x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Career courses and the dreams that we realise

Everyone has dreams of an alternative career, but how many of us have actually pursued them?

Name a job in the UAE that you would like to have if you were not already employed in your chosen career. Surely only those supremely contented in their work never wonder what else they might do to earn a living. Rumours of me being difficult to please are greatly exaggerated. In Abu Dhabi, I would gladly have accepted one of a number of roles far removed from the trade of journalism. I think I would have been happiest as road traffic supremo, empowered to devise spot penalties for such infractions as failing to indicate before performing a manoeuvre; turning left from the right and veering across four lanes at the last moment, or driving any vehicle whose size and appearance I found offensive. If no opening existed in my first choice of alternative career, I would have settled, say, for an executive post at Manchester City with authority to send all the best players on loan to my own club. It is fair to say this is not a proposal Mark Hughes and I have yet had an opportunity to discuss.

Famous people change careers, too. Pop singers becoming television presenters or actors hardly count since the activities are too closely related. But that leaves plenty of interesting case studies: Johnny Cash from US air force intelligence (he intercepted coded Soviet army communications) to country music; Gordon Ramsay from footballer to celebrity chef. At a newspaper where I previously worked, redundant staff were given fairly generous retraining allowances. Whether or not this was intended as a hint - "let's face it, you're no good at this so you may as well try something else" - it was welcome consolation.

When my time came, I wanted to develop websites and opted for a short course offered by an IT wizard. Since travel and accommodation expenses could be claimed, I also used it as an excuse to get home for a while from France to Britain. One journalist I know went on a plumbing course after working out how much she could save - and possibly earn - if she could mend her own and others' leaking pipes. Another woman was so fascinated by the court cases she covered as a reporter that she qualified in law and went back as a barrister.

I have come across crazier notions. When I told a man doing maintenance work at my home in France about my ex-employers' retraining scheme, he let me into his secret. He longed to reinvent himself as "Madame Pipi", the wonderfully informal name given to toilet attendants at the Eiffel Tower. "Not everyone's choice," I ventured. "Ah," he replied, "but think of the 35-hour week, decent pension and wages boosted by a captive audience feeling obliged to leave tips."

Some dreams are never realised. When last I checked, he was still maintaining properties. crandall@thenational.ae