Like most of my good ideas, the one I had after graduating from university (in which I would take a year out from doing anything quantifiably constructive with my life and instead use the time to try to write a novel) didn’t quite work out the way I envisioned.
Rather predictably, I ended up stalling after the second chapter, unable to continue.
Rather less predictably, I started working as a science-based children’s entertainer instead.
When I mention this to people, the first thing they invariably tell me is that it must have been a great job. They seem disbelieving when I tell them it wasn’t, but I can see why they’d think so. I thought so too when I first signed up.
Alarm bells should have started ringing when Susan, the woman who would go on to become my boss, started crying in my interview. The tears – it transpired – were tears of gratitude, but that didn’t really help me feel more comfortable. She went on to tell me that she and her husband had both left their jobs to focus full time on tapping into the junior science party market and that they had been struggling to get things off the ground. However, in receiving my CV she said that they felt their prayers had been answered and that I was “a blessing from God”. Not even my own mother – who, I have it on good authority, is rather fond of me – has ever described me in such lofty terms.
Sucker for flattery that I am, I ended up taking the job and, for the first few weeks, I was enjoying myself. It was fun to revisit all of the basic curriculum science that I had half-forgotten. I got to take a Van de Graaff generator home one week; a candyfloss making machine the next. I generally got a goody bag and a slice of birthday cake at the end of each of shift – and all the while was getting paid for it. It was every bit the great job I had it pegged for.
Soon though, the novelty of putting dry ice in my drinks wore off and the mundanity and monotony of the work quickly became apparent. As it seemed that God had decided not to bless Susan with any more staff, soon I was being asked to take meetings, attend and perform at trade fairs, even help out on the school run, when all I wanted to do was set fire to things and play with polymer putty.
The tipping point between boredom and actual misery happened when I almost poisoned a roomful of Jewish primary school children. Having specifically asked Susan twice to check the kosher status of any food products before buying them (a request which – first time – got the rather ominous response “Kosher? What is that?”) she told me that they all definitely were. It wasn’t until I had poured a red food colouring into the final stages of a taste test experiment, and was about to feed it to the rapt crowd of sugar-hungry seven year olds, that a mother present asked if she could look at the list of ingredients. It turned out that it wasn’t kosher at all. Not even close.
Cue crying, screaming and tantrums from children and parents alike.
Things unravelled from there and not even being issued my own personally embroidered lab-coat could help. The final straw was being booked in to do three parties in one day on alternating sides of the county. Rather unhelpfully, Susan allocated me half an hour to traverse the distance it took a high speed train an hour to travel and so the parties became exponentially delayed. I arrived at the third so late that the children were all but ready for bed when I turned up with my box of academically explainable tricks.
It takes a particular type of parent to book a scientist in place of a clown or a magician for a child’s party – and they are not usually the type to appreciate tardiness, however legitimate the excuse. As such, the parent in this situation refused to pay me the full fee for the party. Unable to haggle and unwilling to endure a second shouting at, I resigned myself to quietly making up the difference with my own wages. That was the day I decided would be my last.
Susan cried again when I handed in my notice. This time, I wasn’t so bothered. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
But why, on an exploration of my iTunes library, should I start by talking about my short-lived career in the edu-tainment industry?
Nothing kills the birthday mood quite like a public display of job dissatisfaction, so I had to find a way of staying positive and pepped up in advance of these parties. To do that I created a playlist of fun, upbeat songs that couldn’t fail to have me bopping around behind the steering wheel. However they had to be very carefully selected because if I used songs that I loved too much, I risked them being forever tarnished by the memories of that time.
The first track on that playlist? The first track in my library. Uptight by Scottish indie upstarts Aberfeldy – a bright, bouncy track with hand claps and harmonies that, now, never fails to make my blood run cold. It’s a song I possibly could have quite liked under other circumstances, but not any more.
It’s a shame to have to sacrifice decent music when there’s so much bad stuff around, but such was the situation. I can only hope that it’s of some benefit to the next generation of scientists.
Also listened to:
Abigail Washburn and The Sparrow Quartet – an excellent album of banjo-led Americana that makes me want to live in the dying days of the Wild West. [site]
The Acorn – Just one track “Hold Your Breath” a slow, sparse song I have no idea how I came to possess. I imagine the same will be true of about 60% of the single tracks I haven’t listened to. [site]
Active Child – A single track from a mixtape given to me by Marni. [site]
Adam Buxton – A couple of his better efforts from the “Song Wars” feature on Adam and Joe’s 6 Music radio show. [site]