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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

There's nothing as improving as a dead end job

After we'd finished recording a podcast with David Ford the other day Fraser said "that's three of us who've been road sweepers". I did two years as a road sweeper in north London during college vacations in the seventies before graduating to the dustbins. Sweeping was boring but it was educational, like doing the Knowledge. Working on the bins was hard, lucrative and, believe it or not, fun. That's another blog entirely.

I was reminded of this experience when reading Alice Thomson's column in The Times today where she says "the professional middle classes used to mix widely in pubs, factories and communities. Now they are ghettoised" and goes on to argue that they don't need more holiday jobs helping out in law offices. There seems to be some truth in that. My own kids have done holiday jobs but they haven't done anything like the bins or the Christmas post, which were staples for grammar school boys like me back in the day.

The decline of manufacturing, the march of automation and the need for every job to require some training means that it's no longer possible for a dozy 18-year-old to find useful employment the way that we did. Everybody of my age has a vivid memory of what it was like to work in a factory or to perform some mundane, repetitive task, often in the company of people who didn't make any allowance for the fact that you were young and foolish. It was more educational than the education it was designed to subsidise.