‘Be sorry to see you go.’ Biggles is fiddling with his ‘tache as we sit in the staff common room. ‘Are you sure you want to leave?’
‘It’s only an interview. No guarantee I’ll get the job.’
‘What are they looking for?’
It’s a new post.’ I wave a piece of paper. ‘Director of Drama.’ …
In the morning of the twenty seventh of August 1982, the phone ringing wakes me.
I’ve had a disturbed night, despite spending the evening at the Flyer – ‘Another pint!’ I pump money in the jukebox. Happy music only. Norma makes a comment. ‘You look like the cat what got the cream. You won the pools?’ Hands me her glass. ‘A G and T. Double.’…
I’m just staggering back from the Flyer one evening in the middle of August when the phone goes at Orchard Cottage. I briefly consider ignoring it but instead turn down Toto.
“…it’s a feeling you never belonged to me…”
‘Hello?’ I grump.
‘Oh there you are…”
A few more weeks of summer term and that’s it. Five years done. Where have all those years gone?
‘Fuck man, what you gonna do? Slit your wrists? Och. She’s all over you and she’s a real babe.’ …
‘So. Inspection.’ The Big Cheese’s addressing the staff at the beginning of my fifth new academic year. In full swing.
My own relationship with him has gradually morphed from outright fear to grudging respect. In turn, he even occasionally tries to share a joke with me nowadays as if somehow, I too have morphed from dangerous deranged specimen teaching an irrelevant subject to a young radical bringing in valuable and valued new pupils…
The silence between Cher and I thickens; just the piped music insinuating.
“…sometimes I don’t know what I will find…”
This is moving things on. Clive could be in here. Consenting adults. Like with the Femme Fatale. Is that what I want? Is that what Cher wants? Or will it just complicate things? Make things awkward after.
And then something clicks…
I’ve lazed the early weeks of summer holiday 1981 away. Bit of cricket. Bit of social. Lot of thinking. Bought a copy of “Face Value” by Phil Collins which is welded to my turntable.
To my surprise, on the morning of summer school starting, I’m awake early, a stirring in my guts. Why?…
Summer term. 1981.
I’m in my study listening to Pat Metheny on the cassette player, holding a letter from The Big Cheese, countersigned by the Bursar confirming a rise in salary next year. “In recognition of your contribution to drama at Fitzrovia.”
It’s warm June sunshine outside with the aroma of fresh mown grass through the open window; a presage to cricket nets in half an hour. At the sound of footsteps in the corridor I thrust the letter into my pocket…
Just before Christmas, “Bouncers” takes place.
‘Ticket sales are picking up,’ says Hovis Hair a few days before performance. ‘A slow burner.’ She purses her lips. ‘A friend tells me it’s quite violent. Bad language.’
‘It’s meant to be a comedy,’ I venture. ‘There’s an edge to it, but essentially it should be funny.’
She frowns. ‘My husband and I are coming on the Saturday. Is it suitable for children?’
‘I’d exercise some caution. Teenagers, fine. Younger than that probably not.’…
“…innocence raped with napalm fire, twenty first century schizoid man…”
Next morning I’m in my study, still assimilating how I really feel about the previous evening with Miss Dazzle, when there’s a knock on the door. ‘Come in.’
It’s Fizz; flushed in the face; looks as if she might have been crying. Red eyed. Puffy. She should be in school uniform, ready for Sunday chapel, but isn’t.
What’s going on? I turn down King Crimson…
The White Horse Hotel, where I’m to meet Miss Dazzle, is on the outskirts of town. It has rooms, and a reputation for decent food. ‘Reassuringly expensive,’ says Biggles.
I’ve taken a ridiculous time getting ready, changing in and out of clothes, staring at myself in the mirror, before getting a grip. Does it matter what I wear? Why not just be myself? Like I said I would be. And just what am I expecting – hoping? – to happen? In truth, I’ve stopped pining for her. Barely give her a thought.
And yet…over the past few days…
It’s the start of a brand new academic year. My fourth at Fitzie’s. No more the new boy. Instead there are others who’ve arrived, fresh faced, new shoots, following more pruning by the Big Cheese. Out with the old; in with the new…
I’m considering tidying my study at the end of that summer term 1980. Three years almost done and dusted, it contains anything of my world that isn’t at Orchard Cottage. The detritus of school admin lies cheek by jowl with correspondence; lesson plans; old essays; class lists; mark books; cricket scorebook; paraphernalia. There are piles of play scripts, scattered across the floor. A box labeled “Mum.”
Simon and Garfunkel play quietly on the cassette…
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…
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….
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…
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…”…
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.’…
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….
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…