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?
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.’…
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?…
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.
‘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?’
‘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…
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.’...
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.’
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...
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.’...
‘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.’..
A four-hour flight from UK, Erotes turns out to be a picture postcard image of Greece. Two sandy bays, an ancient acropolis overlooking the village’s sugar cube houses, it’s bathed in hot sun. There’s the smell of lemon and olive trees, the sound of bouzoukis playing “Zorba the Greek”, cobbled streets with shops selling souvlaki, ceramics and silver. Blue, blue sky.
It’s only a quarter of an hour before curtain up, but the concert hall’s sparsely populated when I arrive with my train of boys from Cowdray House. In the foyer there are some simple posters advertising “The Winslow Boy” and some basic programmes printed on A4 sheets. A trickle of parents and other audience members wander in, including a smattering of boarders from Uppers. ‘Better than prep.’ Some classical style music is playing. Solemn. Barber’s “Adagio” according to the programme.
There are cast members milling about in costume, made-up roughly, beards and moustaches painted on, young kids trying to look grown up. Girls dressed as men. ‘Hello, sir.’
Shouldn’t they be backstage?...
‘There are one or two characters,’ I say to mum down the phone. ‘Every school’s got its fair share. I’m learning.’
‘And how are you getting on with Drama?’ asks mum. ‘Are you going to put something on?’
Despite my assertion at interview that teaching Drama would be easy peasy, the reality is rather different. For a start, there are no books to hand out.
‘There are single copies of Coward and Beckett in the store cupboard,’ says The Wife of Parse. ‘Or there’s always Shakespeare.’...
It’s first lesson after morning break. I’ve been to the main common room hoping to spot Miss Dazzle, only to end up munching mournfully on bourbons as she and Chisel Face retreat to a corner in close conflab.
It’s an English lesson, teaching a class the apostrophe. ‘So, if that’s what one elephant’s ears looks like, what about the ears belonging to two elephants?’ I understand it’s a difficult concept; had found it a trial myself at school, so I’m trying my best to make it upbeat, though it means I’m backwards and forwards to the blackboard.
‘Where shall I put the apostrophe? If there is one.’...
I stumble into a routine and round the campus until ditching the crutches, preferring to hobble in classes and wince during rugby practices.
I’m up before the others in Maynard Road, in the bathroom and out, dressing to whatever’s on the cassette from the night before. Steve Miller’s my go-to at the moment, so that’s often playing.
“…time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future…”
Most mornings start with some sort of religious service. ‘Thanks be to God.’ I try to keep a low profile so I’ve taken to bowing my head more during prayers and occasionally mouthing hymns. ‘We plough the fields and scatter…’ It’s all an act, but, hey; if it helps avoid attention…
It’s the first Saturday of a term that’s just three days old. Five periods to teach up to lunch.
The Three Musketeers and Taff had met up the previous night at The Crown after duties and sunk several pints in a short time.
‘How are you coping?’ Taff had asked popping money into the juke box. ‘Do you like Queen, boyo?’
“…is this the real life, is this just fantasy…”...
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?’...
It’s the middle of term at Bishop Tennant’s Teacher Training College. I’m twenty years old.
I’ve been invited by Bungalow Bill, one of my English group, to join with some friends for drinks. ‘Cool guys,’ he says. ‘One’s just back from a trip on the magic bus.’ And winks at me. ‘I think you’ll like them.’
I’ve always admired Bungalow Bill, seeing him as the most witty and intelligent of our group. ‘I’ve been reading some Hunter Thompson. Pretty cool.’ He lives in a house rather than Halls. Very cool. And I’d like to be that. Cool. Whatever that is...
Next morning I wake late, gulp water and hunt out some aspirin, before spending the afternoon finding my feet. Trying to think ahead. There’s a sports shop where I splash out on a new tracksuit to supplement my college gear. Royal blue. Three white stripes. The biz.
At practically every turn there are signs in the familiar blue and silver; imposing buildings. “Faraday Science Labs.” Every time anyone passes I wonder whether they work in the place.
At five o’ clock, I walk back into The Crown having changed. What exactly does “formal” mean? I don’t have any of that penguin suit stuff...
After leaving the pub, instead of worrying about De Cock and his cronies, I hum “Isn’t She Lovely” and turn my mind to Miss Dazzle, daydreaming about meeting her again. Where? When? Tonight? I brush at my cricket sweater; scrape at a grass stain at the hem...