What I want to be when I grow up

It's Careers Insight Day at the girls grammar school, so I have my little name badge and a table in the corner of the gymnasium. And all the teenagers who want to be rock & roll stars will flock to me, right? And gather around my feet to hear my words of wisdom?

Careers Insight Day.jpg

Not quite...

As always with these things, for every bright spark, for very shining-eyed little Sylvia Plath angel with a notebook full of terrifying biro sketches and poems, there are thirteen other sleepy-eyed girls who look like they wish they were back in bed watching TV.

What is there to say to kids this age about careers, anyway? It's hard, hard work, girls. I want to make important pronouncements like: there are no easy ways to be rich and comfortable. The trick is not to make compromises with your life. Don't ever say, 'this will do'. But it's hard to make that point to 14-year-olds. They're being asked to make Big Grown Up Decisions about career choices – at 14, I didn’t even know what I wanted for breakfast.

By and large they regard me silently, like a small herd of beautiful, curious young deer that have sneaked in through a hole in the fence. When I finish talking and invite questions, their big eyes swim around the room and they look at the floor, or their nails, or the wooden climbing bars behind my head. And their cheeks redden ever so slightly in soundless embarrassment.

One of them bravely eases her hand up and reads one of the ‘suggested questions’ from the Careers Advice sheet in front of her.

'What would you consider to be the starting salary for a singer songwriter?'

And I think of Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan… and all of them making scratches on the paper, playing their first D Major chord - and having to start somewhere.

'The starting salary...' I say, 'is zero pounds a year.'