The story so far…
Well, Robert Hopebourne has started a new teaching job in a posh school in the 1970’s…a time of change when classroom Drama was a novel concept! How will Robert cope? To really care, you might like to read the previous 8 parts!!
Break over I hunt out the Old Gym where I’m to teach my first drama lesson. It’s begun to rain, so find myself humming Carole King.
“…it might as well rain until September…”
The Old Gym’s an ancient shell of a building, cold and unwelcoming, smelling of damp and echoing to my footsteps. The walls are peeling paint and the wooden floor’s dusty. An old pommel horse is parked in the corner and ancient rusting basketball rings are at each end. Wall bars line one side. There are also several wooden benches stacked up. It’s heart-sinkingly dank.
‘Hi, sir. Are you our drama teacher?’
The girl’s got wide blue eyes, a scar on her chin, bright toothy smile. Fair-haired ponytail. ‘Drama’s optional,’ she says cheerfully, shaking at her blazer which drips. ‘It was either drama or extra English.’ She gives a beaming smile, informing me that The Wife of Parse doesn’t give most of them any choice. ‘She only likes the brightest ones.’
A friend comes up, giggles. Nudges her. ‘Fizz! Ask him.’
The Fizz girl turns her big blue eyes fully on me. ‘She wants to know how old you are, sir.’ A cheeky grin breaks on her face. ‘Are you married?’
How to play it? The girl’s face is so artless; I can’t be fierce with her. ‘Never you mind,’ I say, and try to wag my finger at her in a way that suggests a sense of humour.
‘I like your shoes,’ she says, cheeks bright, before turning to her friend and giggling. ‘And your after shave.’
As soon as I let them in, there’s a chorus from the rest of the class as they shake themselves dry. ‘Phaw!’ Their voices echo. ‘Ugh!’
The pupils are already spreading out, rowdily curious about this new space. ‘It reeks, sir.’ The wall bars attract the sporty boys. How to deal with them?
‘Sir! What are we doing?’ asks the Fizz girl as I watch a boy jump on the pommel. Good question.
‘Right! Sit down on the floor, please, all of you.’ My voice echoes. ‘Come on. In a circle. Away from the wall bars and equipment please.’
After taking names, a routine that seems to have a calming effect, and spouting the same lines as at registration, I try my first gambit. ‘Right, I don’t know what drama you’ve done before – ‘
‘None, sir,’ pipes up a voice to my side.
‘What did I say?’ I turn to the boy, stern faced. It’s Balls, who immediately colours up, crestfallen.
‘You said when you’re talking, we’re not, sir. Sorry, sir.’
‘Right, well, I don’t mind you being keen, just, hold fire for a minute.’
I see him nod; cheeks bright.
‘So, we’re going to try and do some improvisations first. Anyone know what that means?’
A couple of hands shoot up. ‘Yes?’
It’s Fizz. ‘It means acting without a script, sir.’
‘Good. Yes. We make up dialogue and situation. Now, so we can get nice and warm, I’m going to ask you to imagine you’re catching a train and you’re running late.’ A few are already getting to their feet, excited. ‘Wait!’ I hesitate and beckon them to sit. ‘Now, we need to be clear from the start that you don’t do anything until I ask you to. OK? Otherwise we’ll be at sixes and sevens. So, all stand up.’ I watch as they clamber to their feet. ‘Use all the space; off you go.’
Within seconds it’s obvious that my instructions are not clear enough.
‘Stop!’ I shout. ‘Still!’ Echoing.
I regard them. ‘When was the last time you walked the streets shouting at other people? Or barging into them? Or bouncing off walls?’ Silence. ‘Right. Now, if you’re going to do drama, it’s not a free for all. Just because you’re not in a normal classroom. This is my classroom. I want you to enjoy the lessons but we’re not here just for a laugh.’ I pierce them with my best fierce face. ‘We’re here to try and learn how to act. How to make something believable. Now I want you to try again. Picture yourself hurrying for that train. But no banging into each other. Right?’ I survey them. Several are nodding. ‘Right. Off you go.’
After a time I stop them again. ‘Balls; show them what you’re doing. I want the rest of you to watch what he does. Off you go.’
Balls cheeks are crimson, but he scurries round, zigzagging, eyes switching to his watch.
‘Good. Stop. What was good about that?’
The next improvisation is more conversation based. ‘I want you to imagine that you’re asking your parents for more pocket money. Into pairs, and off you go.’
The pupils break onto a hubbub sorting themselves out. I’m on red-alert for buggering about. ‘I’ll arm wrestle you for it,’ I hear Balls say to his partner. From across the room I hear an expletive. I hurry over. ‘What’s going on?’
Fizz grins. ‘You said make it realistic, sir.’
I raise my eyebrows. ‘I dare say, but would you really swear in front of your mother or father?’
She positively beams. ‘I was playing my mother, sir.’
By the end of the lesson I’ve already exhausted all my ideas and my stern expression. Several of the pupils come up to say thank you. ‘That was great, sir,’ says Fizz. ‘What are we doing next time?’
I’ve no idea. ‘Wait and see.’
At lunch, another time spent hoping to catch a glimpse of Miss Dazzle, Rugger Bugger comes over. ‘Robby Boy, can you take the under elevens for rugby?’
‘I don’t know the rules. I’ve never played.’
‘I’ll teach you the basics.’
‘Isn’t there anyone else?’
What about Adonis?
‘He’s taking the second fifteen.’ He gives me a slap on the back. ‘Don’t worry. It’s only the under elevens. They won’t know any more than you.’
Just as well.
I spend that first afternoon on the immaculately striped playing fields, watching Rugger Bugger take a training session with the older boys, following his lead, taking part in some touch rugby. ‘Release the ball!’ The boys are keen as mustard, and even to my untutored eye appear to be adept.
‘There’s some quick hands here,’ says Rugger Bugger, grinning. ‘If I can find a couple of back rows, we should be pretty good.’ Back rows? He points across the pitch. ‘He ought to be one.’
There’s a dark haired boy, obviously bigger than most of the others running round. It’s Balls. Rugger Bugger blows on his whistle and beckons.
‘His name’s Balls,’ I say to Rugger Bugger. ‘Just be warned.’
‘How much rugby have you played?’ says Rugger Bugger to Balls whose cheeks are already fiery from exertion.
‘Quite a bit, sir.’
‘Ever been in a scrum? Know what one is?’
‘Oh yes, sir. I played number eight for the colts.’I don’t know what that means, but Rugger Bugger’s face lights up.
The session ends with a short game. I’m at a loss to understand why Rugger Bugger blows his whistle as referee. ‘Offside,’ he says, or after ordering a scrum, ‘your put in.’ Lineouts seem to be ragged affairs, the ball often being thrown ‘not straight.’ He shouts instructions, rants at “knock ons”, cajoles them to tackle ‘round the legs, not the chest.’ Balls runs in a couple of tries.
At the end of the afternoon, I take the opportunity to ask how many of the boys want to play cricket. Hands go up, including Balls. I hope he’s a fast bowler or hard-hitting batsman and resolve to organise some winter indoor nets as soon as possible.
I could easily fall into bed at Maynard Road, but instead have to shower ready for my first evening duty. To help keep me awake, I put on some Yes, and change into polo shirt and jeans.
‘…even Siberia goes through the motions, hold out and hold on…’
Duty starts at 6 30. The boarding house, Cowdray’s, is set in the school grounds, a grand building covered in creeper. I stand outside the imposing door. Do I ring the doorbell? Or just walk in? How does it work? There’s the unmistakable sound of table tennis from inside. Oh well. Taking a deep breath I reach for the handle.
There’s a cavernous flagstone room with a table in the middle and a crowd of boys watching as others play. ‘Good shot!’ The place smells of shoe polish, washing powder and sweat; a heady mix. Balls appears by my side. ‘Hello, sir. Are you on duty?’
He indicates a door. ‘Sir’s in there, sir.’
The Housemaster has introduced himself to me earlier, head shiny like a snooker ball. Baldy. ‘I’ll fill you in on the duty when I see you tonight. Piece of cake.’
I knock on the door and wait for an eternity.
‘You can just go in, sir.’ It’s Balls again. ‘He’ll be in his study along the corridor.’
Baldy wears glasses tonight, has thick eyebrows and a cheery demeanour. His skull shines under the light. ‘Been doing this job for years. My wife teaches in Uppers and both my kids are in the place.’ He nods towards me. ‘Prep starts 6 45 then they get a break of half an hour at 7 30, then back in till 8 45. Younger boys start going to bed from 9. Matron will help you. Have you met her yet? Lights out 9 30 for the youngest through to 10 15 for the older boys. Each dorm has a monitor, but you’ll need to keep a lid on talking after lights out.’
Matron? Dorms? Lights out? Monitors?
‘What exactly do I do?’
‘Prep is quiet. You need to keep an eye on that, though there are prefects there as well. From Uppers.’ He peeps over his glasses. ‘Good time to get your marking done. The rest runs pretty well. Matron will see to that. You just need to be a presence. You know.’ He smiles encouragingly.
My stomach rumbles. ‘When do I eat?’
‘Once they’re settled into prep you can pop off to the refectory then.’
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
Follow The Back Story On Your Favorite Streaming Platform
It Might As Well Rain Until September - Carole King
Can it really be 1962 that this was first released? I’d have been 8 years old…so how come it made such an impression? Inevitably, it’s the quality of the song, and Carole King at that time was already pumping out hits for others like Bobby Vee (“Take Good Care Of My Baby”) while she looked after her own two small kids.
“Tapestry” released in 1971 changed all that. With timeless classics like the title track, “It’s Too Late” and “If You’ve Got A Friend”, it catapulted her into mega stardom. A female singer-songwriter to match contemporary male counterparts like Neil Sedaka. Timeless classics.
Siberian Khatru - Yes
Ah yes! Prog Rock! And who led the way as far as album designs were concerned? Well, Roger Dean was the main man of the moment in the early 70’s pioneering futuristic fantasy landscapes for bands like “Yes” “Greenslade” and “Asia”. But it was the music too, particularly on the seminal LP “Close To The Edge” with its jingle jangle guitar, soaring Jon Anderson vocals and the ever resourceful Rick Wakeman on keyboards. “Siberian Khatru” is the most aggressive of the songs on the album and typical of their structures incorporating weird chord progressions and complex time signatures. It’s frequently the opening number in Yes live performances.
Prog rock? Well, Yes are right up there with the best….and the LP covers? Well, to quote Carly Simon, “nobody does it better…”
About the Author: 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!