Half an hour into a forced Career Guidance appointment, brought about by poor GCSE results, I knew I was fucked.
“Our computer program really gets to the root of what’s best for you, Ben. Can I call you Ben?”
“Errrr….a…ha ha ha.. Well, Ben, here’s the result.” He ripped the print-out from the dotmatrix printer in the corner and handed me the thin paper page. Top recommended job = Gravedigger.
“It’s an excellent match for your answers.”
There was no hint of a smile. The guy was completely serious. I nodded, watched his mouth move, and didn’t hear a sound. I didn’t know it at the time, but twenty years from then I’d be sitting in a room in a building next door trying to explain to a Clinical Psychologist why I had just tried to kill myself. Perhaps that IBM computer knew more than any of us.
I walked out of the reception and took the bus back home. On the bus an old drunk started talking at me about his time in the Merchant Navy. He hadn’t ever been in a war, and he told me he regretted the fact he’d never killed anyone. Dutch retrospective courage is the worst kind. A guy I barely knew from school was across the aisle from my seat telling his friend about how he’d just started as a mechanic and how he’d soon be buying the fastest car for twenty miles around. High, proud, hopes.
I got off in my village and walked to the pub. It was the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I sat with the terminally unemployed and unemployable, and the elderly men who loved to talk about when they had more to do than drink themselves into an early grave. All of us were washed-up in the smokey room and it suited. A young guy in the corner was lying to anyone who would listen about having been a rich Architect who had lived in Vienna. The landlord smoked a cigar and spoke in whispers of barmaids he’d fucked around the back without his wife knowing. An old man told a tale about the sodomy he’d witnessed in the public toilets not far away. I laughed, even when he said he’d “pissed on them as they bummed each other”. I’d gone in there for sage wisdom from the elders of my tribe….what was I thinking? Nobody really understood anything at all.
I walked home the long way, across the play area and through the church yard. A freshly filled grave lay by the end of the cemetery wall -“NAN” in large gaudy flowers, and a few blurred messages on tiny white cards that had all gotten wet last night in the rain. Two of my friends had been laid to rest in this cemetery in the past year: one dead from a motorbike crash, the other from a diabetic coma. I’d gone to both funerals. I hadn’t enjoyed them. Now here they were, fifty feet from someone’s Nan. Sharing the only place they’d ever be forever with total strangers and a semi-regular gathering of stupid religious bullshit and tears.
I went and looked at their graves.No, I couldn’t have dug them.