Squeezed Middle: If I close my eyes, I can see a summer in Tuscany

I can almost feel the sun on my neck, the chilled Chianti as it slips down my throat . . .

As some bloke once said, I have a dream. My dream isn’t about all mankind walking hand in hand, or peace in the Middle East, or anything like that, although those things would be nice. My dream is of a more prosaic nature: that, one day, Curly will train to be a teacher.

If I close my eyes, I can see it all so clearly . . . It’s summer in 2020. We have packed the kids off to some kind of boot camp and Curly and I are on a walking holiday in Tuscany. The sun is shining; the wild flowers are blooming. We are staying in one of those places where twinkly-eyed Italian farmers grow delicious food and their wives feed it to you. We are, in other words, fully-fledged members of the professional middle classes at leisure.

I can almost feel the sun on my neck, the chilled Chianti as it slips down my throat . . . It feels as though finally, after all the fretting and squabbling and messing about, order has been restored to the universe.

If any of you killjoys out there are thinking of writing in to tell me that teaching is incredibly hard work, extremely stressful and underpaid – that we would never be able to afford such an expensive holiday and that even if we could, it would not begin to compensate for the hell that is term time – please don’t. I don’t want to know. This is about me clinging desperately to the belief that there is a vaguely realistic solution to our perennial brokeness and general failure to achieve the standard of living that I, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, still feel that we deserve.

Naturally, I have alerted Curly to the benefits of the teaching plan. “Just think of the holidays!” I say, every couple of days. “And the salary! And you would be making such a huge contribution to the well-being of the younger generation!”

“But I’d have to be a teacher,” Curly points out, demonstrating an eagle-eyed attention to detail. He hated school and has no desire to go back there. He has proposed an alternative plan: we sell our flat and move out of London and he gets a job at Greggs. That plan has been vetoed.

So persistent is my nagging that he eventually cracks and looks up teacher training online. I hover around, reading over his shoulder.

“See? You could do it. You’re perfectly qualified. You’ve got a degree, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” says Curly, glumly.

“And experience working with young people?”

“I suppose so.”

“There you go. And obviously the GCSEs in English, maths and science aren’t going to be a problem . . .”

“Actually,” Curly says, visibly brightening, “they are going to be a problem. I’ve got English but I haven’t got maths or science.”

“Let me just get this straight,” I say, swallowing hard. “You haven’t got GCSE maths?”

“Nope!” Curly beams. “Unless you count a grade U.”

“I DO NOT COUNT A GRADE U!” I sink my head into my hands. Gaudy tatters of the dream billow around in my mind. No sun, no Chianti; chilly, cramped summers in an Essex caravan site stretch ahead like a punishment for I-know-not-what.

I scrape myself off the desk, grab the keyboard and type: “GCSE distance learning courses”. The dream may be dying but it’s not dead yet. It’s. Not. Dead. Yet.

Photo: Maarten Van Hoof via flickr

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 21 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The radicalism of fools