I’m writing about these conversations because one is crushing, the other is hopeful. The first is some racist young men at college lashing out, the other is a young dad talking his family through some emotionally complicated stuff.
A class discussion
The teacher has given us machine-monitoring YouTube videos to watch. He apologises for the number of American videos.
“I have tried where possible to obtain British sources — but the fact is the US dominate the market when it comes to content like this. The problem is they often try to sell you their particular product and their style is, well… Anyway I’ve tried to find British videos.”
“I’m aware that when you google engineering demonstrations most of the content is American or Indian, but you shouldn’t knock the Indian engineering. Yes some of the English is very bad and the accents are hard to understand, but how good is your Farsi, or Hindi?” (One of the students mutters as-salam alaykom) “There’s a reason they’ve produced much of the educational content on the internet, and that’s because their engineering infrastructure is huge, and their space programme is well ahead of ours, so –” he holds his hands up “they must be doing something right.”
When the teacher leaves the room, four of the students look at each other and smile.
“The only reason the Indians have all that is because we gave it to them.”
“Eighteen-hundred, we just handed over everything — there you go! That’s how they got a space programme. They used to be subservient to us and now they think they’re in charge –”
They look at M for confirmation, who’s a mature student and ex-marine. He doesn’t make any arguments, just sits quietly and nods, “Exactly.”
It’s 6 am and C’s phone keeps chirping. “For God’s sake.”
“It’s a long story, do you wanna hear it?”
C is recently separated from his partner, but it’s his ex’s sister who’s been texting him since 5 am. Her Mum, C tells me, has finally fled an abusive relationship and is staying with her daughter and newborn granddaughter. Her mum has a problem with alcohol, and after breaking promises she’s moved her in with her other daughter.
After many texts, C finally gets a call and picks up. “Bet your fingers are sore?”
I leave the room for a bit, but C doesn’t seem to need privacy. I look through the jobs list and finish the admin from yesterday. C continues:
“The thing is — and I’ve had this conversation with [my ex] many times — is that she’s gonna be like this. No matter what you do. She’s had a horrible life, she’s got a problem with booze — she needs professional help. You can’t be there all the time to take care of her — you just can’t do it. Be in her life, of course, and she’s lucky to have you and your support, but don’t go blaming yourself. It’s not on you, it’s not on you.”
“I remember four or five years ago she was talking about coming home from the States — I said I will buy you that ticket, right now I will buy you that ticket. I don’t care how much it costs, as long as you’re on it. We just want you home. She didn’t take it — she wasn’t ready — but she’s here now.”
“When she’s with the kids she’s brilliant, she is really good with the kids. I think when she’s with them she just doesn’t think about booze — it’s gone.”
C takes his chat next door to finish privately. He doesn’t bring it up again.
• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer at a Combined Heat and Power Plant