The Long Straw

Someone asked me the other day how it is that I can come up with a page of words every single week without ending up in Ward 6. He had memories of School Cert and the certain knowledge that he'd rather have a go at auto-dentistry than sit at a desk and bash words onto a page. The thing is – I feel the same about his job. I have no idea how, for example, people can actually get a house to rise from a pile of timber and some nails. Utter mystery. Electricians are also masters of occult knowledge to which only the initiated may gain access. They trade in the skills that allow them to bring light to a darkened house and get the dinner cooked without chopping any firewood. Entirely marvellous and yet slightly magical – the only time I have ever tried any home wiring repairs I nearly killed myself and had a Micheal Jackson hair flame moment. I felt cursed and inclined to throw our flatmate, who was forever blowing everything up with her hairdryer and eyelash curler, as a sacrificial offering to the electricity god although I was also sure there would be some OSH rule against it.

Commercial fisherpeople work in a constant seismic rock and roll in big gumboots splashed by freezing water and somehow don't manage to roll themselves up in the complicated gear and inadvertently get themselves flung out as human by-catch. I am amazed by this. I have the dubious distinction of being the only person in the history of boats to have been told to go and make myself become 'very small, mute and barely visible ballast somewhere very far away from all the ropes and pulley thingys'. Mean – but understandable. Who knew captains on racing yachts could be worse than head chefs? Psychologists sometimes have to work with complete psychopaths – do people like Nigel Latta ever feel like they're playing Jodie Foster to someone's Hannibal? Do they take a break from talking someone out of eating them and then go and have a muffin and a latte? What about those women who run service stations late at night. I get scared going to the letterbox - how must it be to working the grave yard shift and wondering when the next P addicted maniac is going to need his car filled up? I salute their courage and also know what it feels like to have no other choice.

Nurses working the night shift in the psych ward of some geriatric homes should be on the Queen's honour list. A few years ago I was teaching English to some young women from the Phillipines so that they could have their qualifications recognised and go from being paid the minimum wage to a proper nursing salary. In reality their English was next to flawless and the English standard requirements were beyond what most native speakers would be able to achieve. Passing by one of the homes late one night I decided to leave some exam papers at reception for the girls to pick up the next morning. I was told that the nurses were on duty in the psych unit – so I went to find them. What ensued, even Dante couldn't have made up. In awe I watched as these diminutive and extremely patient young women 'man-handled' blokes twice their size and weight back into bed and dealt with, in one case at least, far worse violence than the average A and E nurse has to deal with every Friday night. It was like a deranged game of musical beds where all the contestants have no idea where they are and the referees are very small and few and far between and who still have to be really nice even when all the players go all McEnroe on them. I challenge any merchant banker to spend a night there with them and then tell me he deserves a bonus more than they do. So, no, I don't sweat the 600 words because I know that when it comes to jobs – this is one of the longer straws.

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