Home truths. Sometimes I’m a bit too keen to tell home truths. Especially when I’m at home. But you can only bite your tongue for so long when you see how a loved one is being treated, and how they are beginning to treat themselves. Yesterday evening, I’m afraid I lost it.
“Will you stop wearing those glass slippers!” I shouted at her. “What do you think you look like? They don’t suit you, they don’t fit you, and if you break them, they’ll lacerate your feet.”
She looked at me sheepishly.
“Bah!” I went on, exasperated. “And while we’re on the subject, stop using pimped-up pumpkins for your transport home after a night out. I know you say you’re having a ball, but they’re not reliable, that four horsepower engine goes ‘eek!’ not ‘vroom!!’ and a black cab is much more likely to get you home safely in the wee small hours. Really!”
“Yessir,” she mumbled, with just a hint of rebellious sarcasm.
It’s awkward, you know, for me to address my much-loved FE sector in this way. But she knows, and you know, that I’m right. I should have left it there. Comparisons are odious, and there are times I am just too odious for my own good.
“Why can’t you be like her?” I asked, pointing in the vague general direction of someone who wasn’t actually there.
“Like whom?” she asked sullenly.
“Like who, Ephie, like who. Mind your SPAG for goodness sake, dear.” I could tell I was pushing her too far.
“Like who then?” She looked traitorous, but frankly, I’d prefer any look to that hangdog ‘isn’t it all terrible’ lacking-in-confidence air she has far too often these days.
“Like Miss Threadneedle, of course,” I replied.
“Ms Threadneedle, don’t you mean?”
“Yes, yes. OK. Ms Threadneedle. Why can’t you be like her? Why do you have to be so, so… Cinderella?!” Can’t believe I said it. I hate the C-word.
“Because I am Cinderella. The Cinderella sector. And she’s the Bank of England!”
“Don’t use the C-word!” I screamed at her. “You’re Ephie, my Ephie, and your father should have made you go on some of those assertiveness courses you used to run. And so what if she’s the Bank of England? What does that matter?”
“Well,” she took a gulp of air for luck, “everybody knows what she does, and needs what she does, and respects what she does. Everything she does.” A glistening tear ran slowly down her cheek. “No one has a clue what I do. They think I’m just for no-hopers and second-raters, that I can cut hair but can’t name all the Kings of England. And she’s got loads of money as well, Little Miss Threadneedle has.”
She was fighting back a bit now. I like her when she fights back.
“Ms. Threadneedle,” I goaded her, gently.
I looked Ephie in the eye. She could certainly do with a bit more money. Equal pay for equal work legislation did seem to have passed her by. She was well turned out but you could tell by the bags under her eyes and the redness around her knuckles that she was working herself into an early retirement.
“We all need what you do,” I told her quietly.
“But, but, she’s the Bank of England. She’s the Lender of Last Resort. She pump-primes the economy with money. She does Quantitative Easing.”
“Yes, and you’re the Skills Bank of England. You do Learning of Last Resort, for all the people who’ve been failed by the education system. You pump-prime the economy with the skills we need to prosper and thrive. You do Qualitative Easing.”
Her eyes were still watery, but there was just a hint of steel behind the vulnerability.
“If I were the Skills Bank of England, people wouldn’t get confused by the wide range of things I do,” she said.
“If I were the Skills Bank of England, I would have very deep pockets to keep the Learning and Skills system running the way the country needs it.”
“Yes, you would.”
“If I were the Skills Bank of England, then the press, the media, the whole country would hang on my every word, would wait eagerly for my monthly pronouncements on the state of the nation.”
“The Skills Bank of England,” she repeated thoughtfully. “I’ve never thought of myself like that before.”
“No,” I agreed, putting my arms around her and kissing her gently on the cheek. “Not enough people have. That’s the problem.”