I've never really known what I wanted to do with my life (and at 35 am unlikely to now have an epiphany) beyond not be very poor nor very bored.At 14, when I did my "options", I chose a broad-base of O-level subjects that I knew (a) I would probably pass and (b) wouldn't count against anything I decided to pursue. That worked, and later I was off to Teesside, doing a broad-based course of journalism, "media techniques" and a little bit of legal stuff that could propel me, I thought, into print or radio journalism, or slightly further off into radio or television production. I'm grateful for the skills I learnt. I'm a very good sub-editor, even if I do say so myself; I can spot such intricacies as libel-by-juxtaposition from 100 feet or so; and I can deconstruct a television drama… although this, I admit, is of no fucking use at all. What didn't happen was an actual career in journalism. I got my qualifications and my NUJ membership and went on to the dole. Then I worked for the Employment Service, the TSB, the fag-end of British Rail/NIMCO/Jarvis and a toy company, all in admin jobs. I'm very good at admin, processes and systems, but that's my dad's genes rather than anything I was ever taught. Then I spent 3 years in a very high-pressure marketing job, almost died from the stress – literally – and shifted over to my current job, editing international business directories for a major multinational publishing house. So the skills are useful there, too. But it's not journalism. And I'm happy. The realisation that I actually didn't want to be a journalist hit me about halfway through the course. In every subject at school, they teach you how to become a teacher of the subject, not a master of it. O-level maths contains various parts that, in 15 years of non-school life, I have never used and nobody who took that O-level ever used… except if they became maths teachers. French O-level, which I failed, was full of learning how to say "please clean the blackboard for me" and "put all the chairs on the tables before you leave", very useful for teaching a future O-level class to say such crap, but of little utility in a restaurant in Paris. Unless I owned the restaurant, I suppose, in which case bravo to the school system for having such faith in me. Of course, I couldn't actually order anything off the menu in my own restaurant, let alone chat up any of the cute waiters I would be employing, but by god I could make sure that the specials board was clean and the floor prepared for mopping each night with confidence. Further along the system, post O-level, they start teaching you things that might actually be useful. The problem was, if I was to be a journalist, it was to be at the Grauniad or the Indy; the lecturers had this insane idea that I'd be starting out in the dismal local rags and freesheets, rewriting press releases. Of course, that's the correct career pattern, but it's hardly edifying. At the very least, local newspapers are truly, truly dire. Very little happens locally except in the big cities. And even there, little happens each day to justify a full newspaper. The Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, held up as a shining example of newspaper to aim at writing for, was full each day of stories like "Kimberley, 19, hits out at yobs" over a story about some slapper who'd got off a bus a stop early because it was a bit noisy then rang them up to complain, and "Council 'plans drastic cutbacks'" over a story about how local X-party councillors had issued a press release about what would happen if Y-party won the next election. I was always very good at finding angles for dull subjects when challenged to write them up, but it was clear that to get anywhere you had to ramp-up the drama and tone down the facts lest the story be exposed for what it was: desperate filler. I can't do that: I may not have all that many morals, but one I do have is that actively and purposefully lying to people to sell something (newspapers and advertising space in this case) is wrong. And, yes, I went on to work in marketing, so don't bother pointing that hypocrisy out. Also, the stories, once you learn to read local media, are always at their root very very dull. Imagine an entire career of that, I thought. No way. So I've been spared having to write stories like the one pictured. And as a (great) sub, I've been spared having to invent such desperate headlines. Happy days.