The story so far? Well, Robert has survived one whole term teaching Drama at Fitzrovia College – just! He’s found and lost love – twice - and come close to the sack, but survived. Now, Spicy has given him the nod to produce next year’s annual play – a musical written in collaboration with Biggles. So, it’s time to get on with things…but what’s happening with Chisel Face? And what does the Head of Maths mean when he launches a tirade against teachers who are considered “charismatic”?
Lent term 1978 at Fitzrovia passes through the dark of January, into cold February, eventually punctuated by breezy interludes that lead to watery March sunshine. I meet up with Biggles intermittently to compare notes on our progress with “Darkheart.” One weekend, he plays some music he’s written and gives me tapes of other songs. ‘Maybe you can fit some words to them.’ He’s read the few lyrics I’ve had up my sleeve. ‘I can hear the beat and rhythm already. It’ll be fun trying to put a melody to them.’
Spicy’s tipped me a wink about the Old Gym. ‘Had a few complaints from parents,’ he confides. ‘Think we should be improving our facilities. The bursar’s got his thinking–cap on. How are you coping?’
‘It’s not ideal, but better than a classroom which would be too small.’ The sun chooses that moment to peep out. ‘Besides, it’s spring. Should get warmer. Maybe we’ll do some work outside.’
‘What if we put some heating in for next year?’
‘It would help. But really it’s too echoing as well. The sound needs dampening somehow.’ I shrug. ‘We just get on with it to be honest.’
Adonis is now looking for work in America. ‘I think we could make a go of it, but I need to go out there. To make it happen.’
Rugger Bugger too surprises me. ‘Applying for jobs in Cornwall. Linda’s really excited. Means we might get married quicker.’
At this rate I’ll be the only musketeer left. All for one. The Lone Ranger.
On the last Wednesday of term, I’m walking home to Maynard Road, trying to ignore a trailing lace. Rugger Bugger’s been for an interview near his home. ‘Should hear first thing tomorrow,’ he says. ‘Come on; let’s have a few wets in the Flyer.’ I’ve hammered the jukebox, even giving an outing to some of its 60’s stuff after Norma’s stood over me, fag on. ‘Play that one there. E14.’ The Shadows.
It’s late, well past eleven and the world’s quiet, the paths strewn with mulch, deadening sound. Above, clouds scud across a windswept April sky. A smattering of stars. No moon.
I’m taking the back route from the Flyer along alleys, and into a small copse that borders Fitzrovia. There are some school boarding Houses backing onto playing fields, a hedged path running close to their back entrances. I’m bent over to retie the lace, swaying slightly, when I hear a door latch click close by. A stifled giggle. Female.
I’m like a startled hare. All ears and night eyes. Peeking through the hedge I can make out someone in the doorway, peeping out. Is it a pupil making a break for it? I peer into the gloom.
Chisel Face. It’s definitely Chisel Face. I stay crouched. He scans out and round the doorway once more, then turns to beckon someone. Who is it? Miss Dazzle?
Instinctively I crouch lower; glued. What’s he up to? I hope he can’t see me. Wish I hadn’t put on so much patchouli. And then another figure appears. Female legs. Not easy to see who it is, because she cowers behind Chisel Face, but when she bobs out it’s not Miss Dazzle. It’s the simpering young French Assistante who wears short skirts and tons of make up. A giggling doll.
Odd they should feel the need to appear so secretive. Of course, Chisel Face is Head of Modern Languages. No reason why she shouldn’t be with him. Except that now, they’re sharing a kiss. Not on the cheeks. Ooh la la. My haunches are complaining but I daren’t stand up. Instead I continue to crouch, watching as Giggling Doll pulls away and scurries away into the dark, leaving Chisel Face to peer out once more into the gloom. Please don’t let him see me. Or smell me. I’m holding my breath. The door clicks shut, and I’m alone once more.
What to do? What to think? Or is it just none of my business?
My farewell to Miss Dazzle at the end of term is at a full school assembly where, by chance, I find myself sitting next to her. ‘Going anywhere nice for Easter?’ I manage to enquire as the pupils file in.
She shakes her head. ‘I need to go home. It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary.’ Then tells me that Chisel Face is going abroad. ‘Paris for a week. Sorting out the French Exchange.’
I’m all ears. Pluck up courage to mention Giggling Doll. ‘Are you friends? Do you know where she lives?’
‘We’re not really close. Not sure. Somewhere near Paris, I think. Why?’
‘Maybe you should ask her out for a drink sometime. I think she’s pretty lonely; used to a more lively scene I think.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Oh just a feeling.’ She engages my eyes for the first time properly and I can feel myself burning. ‘No one dresses like that or spends so long on their make-up unless they’re on the lookout.’
‘For a man, silly.’ She looks away. ‘Is she your type?’
At the end of the service, Fizz comes bounding up. ‘Bye, sir. Have a nice Easter.’
‘Yes. You too.’
‘Going to meet dad’s new woman.’ She raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes to me.
The Balls twins hand me a card. ‘Happy Easter, sir.’
‘Wow. Thanks. You too.’
I spend some of the Easter holiday back at home. Fidgety. Constrained.
Mum passes a comment. ‘You don’t sound as broad as you did.’
At least I can head down to the works nets in the evenings, and during the day I plug away at “Darkheart”, rewriting, trying to make the dialogue snappier, the plot clearer. Penning more lyrics for Biggles. I’ve also got my eye on a new stereo system - something to replace the Dansette - so spend an hour or so at the local record store staring at speakers and amps with the guy who runs the shop, comparing woofers and tweeters while he plays some Earth, Wind and Fire or Marvin Gaye. ‘Can you hear the difference when those horns kick in, mate?’
After some consideration, I try and contact Cher only to find her mum answers the phone. ‘Oh Robert, yes, I remember you. I’m afraid she’s gone abroad with…well, a friend. I’ll let her know you rang.’ Am I disappointed? Or secretly relieved?
Mum comes and goes to work but I can’t help but notice that she’s not so sprightly as I recall. Falls asleep in the chair over her knitting in the evenings. In the morning I can hear the sound of things being snapped out of airtight containers. Once, when I walk in and disturb her slumbers in front of the TV, she wakes with a start, her hand automatically reaching for her side, a wince of pain on her face.
‘You all right, mum?’
She’s definitely avoiding contact with my eyes. ‘Just a touch of sciatica,’ she says. ‘Old age. Nothing for you to worry about. When did you say you were going back?’
The sun’s out as I meander into the main staff common room carrying a brand spanking new copy of an album whose cover I’ve always been attracted to. “It’s A Beautiful Day.” Looking forward to listening to “White Bird,” a song I’ve not heard for ages.
‘Oh no!’ The Head of Uppers Maths is sitting at a table. Grey haired, podgy, in a well-worn suit, shiny at the elbows, he’s one of those members of staff who seem very distant to me, with a reputation for being a stern disciplinarian, from a bygone era. Wears a gown and mortarboard. Really. A throwback.
‘What’s that?’ It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m due to pack cricket bags ready for the weekend games.
Shaking his head he waves a piece of paper. ‘Oh, it’s just this job application. A reference which says this candidate is “charismatic.”’ Screwing up the paper he lobs it towards the bin.
‘What’s wrong with that?’
The Throwback gives me a withering look. ‘What charismatic means to me in “jobspeak,”’ he says peering more severely at me, ‘is that the teacher is dangerous.’
‘Dangerous?’ I frown. Dangerous? He carries a gun?
‘Probably far too matey with the pupils, gets them to call him by his Christian name, that sort of thing. Wears the wrong sort of clothes. A maverick round the place, unreliable, full of bright ideas that spell ruin and trouble.’
He’s off on one. ‘The sort that writes reports in ballpoint pen or green ink. Takes pupils on trips to see “Hair” or worse. Dances with them at the school discotheque. A liability.’
Can he mean me? I’ve just organised a trip for my drama pupils to see “The Rocky Horror Show.”
‘I thought charismatic meant someone who inspired the students to achieve better.’
‘Rubbish,’ he snorts. ‘Every school I’ve worked at there’s been someone who’s called charismatic and what it means is they get too close to the pupils. Like they want to be one of them. Their friend. And it all ends in tears.’ He gives me another look. Is that a glint in his eye? ‘Normally someone wet behind the ears who just wants to be that awful word “trendy” and doesn’t get what manipulating little bastards most of them are.’ Is he being serious? ‘Someone who teaches non subjects like Media or Drama.’
Does he mean me?
‘Someone who wants to be popular,’ says the Throwback. ‘And popular doesn’t mean respect.’ He goes back to his papers.
Walking over to the barn where the Prep cricket bags are kept, I contemplate his words. I don’t dress like most of the staff it’s true. Should I be changing my costume? Does it matter? Do I just want to be popular? Is playing music in lessons “trendy”? Drama a non-subject? Are the kids manipulating bastards?
I can’t buy into that. Sure there are kids that I wouldn’t lose sleep over meeting again; or staff. Like Chisel Face. There must be loads of pupils too who wouldn’t lose sleep either if I didn’t turn up; but, equally, there are others, like Fizz and Balls, who give me undivided attention.
And what’s popular?
‘I love drama,’ says Fizz. ‘There should be more things like it on the timetable. Like, I don’t know, yoga or something.’
Does that make it a non subject?
And Balls; he said recently that sport and drama were the only things that stopped him going completely off the rails. ‘Sorry, sir, but some of the teachers here are just rubbish.’ He’d raised his eyes to mine and shaken his head. ‘I know you won’t agree, because you’re not allowed, but some are just out of touch and boring, sir.’
Yet this is a posh school. Fitzrovia could employ the best surely? Not boring? Out of touch? Someone with charisma? Like Biggles. And Rugger Bugger. And Taff. And Spicy. And Adonis.
Or is Fitzrovia also an all too easy repository for the old and cynical? Throwbacks. ‘Plenty of deadwood,’ Biggles had said. ‘Ripe for pruning.’
When I reach the barn, I can see there’s some Uppers girls playing tennis on the nearby courts. ‘Forty love!’
They play under Miss Dazzle’s watchful eye. One of the best, surely?
She’s wearing tight white shorts, talking to an older woman dressed in civvies. I’ve heard rumours that a date’s been set for Miss Dazzle and Chisel Face. ‘Have you been invited?’ asks Biggles.
Now, whenever I see her or Chisel Face or Giggling Doll my imagination runs riot. Can he really be doing the dirty on Miss Dazzle? Is that possible?
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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The Shadows – Wonderful Land
The first EP’s I ever bought as a young lad in the mid 60’s were by the Shadows. Maybe that’s what started my love affair with the guitar as a lead instrument. Certainly I’ve followed it through with Pat Metheny. “Foot Tapper,” “Wonderful Land,” “Kon-Tiki” – these were hits at the time - and of course, they were Cliff Richard’s backing group! Ah Hank Marvin! Precursor to the guitar greats like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. And Bruce Welch, who we all envied ‘cos he got to court Olivia Newton John.
Earth Wind and Fire – Boogie Wonderland
I just love EWF. Such a full sound, and the groove is just infectious. Takes me back (again) to college days; the Friday and Saturday discos, full to brimming with Watney’s Red Barrel or Whitbread Trophy. Yes, the days when men were men and drank beer! None of this fancy cocktail lark or “shorts.”
Nothing like an inhibition-loosening evening before hitting the dance floor to look like a loser gyrating to EWF.
It’s A Beautiful Day – White Bird
Now this is an album cover that arrested my attention early doors. What’s not to like about something that looks so positive? I was just wildly curious to listen to whatever music a band who had such a cover might play.
As it turns out, released in 1967, IABD are another of those bands I seem to have been drawn to from the Summer of Love, though they never “made it” like Jefferson Airplane or The Grateful Dead. Still, the album contained a gem; “White Bird” remains one of those great epics from the era, and certainly has stood the test of time. I’d probably never have heard it if it wasn’t for that cover.
About the Curator: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!