Part 35 - Given Circumstances

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Part 35 - Given Circumstances

I’ve been home for Christmas. Mum’s feebler. Small voice. ‘Can you get your own tea tonight?’

The Lent term of 1980 starts depressingly. January blues. I can’t even bask in the reflected glory of “The Mikado.” Full houses, bursting. ‘More!’ Even buying a new album – “The Return Of The Durutti Column” - filled with optimistic spring sounds, can’t diminish my sense of loss.

I spend dank dark afternoons freezing on the hockey playing fields. I should be more motivated, but really I’m finding my concentration telescoping into two areas. Drama and cricket.

Then there are the staff cuts. Three gone in a Yuletide cull. BJ’s been hauled in to see The Big Cheese. ‘Told me that Business Studies and Economics are where the foreign market’s going. Wants boarding numbers up. Asked me what marketing I’m doing.’ He shrugs. ‘Och. I’m doing fuck all. Never been asked. Told him I’d go to Student Fairs, that sort of thing. I dinnae like him. He’s a pompous prick.’

Biggles has told me that The Big Cheese is scrutinising workloads. ‘Those that aren’t pulling their weight…’ He draws a finger across his throat.

Eventually my summons is received.

The Big Cheese seats me opposite him at his desk. What’s he going to say?

He looks up. His eyes are less flinty than I recall. ‘I thought “The Mikado” was splendid.’

Fuck me. Praise from The Big Cheese.

‘I’ve had a lot of letters from parents and from potential parents, many from St Benedict’s, and from a few Prep Heads. Inquiries for places as a result.’ He pauses and almost smiles. ‘That makes this Headmaster very happy, and I realise that this is in no small measure down to you. I’ll pass the letters on to you. After all, I had nothing to do with the performance.’ He nods towards me. ‘I’d also like you to make an appointment to see me next week with the Director of Studies. I’m considering introducing Drama to the curriculum.’

You’re what?

‘How would you feel about that?’ This from the man who just a few weeks ago described Drama as “lightweight.”

‘I think it’s a great idea.’

He nods and stands. The interview’s over. ‘Make an appointment.’

Progress!

‘Hi sir! You look happy.’ There’s a gaggle of girls bunching in the corridor. ‘Are you going to tea?’ Fizz is all eyes and smile. ‘Fish fingers.’ She mimes being sick. ‘It’s my birthday.’

‘Oh. Happy birthday. How old?’

‘Sixteen,’ she beams.

‘And never been kissed?’

She sticks out her tongue as one of the other girls grabs her arm, sweeps her away. ‘Come on, Fizz, it’s chocolate sponge pudding!’

I can’t stop myself from smiling. Isn’t life straightforward for them? And some lucky man one day is going to have Fizz fall in love with him. And make him happy as Larry.

When I get back to Orchard Cottage that evening, there’s a letter. It’s from the fiction editor at “The People’s Friend.” My latest rewrite of “The Lamplighter’s Daughter” has been accepted! I rush round to find BJ. ‘Let’s go for a few beers. On me.’

The phone’s ringing when I open the door late that evening, whistling.

‘Robert! At last!’ It’s my next-door neighbour from home. ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you all night. I’ve got some bad news for you, I’m afraid. It’s your mum.’           

                                    *     

Mum’s funeral takes place back home two weeks later. I ask The Big Cheese for compassionate leave and join a few folk round a small plot in a graveyard close to our house, next to dad. ‘Lymphatic cancer. Once it spreads that’s it I’m afraid.’ I shiver by the plot, fight and fail to quell tears.

The house is very empty all of a sudden. There’s loads of forms and stuff to negotiate, and there’s the house to put on the market. There’s still a mortgage, but mum’s obviously squirrelled stuff away over the years, so it’ll be paid off, leaving me with the small residue. I throw out tons of stuff. Furniture. Pots and pans. Towels and sheets. Garden implements. Nick nacks. Packing her clothes, her perfume makes me swallow and gulp for air. Eventually, I pack all that remains into one box. 

Like mum.

                              *

‘Sorry to hear about your mother, sir,’ says Balls when I eventually return. ‘The High Master told us at assembly.’

‘Thanks.’

Later Fizz knocks on my study door. I’ve got some Paul Simon playing. ‘Can I come in? Are you OK?’ Her bold eyes are full on me. A pained expression on her face.

‘I’m just getting used to it,’ I say. ‘She brought me up to stand on my own two feet. That’s what I’ll have to do.’

She nods and wanders in to stand at my desk. ‘That’s what my dad says. It’s why I like boarding. Much better than home. And forces me to be more independent. More me if that makes any sense.’

‘Yes.’

‘Besides I save him money.’

‘Oh?’

‘Oh yes. I’m only at Fitzie’s cos his work pays my fees. Dad’s abroad a lot.’ She raises twinkling eyes to me. ‘I’m not a rich kid.’

I nod.

‘What’s this playing?’ She wanders over to the cassette.

‘Oh. Paul Simon. “For Emily Whenever I May Find Her”. It’s quite old.’

Fizz nods, ‘I like it,’ then turns her full eyes back to me. ‘Do you believe in God, sir?’

‘Quite a question. I’m afraid not. You?’

‘I think I used to. I got confirmed when I was really too young to understand. Maybe I’ve just grown up a bit, but it feels like life’s too unfair for there to be a God. I mean, if there was, there’d be no suffering surely?’

‘You might be right. But death comes to us all. Seems to me it’s the ones who are left behind that suffer.’

‘I’ve stopped taking communion anyway. The Chaplain keeps on and on about it, trying to make me feel guilty.’

‘Really?’

‘I’ve told him. I don’t believe in life after death. Or any of it, so why would I want to take communion?’

‘I’m no expert,’ I say, ‘but I think everything comes from within. You can call it God or whatever, but it’s from inside yourself. Don’t need organized religion for that.’

She nods. ‘Is there anyone else at home? What about your dad?’

‘I’m afraid he’s dead.’ I outline his story.

‘Oh that’s so sad. So you’re on your own?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Maybe you should get married,’ she says with a renewed twinkle in her eyes.

I laugh.

‘At least I’ve made you smile,’ she continues. ‘Don’t you have a girlfriend? Want kids?’

                                    *

Lent term morphs seamlessly into summer. I’ve my hands full with the cricket, and exam classes mean I’m forever organizing extra study tutorials. If anything, my days are fuller than when I was working all hours in the Prep. Whatever, it means mum gently recedes into the background.

One day, I bump into Biggles in the common room. He looks suddenly sheepish. ‘Actually, I’ve been meaning to say something to you, but after your mum’s death I thought I’d hang fire. It’s about next year’s production.’ He strokes his moustache. ‘The thing is, I’ve been asked to take over as Head of Department.’

‘Oh! Congratulations.’

‘Thanks. But it’ll mean shuffling my time. Give me a year to get to grips with it, but I don’t think I can commit to another blockbuster.’ He tugs at a tuft on his moustache. ‘Sorry. But really, you’re probably thinking about a play, aren’t you? Variety and all that?’

‘I haven’t really thought about it. Need to.’

‘What sort of stuff do you like?’

Good question.

                                    *


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Soundtrack - The Back Story!

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The Durutti Column -  Sketch For A Summer

Late 1979 The Durutti Column released this album, taking their name from a Spanish Civil War military unit. Post-punk, they became more musical and experimental using guitar and keyboards and reverb. One of their members came from a band whose name was “Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds.” Say no more!

Simon and Garfunkel – For Emily Wherever I may Find Her.

S and G were an essential part of my musical upbringing. If Ralph McTell and Fairport were my go-to UK folkies, then S and G were my USA counterparts. Timeless melodies that have truly stood the test of time. This song is taken from the album “Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme” released way back in 1966! Oh it’s so good!



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About the Author: Richard Parsons

 Richard Parsons - Musicto Curator

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!

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Part 34 - Given Circumstances

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Part 34 - Given Circumstances

The smoke from the encore of the opening night of “The Mikado” is still hovering. The auditorium’s gradually emptying. No sign of The Big Cheese.

‘Well done, sir.’ Someone from stage crew scurries by.

‘Thanks. And well done you guys as well. Very slick.’

‘We’ll get more encores tomorrow. And Saturday’ll be mental.’ He grins and hurries away….

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Part 33 - Given Circumstances

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Part 33 - Given Circumstances

At half six on the opening night of “The Mikado”, I’m standing with my notes,  facing the auditorium which is filled with a kaleidoscope of Japanese, nervously chattering. The orchestra’s fiddling quietly. Tuning. Biggles is whispering to one or two. Is he nervous? Am I? Mrs Undercarpet’s making a song and dance about pinning something up. ‘Hold still.’

 Gandalf’s in his tightest shorts yet. He’s standing right next to me, centre stage, shielding his eyes up into the flies. He knows I want to start. Shouts. ‘Move that parcan a couple of inches to your left!’ High profile…

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Part 32 - Given Circumstances

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Part 32 - Given Circumstances

Shortly after my first half term break in Uppers, I receive a hand written missive commanding me to appear in front of The Big Cheese for a Royal Audience.

Now what? More “restructuring”? What have I done wrong? Is he about to sack me after all? Last in first out. My chest thumps.

Can’t seem to get a song from “The Mikado” out of my head.

“…defer, defer to the Lord High Executioner…”…

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Part 31 - Given Circumstances

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Part 31 - Given Circumstances

A few weeks into the new academic year, I’m still grappling with teaching Uppers English literature. Some of them catch me out. ‘What do you think Larkin means when he describes work as a “toad”, sir?’ Good question. Warty? Slimy? Buried under rocks? I’ve taken the idea of playing music in lessons into Uppers while they write. Have still to work out whether the older pupils find it a distraction – a snigger? - rather than a help. ‘It’s by someone called Michael Hedges.’…

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Part 30 - Given Circumstances

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Part 30 - Given Circumstances

September 1979. Year three.

I’m at my first Staff Meeting in Uppers. There’s gentle idle chatter as we wait. I’m sat next to Biggles who leans in close. ‘Saw the Master earlier. Looked majorly stressed. We could see fireworks this morning.’

Oh? I peep down to the front of the lecture theatre, where the Big Cheese is checking his watch, eyes flicking to the door where the staff must enter. It swings open and BJ walks in.

‘Have you got a death wish?’ It’s The Big Cheese, shouting, red in face, eyes bulging. All conversation comes to an abrupt end….

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Part 29 - Given Circumstances

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Part 29 - Given Circumstances

I’ve just returned from a cricket match at some school across the county. My team’s off to a bright start; two emphatic wins and a good draw.

I’ve overheard God Like Status talking to Biggles on the boundary at our last home match. ‘Some decent cricketers here. Well drilled and keen.’

Today’s been warm and sunny. Proper cricket weather. In an attempt to get over the terrible news of Keith Moon’s death, I’ve also been into town at the weekend and bought a new stereo system…

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Part 28 - Given Circumstances

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Part 28 - Given Circumstances

The second half of Lent term starts with an Extraordinary Staff Meeting called by The Big Cheese. ‘What’s it all about?’ I ask Biggles when we meet up the night before at the pub.

He shrugs, poring over the jukebox. ‘Search me.’ Then punches buttons. ‘About time they refreshed this. Haven’t heard this for a while though. Happy music for Spring.’

We find seats as Sergio Mendes kicks in.

“...the moon is like a tangerine…”

Ha! They don’t write lyrics like that now!

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Part 27 - Given Circumstances

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Part 27 - Given Circumstances

Over half term back at home, I receive a small package in the post.

‘Someone’s got nice handwriting,’ says mum.

Opening it, three recognisable letters fall out. There’s a message attached. “Thought you might like these back.” And a photo, of a tanned smiling Venus, under an umbrella, honey hair to her shoulders, in a pair of loose fitting black trousers, gathered at the ankle above high heels, bare brown midriff and plunge black top under a short red jacket, standing by a suitcase outside “The Acropolis Taverna.” On the wall, the clock reads nine o’ clock…

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Part 26 - Given Circumstances

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Part 26 - Given Circumstances

February 1979.

“Darkheart” has come and gone. Cheers and whistles. ‘More!’ Miss Dazzle hugging me. Biggles all smiles. Matron ecstatic. Spicy red faced, pumping my hand.

‘Fuckin’ great,’ says BJ, loading the pipe back at Walnut Avenue. ‘Here. Got my girlfriend to send us some stuff. Put some music on then. Your choice.’

On with some Peter Frampton. “Do You Feel Like I Do?”…

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Part 25 - Given Circumstances

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Part 25 - Given Circumstances

Before I know it, it’s the week of performances of “Darkheart.”

The Sunday before the Thursday opening night, I’ve spent the afternoon with Biggles and his band.  

‘They sound fab. Really professional. A bit loud perhaps?’

How could my youngsters compete? They’d surely be drowned out?

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Part 24 - Given Circumstances

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Part 24 - Given Circumstances

Outside Walnut Avenue, there’s a watery October sun. A Sunday morning. A whole day off. I’ve got some Chicago playing.

‘Och. What’s this shite?’ asks BJ popping his head round my door. ‘Shall we go looking for mushrooms? Perfect day for it.’

I’ve been re-reading my little book on them. Hand drawn pictures of Liberty Caps. ‘Will you recognise them if we see them?’

BJ nods. ‘Come on. Let’s find some fields.’…

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Part 23 - Given Circumstances

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Part 23 - Given Circumstances

Och. What’s your musical about then?’ BJ’s slurping some cereal at breakfast, milk dribbling down his chin. ‘Has it got a name?’

‘It’s called “Darkheart.”’

The plot itself is relatively straightforward. But more importantly, I want it to be on a grand scale, to involve as many pupils as I can; make the prep school buzz with it. That should show The Wife of Parse and help convince Spicy he’s not made a mistake trusting me. But how many pupils might be interested? What if none of them volunteered?…

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Part 22 - Given Circumstances

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Part 22 - Given Circumstances

September 1978. Year two.

On the last day of the summer holiday, I’m whistling along to the radio; the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”; a throwback to naive school days, when the phone rings at home. ‘Hello?’

‘Och. Is that Mister Hopebourne?’ A broad male Scots accent.

‘Speaking.’

‘Och. The school secretary gave me your number. I believe we’re sharing a house together at Fitzrovia.’

Are we? We talk briefly before he brings the conversation to a halt. ‘Och. Let’s get together over a beer tomorrow.’ A short silence. ‘You do drink don’t you?’

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Part 21 - Given Circumstances

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Part 21 - Given Circumstances

‘Twenty overs gone, one hundred and nineteen for no wicket.’ St George’s scorer scurries off to the board rattling numbers. ‘Cruising it. All over soon.’

 Miserably, I peek at his scorebook. There are three red rings that indicate dropped catches. I’ve given up on humming “Riders on the Storm.” Can’t help feeling the melancholy of Roy Harper instead. 

“When the day is done and the ball has spun in the umpire’s pocket away…”

‘Catches win matches,’ remarks Giant Beard…

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Part 20 - Given Circumstances

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Part 20 - Given Circumstances

I’m in a heightened state of nerves throughout my first summer term of 1978. Hasn’t Spicy appointed me to Fitzrovia to try and drag cricket up by its bootstraps? ‘We’ve fallen behind our competitors,’ he’d said at interview.

My side has taken shape over the season with Young Giles at the centre of things as captain. I take him to one side after an early match. ‘Well done. You handled the fielders really well. Good judgment.’...

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Part 19 - Given Circumstances

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Part 19 - Given Circumstances

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.’

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Part 18 - Given Circumstances

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Part 18 - Given Circumstances

I make an appointment to speak to Spicy about “Darkheart” just before my first Christmas term concludes. He’s sat at his desk surrounded by a pile of reports on which he writes personally. I’ve had to write tons of the things too; days and nights of slaving. “He seems to enjoy the subject and his gregarious nature helps create character, but he might do well to occasionally consider thought before action.”

‘Come in, Robert.’ He waves something at me. ‘Just been reading some of your reports. Well done. Sounds like you’re doing a grand job.’ He smiles. ‘I like your style as well. Very positive, but with that turn of phrase that tells its own story.’ Our eyes meet...

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Part 17 - Given Circumstances

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Part 17 - Given Circumstances

I’m up early on the first day of the new half term. Slam on my freshly purchased cassette at Maynard Road. More Steve Miller. An echo of Erotes.

“…in the winter time when all the leaves are brown and the wind blows so chill…”

The staff room’s busy. There’s the smell of coffee, small groups gathering to chat. ‘We hired a little place in New England. Beautiful in the Fall.’...

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Part 16 - Given Circumstances

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Part 16 - Given Circumstances

‘How’s the hangover, lightweight?’ Adonis appears especially perky the next morning. Seems to have put on my cassette player. Loud. The Rolling Stones. My head’s hammering and there’s a faint taste of sick and liquorice in my mouth. ‘You look like shit.’

I manage to take a shower after gulping aspirin and water. Adonis pops his head round the shower curtain. ‘I’m off. See you later. Oh, and I might need the room later, OK?’

‘I’m not sleeping with the donkeys. Turn the music down on your way out.’..

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