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Reform Magazine | December 2, 2021

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Hurdles are there to be leapt’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Hurdles are there to be leapt’

Paul Kerensa gets a surprising new job

I’ve just got a new job. It doesn’t mean I’m getting rid of my old job, but that’s the nature of being a self-employed chancer or, as they say nowadays, having a ‘portfolio career’. That sounds fancier.

So as well as being a bit of a stand-up comic, a sometime writer, an occasional broadcaster when they let me, and an increasingly full-time taxi driver (just for my kids), I’m now going to be: a university lecturer. Seriously.

Remember the 1970s’ cartoon Mr Benn, where the eponymous bowler hat enthusiast enters a fancy dress shop to find a new job each week? That’s me. Only now, the fez-wearing shopkeeper has led me to the magic door marked ‘academia’.

It’s a nerve-wracking prospect. I feel like Sam Beckett in another TV show, Quantum Leap, who ‘leaps’ into a new life each episode. On realising what’s required of him, he panics, uttering an uneasy ‘Oh boy’.

Yet there’s hope. Both Messrs Benn and Beckett end their episodes having conquered a problem. They face challenges, but they have a positive influence on those they’ve met, putting right what once went wrong, and moving on with only good memories of their marvellous adventures. There may be hurdles, but hurdles are there to be leapt. I hope that’s my story arc too.

I’ll be lecturing on screenwriting, so the patterns in these and other small-screen stories are of particular interest to me. As a Christian too, I’m fascinated by these programmes as modern parables – teaching us lessons, both moral and ethical (I must learn the difference between those before I start).

Most TV programmes hide their moral message, of course. We don’t reach the credits of Midsomer Murders or Holby City glad of the life lesson the sleuth or the medics have taught us. It’s just that the viewing experience satisfies us. When it doesn’t, we notice it, and the drama falls flat. The arrogant must be humbled. The foolish might be wise after all. Loose ends must be tied up. Comeuppance will come.

There are various theories of story structure, including the theory that there is no theory. But I think God’s given us a universe that makes sense, with laws, patterns and a system of right and wrong choices for our characters, and for us.

On the yellow brick road, Dorothy discovers the brains, heart and courage she actually had all along – she just needed some new friends to show her. Samwise Gamgee counts his footsteps from Hobbiton, so he nervously pauses before taking one step further from home than ever before, essential to achieve his ring-based mission. Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors has to go through doubt, resentment and running away from his ever-repeating day before accepting his lot and using his gift to help people. Only then can he be freed from his curse.

All these and more reassure us of the right choices in life, and I hope they point me in the right direction as I face those students for the first time.

Oh, and in writing this, I was inspired to rewatch Quantum Leap. I picked a random episode and, sure enough, Sam Beckett ‘leaps’ into the body of… a university lecturer. Faced with a class of enthusiastic young students, time traveller Sam occupies this body with no idea what to say to them, so panics and mutters another ‘Oh boy’. How prophetic for me.

I’m ready for a change, so I’ll be saying a prayer as I start my new job. Instead of beginning ‘Dear Lord Jesus’, though, I might nervously address the Bethlehem baby differently…

‘O Boy.’

Paul Kerensa is a writer, comedian, broadcaster and writing teacher, with occasional online classes open to all. paulkerensa.com

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