Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
12 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 10:57am

The road not taken: Simon Armitage on his years as a probation officer

By Simon Armitage

My dad tells me I wanted to be a bus driver when I was little, even though he warned me that, “It gets very busy around Leeds at tea time.” I wouldn’t have minded: the big horizontal steering wheel sliding through the hands, the high seat in the cab. I could have done that, as opposed to being an orthodontist, for example. Can dentistry ever be a calling? Astronaut, yes, fancied that, doing somersaults in zero gravity, drinking packets of stew, being like David Bowie. Footballer, tick; cricketer, tick. I played scrum half for the school for a while but at 14 some of the opposition already had beards and beer bellies, and after one collision with a lad whose nickname was Snow Plough I put that dream to one side. Pop star, tick (Bowie again). More realistically, something outdoors was what I imagined, hence the geography degree.

But to answer the question, I’d have to be honest and say probation officer, because that’s what I actually did for the best part of a decade. I’m not sure I was any good at it, nor was it clear to me what success looked like. My technique was to act like a decent and caring human being in front of people who’d never been exposed to much decency or humanity, then hope some of it rubbed off. Could I ever go back, if I had to? It’s a question I ask myself. Probably not is the answer, even if my qualification is still valid. I’m just not sure I’d now have the gumption to knock on doors on scary streets in Manchester, or stride along prison landings, or sit in the cells beneath a regional magistrates’ court in the early hours of the morning interviewing rattling heroin addicts and sulky adolescent car thieves. Besides which, I’m not certain there’s a probation service to work for any more, at least not like the one I signed up to.

Other than that, a detective. Definitely. I have a suspicious mind, a forensic view of the world. I’m good at problem solving, and on both occasions when I’ve watched Midsomer Murders I’ve guessed who did it within ten minutes.

This article is from our “Road not taken” series

 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Topics in this article :