It was careers morning for the Year 10 students, a series of talks on their options when they complete Year 11 in a year’s time.
The options seemed more plentiful than in the 1970s, there was something for everyone. From the armed forces to apprenticeships and from courses at a level below the GCSE examinations they would take to A levels that would take them into university.
Next year, the students will have interviews and one to one consultations, the advice will be tailored to the needs of each individual. None of the students will have the experience of an encounter with the Gitanes smoker.
How would students now have coped with our careers adviser?
Her arrival always caused consternation in our fundamentalist Christian school. She did not conform with the ways our staff considered a woman should dress and behave.
The careers adviser was sent by the county council, or some other statutory body, and would meet with boys in their final year to discuss what they might do after setting foot outside the school gates for the last time.
The woman who sought to direct our future would arrive in a little Citroen car, perhaps it was a 2 CV, perhaps it was an older equivalent. A room would be set aside to enable her to interview each member of the senior year of the school.
The adviser had badly dyed hair and would smoke Gitanes cigarettes through a cigarette holder (where an ashtray might have been procured in our school was a mystery, perhaps she just used a saucer). In retrospect, the woman was probably trying to look sophisticated, but at the time, we might easily have laughed. We might have laughed, but didn’t; the woman took herself very seriously and was very stern in her questions and comments. She would sit puffing away, while listening in a dismissive manner to what hopes we had.
At the time, I aspired to be a journalist. It was something that I spent years hoping to do. I did my best to explain this while she made the odd note. After I had finished, she went through the files she had brought and handed me information sheets – one was on being a printer, the other on being a book-binder.
Both printing and book-binding were skilled trades, they demanded craftsmanship, I had no aptitude whatsoever for something demanding any degree of manual dexterity.
The abiding memory is of Gitanes smoke and advice that was useless.