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...
I hear nothing from Fitzrovia for a couple of days so go to the newsagent to buy a copy of “The Times Educational Supplement” to scour the “Teacher Vacancies” section. ‘There’s nothing. I’ll have to wait till next year now.’
‘Why don’t you try ICI?’ asks mum. ‘There’s bound to be something there. Clerical work for instance?’
Glumly I throw the paper down. ‘I suppose.’
‘You never know,’ mum continues. ‘You might hear from them yet.’
Ha! No. Bugger them. I don’t want the job anyway. Do I? Stuck up bastards.
And then there’s a letter.
Spicy peruses my CV, nodding from time to time, then fusses with the kettle that’s boiling.
‘The High Master passed me your application for the English post in Uppers.’
A priest? On drugs?
‘I’m afraid that’s been filled but we’re looking for someone down here.’
‘And out!’ suddenly from the radio.
Spicy reaches for a plate of custard creams. ‘They’re my guilty pleasure,’ he says offering them. ‘Whenever we get a wicket. Sounds like we’ve got the Aussies on the run.’
The two chimneys belch smoke and the ICI building’s shrouded in smog as I try to start dad’s old Ford Anglia on the morning of the interview. The engine turns over several times before the spark fires; a cloud of exhaust from the back. The grimy terraces are still festooned with red, white and blue after the Jubilee celebrations and parties.
Mum’s getting ready for another day, tying her headscarf. ‘I wish you’d had a haircut; and allowed me to sew that badge on properly. It’s not straight is it?’ She shakes her head. ‘Put your headlights on then. Have you checked the oil?’...
Days merge into weeks and I receive nothing except a printed acknowledgement of my application forcing me to scan adverts for other work. ‘Need to earn some money somehow. Can’t leave you with all the bills, mum.’
And then the phone rings. I turn down Alan Freeman who’s running through the Top Twenty on the radio. Outside the sun’s broken through.
A female voice honeys down the receiver. ‘Can I speak to Mister Robert Hopebourne?’...
‘There’s a letter for you, Robert.’ Mum’s thumbing through a glossy magazine from the dentist’s surgery where she works and nods towards the table. ‘Looks formal.’
Home from a match I plonk down my kit bag, aware my heart’s now begun to beat harder to the rhythm of Stealer’s Wheel on the radio. ‘Love this song.’
“…clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right here I am…”