It's Not Working
IT”S NOT WORKING A NOVEL ABOUT WORK
“ We don’t have to live in Birmingham. It’s just that there’s no work for me round here, so we have to move. Birmingham’s not that far away for your parents to visit us.” Ted was talking to his wife Sue, over the supper table. The three children, five, four and the baby of one, were asleep upstairs. Sue was doubtful.
“I know that. Couldn’t you go back to teaching? There’s lots of jobs around. And you know you liked teaching”
Ted sighed. How many more times must he explain? “Yes, I did love teaching, but I didn’t care for the bloody teachers, that’s why. Or the bloody schools. They were just ignorant snobs in that Grammar School, I couldn’t wait to leave.”
“You liked the Secondary Modern. You could get a Head of Department by now. The pay wouldn’t be that bad.”
“It was bloody terrible, and you know it. Seventeen years to get to full pay? What kind of silly job pays like that? I’m not like those spineless old women of both sexes, I want to be paid for the good job I do.”
Sue smiled. “If they paid you for modesty, you’d get nothing. Look, we’re comfortable here, the house is rent-free, I have a job I like just over the road, Mum and Dad can baby-sit any time. It’s really just your job that’s not going well. Stick it out a bit longer, can’t you?”
Ted rose and paced about. He was getting upset. “Yes, I could do that. But I don’t want to, that’s all. This house belongs to your parents, it will never be ours until they die, which I hope is not for a long time. But we can’t move, because we can’t buy a house anywhere round here, it would be mad whilst we have this. We’re tied here in Langford, we have no social life to speak of, because we’re almost the only young family here. The only social centre is the pub...”
“Well, you use that quite frequently, what’s wrong with it?” Sue was getting more heated; usually quiet and softly-spoken, she never lost her temper. It made her an excellent infant teacher. And mother, Ted had to admit, but infuriating to argue with.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, but I have to drive somewhere to get a proper social life, like the amateur dramatics we used to do, before them.” He pointed upwards to the children’s bedrooms.
“You wanted them as well as me. Don’t blame them.” Sue was suddenly defensive, her children threatened, she thought.
“No, I know, love. I know they’re happy here, but it is limited. Who will they play with when they are older, in this God-forsaken village? There’s no-one, except old Dotty’s kids, and they’ll be pregnant by the age of twelve, if their mother’s anything to go by.”
Sue smiled again. She was calm now. “I can see what you mean, of course I can. I want you to be happy in your work, and I can see that at present you are not. So, all right, go to the interview, and we can see what to do afterwards. You may not even get the job.” Ted could see that she very much hoped he would not.
He sat down again on the wooden chair, the shadows in the corners of the room getting darker. The fire was burning down, he would chop some more elm logs in a minute, but he wanted to have his say.
“ Look, I told you before we got married, I only had two ambitions. One we are doing right now, bringing up a family, and I think we do it really well. We both enjoy it, anyway. But the other thing was to have a job I enjoyed. I haven’t found that yet, at least, not one that pays properly. I don’t just want to teach science, I want to do science too. I’m a doer, Sue. I’m actually really interested in the physics and chemistry of polymers. What we do at PEC is not just crap science. It’s got to be right, the rubber connectors go into coal mines, aircraft, military stuff. It’s interesting, it really is. The problem is that I am now the only technologist where before there were four of us. And that bastard Wallis has offered me ten bob a week rise! It’s an insult. He leans on the wage freeze of that cretin Wilson. Well, it’s because of Wilson and his so-called ‘white heat of technology’ that I left teaching to go into Industry. That and the money, of course. I knew at college that I had picked a dud industry, the rubber industry, full of arseholes whose idea of High Culture is to recite Kipling’s “If” at endless Institute dinners. They’re past it, they belong to the Victorian Age. So I went teaching instead, and, yes, I loved it. But I find that rubber is still fascinating, and PEC are an engineering firm, willing to pay me for developing rubber for them. Willing mostly, but sodding Wallis thinks he can get me cheap. Well, I want to show him he has to pay to get good people. And I am good, Sue, I know I am. I got First Prize in the Institute exams, and I love polymer science. It’s partly an Art, which is what I like. But to go on working in Industry, which is what I really really want at present, we have to move elsewhere. We could go abroad, Belgium has loads of jobs in the American Synthetic Rubber manufacturers, they have their Research Centres there. Mike works there, and so does Bob. But I don’t want to go abroad. I want to work here in England. I am English. I want my kids brought up in England, to be English. I want to paint English landscapes. So, please, let’s move, whilst I am still young enough! I’m nearly thirty, for God’s sake!”
Sue laughed out loud, not unkindly. She had heard all this before, but Ted liked to think by talking, and she sometimes felt like one of his fourth-year classes. Why were men so anxious about their age? What about her, she was just as near thirty as Ted was, but she didn’t give it a thought. “Alright, Ted, you’ve made your point. Apply for the job. I’ll go with you, wherever you want to go.”
And she means it, thought Ted. She really does.
* * *
Birmingham. The very word is like a knell, that summons me to heaven or to hell, but more likely the latter, thought Ted as he held the letter. It asked him to go for interview next Tuesday for the job of Rubber Technologist at Lacus Aero-engineering, in South Birmingham. He had been to Birmingham before, to the labs of Aston University, trying to make a new Neoprene compound for his present company, PEC. He had gone with Hunter, at that time the senior technologist, and they had spent a really dull four days in a non-city. Hunter was only interested in Maximising his Expenses, which is why he got fired one New Year’s Eve, with two hours notice. PEC were like that, hard but fair. Hunter was an utter nitwit, all bullshit and no brains. Likeable at times, though.
Ted agreed with Enoch Powell; Birmingham could not be called a City. Manchester was a City, London was a City, but Birmingham was a mass of suffering humanity. Not a place to bring up my kids, thought Ted, after our years in the countryside. But he had to get out, had to move on, he had come to the end of the line at PEC. He had no desire to be out with two hours notice on New Year’s Eve, thank you. And he was not going back to teaching, not yet. Too much like a defeat.
Right, that’s fixed, he was going up for the interview, at least. He could always fail the interview on purpose, as he had done when he asked the American boss of the synthetic rubber firm how they viewed unions. Ted told him he was a committed Communist, and must follow his convictions. He laughed to himself as he recalled the look of horror in the Yank’s eyes as a sudden silence fell. He looked like he had come across a rattlesnake in his cornflakes. But Ted had seen an old enemy of his working in the labs there, and nothing would induce him to work with that pretentious bastard Dickie Brown. So he threw the interview, obviously never to work there. It had been a lie about being a Communist, of course, but he had read Das Kapital, or some of it, enough to fool a Yankee boss. And his Dad was a Marxist, or said he was, having left the Communists after Hungary in 1956.