaggers' was made by Yorkshire Television between 1978 to 1980 and looks incredibly low-budget from a modern perspective. In an inversion of the 'Show, don't tell' rule of good fiction, most of the tension in the episodes is derived from people picking up phones in offices and describing events that are never seen:
"Cartwight's just called in. The No.2 at the Budapest station has just been seen handing flowers to a woman who's linked to Vedernikov."
When the cast do venture out of the office to either rescue a stranded agent or bump off an errant SIS employee, the location filming shows how remarkably versatile Yorkshire is at replicating grim, Warsaw Pact suburbs, Cypriot forests or Arctic wastelands.
It would be impossible to get away with a drama series that was almost entirely studio-bound unless the writing was top-notch. Fortunately, the series' creator, Ian Mackintosh, was more than equal to the task and with a first-rate cast headed by Roy Marsden, the result is a triumph.
It has been suggested that Ian Mackintosh's remarkable evocation of life inside the Secret Intellignece Service could only have been written by someone who was intimately acquainted with MI6. Indeed, one episode was hastily withdrawn after it was deemed to be too close to the truth. Mackintosh refused to be drawn either way when questioned about his sources.
There were three series of 'The Sandbaggers'. A planned fourth series never saw the light of day, as Ian Mackintosh mysteriously disappeared in a light aircraft while flying over Alaska. The plane's last position was some distance from the planned route and no wreckage was ever found.
Here's a brief clip from the end of the first episode:
I really enjoy ploughing through a boxed set, but would I be able to afford such luxuries once my son was at his new school?
Then suddenly, without any warning, my son announced that he'd changed his mind and now wanted to go to a normal state school. I questioned his decision and was given a remarkably coherent and well-argued list of reasons. The following day I asked my son again and he seemed even more certain.
I'm not quite putting out the flags, but I do feel a huge relief that I don't have to try and sell an extra £6,000 worth of books in what's proving to be a rather precarious market.
In the meantime, I have several boxes of books to work through, so I'll stop this rambling post and start earning some money.