It’s a hard knock life

Wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society


I work for a dirty institution.  A school.  Things like CYFs and the police are dirty institutions too.  In the good old days there was the poor house and the orphanage.

For  reasons we had better not go into I rented Annie on the weekend.  Annie the movie was released in 1982, and was based on a musical.  Strangely the original musical was directed by Mike Nichols.  Even more strangely, the movie version was directed by John Houston.  Annie is an orphan growing up in an orphanage in 1930s America.  She has red curly hair and a lot of spunk.  She is ten.  One day a woman called Grace comes to the orphanage to “borrow” an orphan for a week.  Her boss is Daddy Warbucks (he made his bucks in the war), and as a publicity stunt he wants to share his massive mansion with an orphan for a week.  I won’t bore you with the details because they are predictable: Warbucks falls for Annie and she lives with him happily ever after.  The big song from the movie is… Tomorrow, tomorrow, I luv ya, tomorrow, tomorrow is only a day away…


Today one of my students was taken away from school and put in care.  I really don’t know how I feel  about this.  I saw him in my office this morning and gave him a note for his uniform and sent him on his way, and by 3.00pm I was being told he was moving out of the area and would be going to another school.  He has been on my mind a lot.  He is one of those students that has left me feeling inadequate and helpless half the time, and angry and frustrated the other half.  Without going into any of his personal details, his home life has seemed very unhappy, and has been that way for a long time, and his ways of coping were not good.  Standing on the outside as a dean was like watching a car crash in slow motion.

I am more or less in favour of socialist democracy, but I feel that there is almost no way that the state can be effective when its clumsy mechanisms are trying to deal with the delicate, blown-glass complexity of human relationships and hurt.  But, we require that the state act in such situations because children should be taken out of the way of immediate harm.  So we push them out of the way of the oncoming car, but have little control over where they fall, and not enough energy, or time, or whatever to help them back up again.


The thing to do to end this post would be to come back to Annie.  That is what I intended.  I wanted to show how the Hollywood version of the plucky orphan who wins hearts and finds a new family is a totally inadequate response to the situations I have heard that some of my students are in.  But we all know that.  We know that this doesn’t happen usually, and that people don’t suddenly sing songs about Tomorrow when they feel down in their office cubicle, and that there is no mass dance routine coming up in the staff canteen to enliven our day.  As Eleanor sat transfixed by the rows of ladies in silver sequinned dresses  tap dancing through a scene in Annie I thought: “It’s a lot better than life, isn’t it?”

Better than spending tonight in a stranger’s home, away from home.

Better than turning off the light and lying in your new bed listening to the voices of strangers in the other room.

Better than making a list in your head of all the people who have failed you before you turned fourteen: your Mum, you Dad, your teachers.

Your dean.

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2 thoughts on “It’s a hard knock life”

  1. I won a little victory today – I found a waif sitting outside the dairy. He was a nice boy who had been booted out of a language class. We chatted. I discovered that he liked drumming, but couldn’t afford lessons. He had a set of drums at home, but someone had punctured the skin on his snare. His family couldn’t afford to replace it. I found him a snare skin on an old drum at school and, against school policy, told him that he could attend drum lessons for free. Maybe even lowly music teachers can win a soul once in a while. Don’t give up the fight yet, oh wise young dean. There’s still a patch of hope in this tainted old universe that everyone wants to make infinite.

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