‘There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about “the working classes,” and satisfy themselves that a day’s hard intellectual toil is very much harder than a day’s hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they know all about the one, but haven’t tried the other. But I know all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn’t money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pick-axe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near to nothing as you can ciper it down – and I will be satisfied too.’Mark Twain, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’.
As I am helpfully reminded at least eight times a day, the new series of ‘The Richard&Judy Show’ begins on Monday. That’s fine with me. I don’t use the word ‘work’ to describe the activity of chatting with interesting people on a sofa for an hour a day. It might be challenging, deeply intellectual and occasionally dangerous, but it also makes me happy. I’ll also be writing all the time, my laptop stuck under a cushion on the sofa, and often blogging from the set.
However, once the series comes to an end, I’m seriously considering taking up a new line of work. I know we’ve signed a contract to go over to satellite TV but I think I’d be much more suited to driving petrol tankers for a living. I know that I’ll certainly be better off.
If these underpaid souls can go on strike because they don’t earn over £41,000 a year, I think most of us are in the wrong jobs. When I heard of their demands on Sky News this morning, I thought at first that their unreasonable wage demands must relate to the danger of their jobs. These are the men and women who are behind the wheel when tankers roll over on motorways, go screeching down the crash barriers, sparks flying. It only takes one spark to ignite all that petrol and then BOOM! I’ve seen it happen so often in films. It must be dangerous work and at least twice as dangerous as that of any squaddie who goes into battle in Afghanistan for the princely sum of £18,000 a year.
I must admit, though. From personal experience, it’s a rare day when I see a petrol tanker go sidling on its side down the motorway. I don’t know about the relative dangers of the Afghan front line but I do see what nurses do each day and the same is true of teachers and the police. So, could somebody please explain to me why the driver of a petrol tanker earns twice the amount as my friend who works as a secondary school teacher, who is in school at eight in the morning and rarely finishes marking homework until ten o’clock at night?
Or is Twain right? Will we all do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near to nothing? Do we need to pay these people a fortune to tolerate the mind-numbing banality of following a map to petrol station forecourts? If so, then I should have earned £100,000 every time I head up to Manchester. And I should pay the same for the chance to do what I’m about to go and do. I’m going to write and I will be satisfied too.