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by Andrew Lee-Hart




“Truly, though our element is time,/ We are not suited to the long perspectives / Open at each instant of our lives.” (Philip Larkin, Reference Back)



“Couldn’t the head make it?”

“No, Mr Ellis had meetings all day at school, and anyway he hardly knew him, I think he only came to Castle Gate at the start of Mr Shepherd’s last year. Silly having it on a weekday though.”

“Yes, I suppose it was when the undertakers could fit it in, I am sure more would have come along if it had been on a Saturday. I recognised Miss Browne, she used to work with him, and there were a few parents I think. I am not sure he kept in touch with his former colleagues, many will have got married and dropped out of circulation and others gone onto better things and left South Yorkshire.”

“A shame, I think only you and I were close to him when he was still teaching.”

“I only talked to him about football, but even then he was more interested in the past players not the modern game.  He enjoyed male company, but I don’t think we had much in common otherwise.”

“He used to flirt with me a little bit, in a harmless sort of way.”

“Oh well, can’t blame him for that.”


The two teachers stood together, watching the mourners walking into the chapel.

“I wonder why he didn’t ever become a deputy head or at least move to a different school.”

“He was quite fatherly to me when I started, I was only a young girl fresh out of college. Perhaps he wasn’t ambitious, not everyone wants to keep moving, he was just happy teaching year after year, he earned enough money to live comfortably on the Castle Estate and he had nobody to support.”

“He didn’t seem that happy, not that I remember, bit of a grouse I thought, even in the classroom he did not seem to be enjoying himself. Mind you there are quite a few here I suppose, it might have cheered him up seeing so many mourners.”

“I thought there would have been more; he had been at the school since after the war, I think he was a bit of an institution, everyone knew he was, a lot of the parents remember him from when they were at the school, there is a girl in my class, Kim Rowbottom, he taught her grandmother.”

“But the Castle has changed, more families coming in, flats knocked down. A lot of Asians moving in, he wouldn’t have liked that.”

“Oh I don’t think he was racist, just didn’t always think before he spoke.  He once called three black kids in his class “the three wise monkeys””

“Oh dear.”

“One of them punched him apparently, but the head at the time hushed it all up. Long before our time.”


They stood and puffed on their cigarettes.

“He never seemed to want to leave the area, apparently his parents lived down the road from him until they died, he would pop in for dinner every Wednesday and Sunday without fail. Apart from the war I wonder if he ever stepped out of South Yorkshire.”

“Did he have any other family?”

“No idea, he never mentioned anybody to me, but then all we talked about was the school and Sheffield Wednesday, rarely mentioned family or anything else really. Oh well we’d better go in.”

“Okay, I will just finish my fag.”

“Poor Mr Shepherd.”




“Did you used to teach at Castle Gate?”

The voice was young and with a broad Sheffield accent, Mr Shepherd got the impression that the boy had already asked him that question twice before, but he had been distracted, thinking about what to have for his lunch and wondering where that pretty librarian was today. He turned from photocopying the Daily Mail crossword and looked at his interlocutor; late teens at most, in jeans and t-shirt, he seemed very nervous.

“Yes lad, I did.”  There was a young librarian behind a desk wearing a suit and looking at a computer screen and oblivious to all around him.  The boy stepped towards him and Mr Shepherd felt the punch before he realised that he had been attacked, felt it hard across his cheek and he stumbled back, grabbing onto the photocopier to stop himself falling onto the floor.

“You fucking bastard” and the boy hit him again, catching him fully on the shoulder this time, and then he must have blanked out, the last words he heard, were “not in the library”.

“Who the hell are you” Mr Shepherd wondered as he slid onto the cheap, green carpet.


He stumbled home, the young, scared looking librarian had offered to help him fill in an incident form, call for an ambulance, call the police, fetch him a coffee or telephone somebody, but when these were all rejected he let him go, appearing relieved to do so.  Mr Shepherd just wanted to leave the library and think about what had happened; as he walked home, past the chip shop and off-license, he realised that he still had the Daily Mail in his hands, he thought about returning it but because the librarian had been such an idiot he decided not to, after all they owed him something after that attack. He wondered if he would ever go back there; could he abide the staring and looks of pity?  He thought not, and wondered if there was another library nearby, he didn’t want to have to drive into the city every day to use the central library, hardly worth it just to look at the newspaper, may as well buy a copy, even glancing at the pretty librarians just made him feel sad and old.


He had been going to that library since he was a child; he used to go with his dad who encouraged him to read the classics; Dickens and Thackeray particularly. Mr Shepherd had continued to go on and off over the years, but since his retirement he had started to go every day; read the paper, photocopy the crossword to do in the evening and then if Rachel the librarian was there, to talk to her in what he hoped was a fatherly sort of way. It wasn’t much of a routine, but he enjoyed it, but now it had been spoiled and he would have to find something else to do. It was pity that you reach your seventies and realise that you have no friends and nothing to do.


The young man who had attacked him had looked eighteen at most, but even so he would have left Castle Gate seven years ago, had he really carried such dislike for so long; weren’t there teachers at his Comprehensive school who had been even more unpleasant, who would have superseded whatever feelings of hatred he had for a primary school teacher?  Was he that unpleasant? Unfortunately, it might have been because Mr Shepherd was old and appeared weak; although he walked every day on the hills above Sheffield he was an old man now with grey hair and a stoop, the young man had seen an easy target.  Ten years ago maybe, he would have fought back; left a mark at least and hopefully chased him off, but he had also been caught by surprise, had had no time to prepare himself, talk to the lad and find out why he harboured such a grudge.


Had he been that unpopular at school? Many of the parents he had taught had brought their own children to Castle Gate and had smiled when they saw him.

“Mr Shepherd, I know our kid will be in good hands.”

In his last couple of years there were even a couple of children whose grandparents he had taught. Did any of those children hate him? Maybe for just a few moments, when he took them up on scruffy piece of work or forgetting their P.E. kit, but he was soon ready with a joke so that the class laughed and the child smiled and it was all forgotten. He may have been tough, but he was fair, and he had cared for each and every one of them, even the naughtiest of them, or perhaps them more than the others.


He said hello to a few people as he walked the last few metres to his house; he had time before lunch to read his filched newspaper and recover a bit. He felt a bit dizzy as he walked into the house that he had bought in the early 1950s and had paid off the mortgage for twenty-five years later, the house smelt of air-freshener, a few years ago it was the smell of cigarettes that had dominated the house but he had given them up shortly before he retired, on a whim really, to prove that he could, and he had managed it, although sometimes he did catch the odd whiff of tobacco and felt a momentary craving.


Mr Shepherd sat down and turned to the sport, at least Sheffield Wednesday were in the First Division these days, (premiership they called it now) but even so he much preferred their players from the 1960s and 1970s; that Terry Curran, now there was a player, not like these over-paid ponces with their too tight shorts and kissing and hugging. He felt his shoulder ache as he turned the pages and thought back to the attack in the library; at least it had been in a public building, suppose it had been at night in a dark ginnel, he could have been left for dead, hardly the way to go.  He realised that he was shaking and decided that he would not go up on the hills that afternoon; it was cold and the sky was getting darker, and anyhow the house was warm and he could watch ‘Countdown’ later, test his brain cells. Soon he was asleep, snoring gently, his newspaper fallen to the floor, unread.



Last Day

“What will you do with your time?”

It was that young woman, Anthea Bennett sitting across from him, with a glass of beer in her hand. All the others had left after a pint and a shake of the hand; back to their homes and families, probably happy to escape, their duty being done, but Anthea had shown no inclination to go but seemed to be enjoying his company, and they were both a little drunk. Anthea looked prettier than in school, and her loose blouse every so often gave him a generous view of her cleavage; he wondered for how many of her class she was their first object of lust. He was seventy and had thought that such stirrings would have gone by now, perhaps if he was married they might have faded away; worn out by familiarity, but not for Mr Shepherd, even now he would find himself staring at a bottom in a tight pair of jeans or a pair of long, tanned legs. He hoped Anthea hadn’t seen where he was looking, and blushed slightly, imagining her anger if she had, or pity, which would have been worse.

“Well lass, after so long here I need a rest; I will walk the hills, catch up on my reading, all those books you bright young things tell me about, maybe join the library.”


The pub smelt of cigarettes and beer and he remembered his dad, not that he would have ever visited a pub, being a strict teetotaller. He had led a busy life; working in his grocer’s shop Monday to Saturday and a lay-preacher for the Methodists on Sunday; he had never retired, wouldn’t have known what to do with himself if he had; he had needed to work. He had come home from work one Thursday evening feeling exhausted and was dead by the following Tuesday; heart attack, he was eighty-five, a long and good life. Mr Shepherd remembered his mum ringing him that Friday morning.

“He won’t get up, says he feels tired.”

Mr Shepherd knew then that this was the end; he had never missed work, always opened the Grocer shop by nine and he never failed to turn up at whichever chapel he was due to preach at that Sunday even in the deepest snow drifts, but when he visited him that evening after school his father was lying in bed, the smell of potpourri filling the room, he seemed diminished and old; his busy life suddenly catching up with him. Within a year Mr Shepherd’s mother was dead too and apart from a half-dozen cousins who he wouldn’t have recognised if he had walked past them in the street, that was it, he had no brothers or sisters, he was left to soldier on alone.


“I probably should find some voluntary work. My dad worked until he dropped; he had to be busy.”

“Did he work down the mines?”

“No lass, he owned a shop, and he was a lay preacher for the Methodists. He was an educated man; travelled all round South Yorkshire, preaching. Shame I lost all that.”

“All what?”

“You know, religion.  It never meant anything to me, I stopped going after the war, pretty much, just the odd funeral.”

“Shall I get you another?”


He saw her walk towards the bar, her chestnut hair luscious with a slight bounce, whilst her hips swung sexily as if in invitation. It was kind of her to stay out with him so long, she had a husband and a daughter, but perhaps she was glad of the excuse to escape from her domestic life.

“He seemed lonely, it was the least I could do, and I doubt I will ever see him again,” he imagined her saying to her husband before putting on a late tea.

 They had not been that close, just the odd chat in the staff room, but then he had not been close to any of the others eithers; the younger ones seeing him as old-fashioned, a relic, the older ones seeing him as a warning of what they might become if they stayed too long.  Mr Ellis, new to his first head teaching job, in turned patronised and lightly mocked him, and the others followed his lead.


“You can always call me if you get bored, we can go out for a drink.” She smiled at him and raised her glass slightly.

“I was young once” he told her, “it goes so quickly and suddenly I have these long perspectives. You think it will last forever and then your life has gone, perhaps I would have done more if I had realised; worked at another school, joined the police or something.”

“You did a good job here. We will all remember you, and all those pupils who have passed through your hands, all that they become will be in part thanks to you.”

“Aye, thanks lass.” But he knew it was a lie.


She rang for a taxi, and then gently held his arm as they waited for it and when it arrived she hugged him tight so that her breasts squashed against his shirt, and she kissed him lightly on the lips.

“Can I drop you off on my way?”

“No, you get home, I like a walk.”

As the taxi drove off she motioned with her hand in the shape of a telephone and mouthed “ring me”. But he knew that he would never see her again, nor any of them. He was done.



Election Day, 1979

At times Sheffield seemed to be a separate country from the rest of the United Kingdom, certainly from the world of the News on the BBC and that of the tabloids; it had its own culture and was that bit tougher than everywhere else. “The People’s Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire” was what many of the locals called it, proudly and defiantly, and because of the election everywhere there were “Vote Labour” posters, perhaps in Hallam, the rich part it was different, but somehow he doubted it.


His dad had never said who he voted for, and now it was too late to ask him; he had always voted as he had his mother, and he often talked about politics but never consistently in favour of anyone, and Mr Shepherd doubted he would have told him if he had asked.

“Vote for who you think is best for the poor and needy.  Don’t be selfish with your vote; it is a duty and use it wisely.” He imagined him saying.  He thought about him a great deal nowadays, wondering what he would have said and how he would have dealt with situations at school. He wished he had asked his advice more, because more and more he felt helpless and adrift.


And the chapels were closing; it was only a couple of weeks ago he had got a letter from a Methodist Minister, inviting to a celebration of the Eccleshall Road Chapel, now that the building was going to close down and the congregation to merge with those of another chapel.

“As your father often preached here, we would be very happy to see you.” The letter concluded. Mr Shepherd tore it up and was just glad that his father had not lived to see the closure of what was once of the busier chapels on the circuit. Perhaps if some of these young people went to church they might have more purpose to life, perhaps if Mr Shepherd himself had carried on going he would too.


Unlike his father Mr Shepherd did not always bother voting, and when he did it was usually the Communist candidate, at least they bothered to stand and no bugger else was going to vote for them, and it didn’t matter Labour would always win here anyway, and he didn’t like Sunny Jim Callaghan, a bit smarmy for his taste, perhaps they needed a change, at least for a short while.  He had laughed when he heard Margaret Thatcher was the daughter of a Methodist Lay Preacher, like him, but he couldn’t take to her and suspected she wouldn’t last, shame they got rid of Heath who he had secretly rather liked; maybe he was a Tory but he was eccentric and seemed more genuine than the rest, he was sorry that he had been thrust aside by his shrill successor.


In the yard there was a fight; a boy Lee, nicknamed Pippin for some reason, was being chased by what seemed to be half of the school, boys and girls.

“What the hell is going on?” he shouted and grabbed Delroy, one of the miscreants, by his ear as he whizzed by shouting. Swiftly the rest of them disappeared to join in with one of the several games of football that were going on in various parts of the yard.

“Lee, get here.”

His dad was a shop owner like Mr Shepherd’s had been, and he always looked a little smarter than many of the other kids; which as Castle Gate did not have school uniforms, was quite noticeable.

“He votes Conservative” Delroy shouted with glee.

“He doesn’t vote for anybody; he is nine.”

“Well his parents do.” And Delroy laughed; his Sheffield Wednesday top already looking creased and grubby with the day only just begun.


Hadn’t Pippin’s parents had enough sense to keep their political preferences quiet, or perhaps they were trying to show their superiority to the rest of the Castle Estate? This teasing would only last a day and then the election would be forgotten, and there would be something else. It was difference that they attacked; the wrong accent, the physically less able; it was not a bad system, after all you need to learn how to survive; blend in and keep your head down.

“No more politics and get into class” he told the two lads and watched them as they trooped in. Mr Khan joined him with a wry smile on his face.

“Politics” Mr Shepherd laughed, “at that age”.

“It is important. And things are changing, an old world being brushed aside to be replaced by something new and perhaps harsher and less kind.”

Mr Shepherd pictured his dad on his bike riding down their street, ploughing through the snow, a Bible and his notes in his bag attached to the back, off to preach to half a dozen people in a Victorian Methodist Church, but knowing that was what he should do, part of a community that Mr Shepherd would only ever be on the fringes of.

“I hope not” he said, “I truly hope not.”



Trevor’s sister

Those long November days; cold and wet but without the excitement of snow, how he hated them. He had gone home for his tea the previous evening as he always did on a Wednesday and he had spoken to his mum and dad about his new class.

“They are so lazy; each year they get worse.”

His dad looked at him thoughtfully.

“Have you ever thought of moving on; trying for another school?”

“Yes, it might be an idea.”

“I mean it Jonathan. If you don’t move now you never will. You could be Deputy Head somewhere with your experience and brains, schools will be crying out for someone as able as you; I would hate to see you stuck in a rut, not good for you, not good for your pupils.”

He nodded, and for a moment pictured himself in a new school, red-brick, with his own office filling in paperwork. Stern but respected.

“I will think about it, maybe have a word with the Head.”


The classroom looked dreary; those pictures of the cholera memorial along the walls, from before the Summer; they needed to have something colourful and more cheerful up there, he thought. He longed for a cigarette but did not dare leave the class, the children were in a restless mood, particularly the far table; Trevor, James and Clive; the three black lads. Always together and always at the centre of any giggling and outbursts of violence. He could see that they were whispering instead of doing their maths project, and he felt irritation stir within him; why couldn’t they just be quiet and concentrate, just for once?


He stood up and stretched, and then looked again over at the far table and raised his voice, so that everyone could hear him.

“You three are like the three wise monkeys; see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil.” The class giggled obediently, and he felt better, felt that they were on his side. “Get down to work, or else I will move you to separate tables.”

Whilst the other two put their heads down and got on with their work Trevor looked at him straight in the eye with a hostile look, he was not happy but hopefully he would work now and take out his anger playing football in the yard later. There was silence, at least for a few minutes, with just the scratch of pencils on paper, and then the bell rang discordantly, and it was time for the afternoon break and he could have a cigarette and his class could run out in the yard, and hopefully be calmer when they returned.


“What do you think of Terry Curran?” asked one of the older lads, Pete, no Paul from the top year, who he had taught last year. “My dad says he will get us up into the First Division.”

Everyone in Sheffield seemed to support either Wednesday or United, he wondered if it was like that in other cities; Liverpool or Manchester. Like religion; either Protestant or Roman Catholic, even if you never went anywhere near a chapel or church.

“His hair is too long and he chews gum. Why can’t he smarten himself up? Nay lad, he is no Derek Dooley.”

“Who’s Derek Dooley?”

Mr Shepherd tutted in exasperation and went to talk to a solitary looking lad who was gazing out onto the road as if planning a means of escape.


He sat with Mr Khan in the staff room the following morning at break time.

“Have you ever thought of becoming a deputy head, Mr Shepherd?”

He laughed, “my dad said the same thing, evening before last.”

He looked at him as if waiting for him to go on.

“I love the kids, deputy head? All I would do is paper work, it isn’t for me.”

“But we all need change.”

“I like it here, I feel as if I belong.” And Mr Khan nodded, although whether he was agreeing or just understanding, Mr Shepherd was not sure.


A large girl came into his classroom after break and stormed up to Mr Shepherd.

“Who are you?” he accosted her as she burst in amongst the tail end of his class.

“You called our Trevor a monkey.” She said, her voice loud and angry, the class were silent. She must have been late teens, old enough to be at work, but her make-up was clumsily done, and he suspected that if they had been on their own, without an audience, he could have talked her down.

“It is just an expression, the three wise monkeys.  Nowt to be offended by.”

“How dare you call them monkeys. Are you stupid?” She was angry, and her perfume was strong as she stood close to him, backing him against the desk. He was aware of her breasts thrusting at him, almost touching his arm. They wobbled slightly as she worked herself up to shout again.

“Come on love, let’s go and talk to the Head.”

“Fuck off” she said derisively, and the class laughed, all of them, even the quiet ones who were usually too scared to cheek him.

“I’ve lost them” he thought, and swiftly left the classroom.


Mr Martin, the head took her away and sat with her in his office, whilst Mr Shepherd returned to his classroom, the class quiet but he felt they were ready to explode if they got the excuse. And Trevor looked at him with what at first he thought was mockery, but could just have easily been fear. Later Mr Shepherd watched Trevor’s sister, from the classroom window, chatting with Mr Martin as he escorted her out of the school and they shook hands as if they had attended a business meeting, she looked older from a distance and less angry, clearly Mr Martin had soothed away her anger and outrage, and she would go home to tell everyone how she had put that racist teacher in his place. He was a weak man, the Head, in a rough school like this you needed someone strong who would stick up for his staff and not be bullied by the pupils or their families.


“Can I see you” the Head asked at the end of the day, Mr Shepherd shrugged, although deep down he felt most nervous.

“I apologised to her, and I doubt we will hear any more about it.  Quite brave of her.”

Mr Shepherd snorted, “brave?”

“She came here by herself, apparently she was once in your class, you taught her maths, she remembers you.”

He gestured helplessly, “she doesn’t look familiar but so many come and go.”

Mr Martin laughed. “Well just be careful, the world is changing. You are a good teacher, but just watch what you say, I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

Mr Martin was younger than him, what did he know of life? Mr Shepherd had fought, seen people die and then come to his own city to put something back, and then this nonsense, perhaps his dad was right, perhaps he needed to leave.

“See you tomorrow then?” said Mr Martin, trying to sound conciliatory.

“I imagine you will” and he walked out, forgetting his briefcase.  He walked, through the empty corridors towards the exit and behind him he could hear the faint sound of giggling and contempt.




Gwyn Jones stood in front of them; thin and white haired, he looked like a professor from a Welsh university on the cusp of retirement, but in his five years he had done well, the early nineteen sixties were becoming a period of optimism despite nuclear tensions, and Castle Gate was entering the modern era and a lot of this had been down to the Head, a liberal and tolerant man who encouraged these qualities in his staff.

“This is Eleanor, Miss Browne, she will be teaching the top year, replacing Mr Chambers. Eleanor studied at Oxford, St. Hilda’s College, and we are very lucky to have her.”

“Hello everyone”, she smiled brightly, young and smartly dressed, but not pretty Mr Shepherd thought, disappointed, there was a fuzz of facial hair on her upper lip and her teeth were crooked, and she was too earnest looking, she would struggle.  He settled down in the chair that he had grabbed at the start of the meeting, taken because it was the most comfortable in the staffroom, and also because from it you could gaze out of the window into the yard and the streets beyond when the meeting started to get dull, which it would soon enough.


“As Miss Browne is a mathematics graduate I thought she could take over the top set and Mr Shepherd take the less-able. I hope that this is okay with you Jonathan?”

“Well, I have been taking that class for a few years, does Miss Browne know how we do things?”

Suddenly he felt cross, if he had been warned in advance it might not have been so much of a shock; this slip of a lass taking his role. He loved teaching maths, with learning multiplication tables by rote and doing little projects; he felt that it was what he was good at; he might not have a degree in it, but he knew how to teach it and was patient with the children when they struggled.

“I am sure you will show her anything she needs to know.”


At first Mr Shepherd had liked the new Head; he might have looked old, but he seemed modern with many new ideas, and yet somehow they had never jelled or formed a rapport, and other members of staff had been picked to help with new ideas and projects; he wondered why this was, he was still one of the youngest in the staffroom and yet he felt he had become something of a stick-in-the mud, clearly the Head thought so. Mr Shepherd used traditional methods, but you knew where you were with them and say what you like, his students left the school with a thorough grounding in grammar and maths, it was true few of them went to the Grammar school, but then this was a poor area and expectations were low; he did what he could with what he was presented with. Perhaps it was because he was local and certainly Mr Jones seemed to prefer outsiders like himself, as if they were missionary workers in heathen South Yorkshire, come to spread the Word of Culture and Higher Education.


“Mr Shepherd. Could we talk about maths; I have got a few ideas for the kids, I wondered if I go through them with you please.”

Her accent was southern, presumably she was from a wealthy family down South and would probably stay up here for a year or two and then move on, her idealism appeased. He lit a cigarette and looked at her calmly, she seemed nervous and this gave him courage.

“I am sure they are fine love, just nothing too radical eh, they are old-fashioned here. You can’t go wrong with learning times tables.”

“I know, sorry I didn’t mean to tread on your toes, but I would appreciate your thoughts.”

He laughed.  “Don’t worry I am sure they are fine, you are a clever girl”, and he left her sitting there and walked into the yard to finish his cigarette in peace.


To his surprise and chagrin Miss Browne did well and proved to be popular with the many of the parents and her pupils; he overheard a cluster of mothers talking about her at the school gates at the end of the day.

“Our Joan used to hate maths, but that new teacher she is so patient with her.”

“So imaginative.”

“She is talking of going to university. A daughter of mine?”

And then there were the new ideas; a school trip to the London Science and Natural museums.

“But we can’t go to London” Mr Shepherd protested, “nothing wrong with the city museums and a walk along the canal. That is our history, the city they belong to, not London.”

The Head laughed, “you need to move with the times Mr Shepherd and London isn’t so far. Therefore, whilst Mr Shepherd’s class wandered around the industrial heritage of Sheffield, Miss Browne’s headed by train to the capital, all looking excited and slightly scared.  And when they returned to class next morning day unscathed and thrilled, they told their envious schoolmates of all that they had seen and done; Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Madam Tussaud’s Waxworks as well as the dinosaurs and experiments in the museums.


After that success there was the school orchestra which Miss Browne set up, leading it from the front, conducting the pupils who had never shown any interest in music before, or perhaps never had the chance. She managed to beg, borrow and steel a variety of instruments and swiftly she built them up into a decent group of players, even the less able thriving under her enthusiasm. Once a week they played at the start of assembly and at Christmas they did a concert for parents and friends which got a mention in The Sheffield Star, Miss Browne photographed looking proud with her baton in the hand.

“I never knew our Stephen was musical.”

“It’s that Miss Browne, she brings out the best in them, she’s like a breath of fresh air.”

And the applause burst from the parents and from the Head who looked as proud as if she had been his daughter.


Mr Shepherd went to see the Head.

“I have an idea for football practice; Wednesday lunchtime. We could join the Sheffield football league, we have got some good lads, I am sure a team from here would do well.”

“Wednesday, but isn’t that when the orchestra practice?”

“Oh I doubt any of the footballers are bothered about playing instruments.”

Whilst the orchestra played away in the hall, he led a group of the lads doing laps around the football pitch and practicing penalties in the mud and rain; and a few years later one of the lads, Stephen Lewis, played a few games for Rotherham United reserves, although Mr Shepherd was proud about this, he had no memory of the lad and certainly had not spotted his potential greatness.


“You don’t like Eleanor much do you” confided his friend John Hammond, a few years older than him; a cynic who had given up a long time ago and was just marking time until his retirement.

“Oh, she means well, just doesn’t understand the kids, not really. She will be off soon, or Gwyn will get tired of her.”

The Head clapped his hands for attention.

“Miss Browne has had another good idea; there is a science fayre in Birmingham in a fortnight, she has volunteered to take any pupils who are interested.”

“Oh for God’s sake” murmured Mr Shepherd, quietly, but so that he would be heard by at least some of his colleagues.

“Do you say something Jonathan?”

“No, it is just we have a football practice that day and my pupils have projects to do. It is all very well going gallivanting off to Birmingham and to London, but they do have proper work.”

He could see the other teachers nodding in agreement, clearly glad that he had made a stand.  Miss Browne flushed.

“It is proper work, but if you all object….”

Nobody contradicted her, and that was the first battle that she lost, and she sat down quietly, looking upset, perhaps realising the opposition she faced and not liking it. Mr Jones looked embarrassed but did not step in to protect his protégé.


“I just want to help the kids, they have so much potential. I was from a poor background, a Council Estate in Essex; my mum brought all three of us after my dad died in the war. And yet my teachers saw something in me and encouraged me. I could have gone anywhere, but I wanted to go where I was needed.”

“Aye lass, that is great, but sometimes kids are happy doing what their parents did, learning the basics and then getting a job in the factory. I am sure they enjoy your trips out and your orchestra, but what use is it really, for a lad or a lass from the Castle Estate?”

“But what about the clever ones, the ones who want something more? Maybe I can help them.”

Mr Shepherd sniffed, he had a cold and was not in a good mood. “Perhaps you should try somewhere else. You mean well I am sure, but what you do is not right for round here. Maybe in another town, but not here, not on the Castle.”


Miss Browne left at the end of her second year at Castle Gate; she had been offered a job at a grammar school over in Nottingham.

“Looks like you won” laughed Mr Hammond, “she has gone. And I think the Head will think twice about appointing anymore bright young things.”

“Indeed” but he wondered if he had won and he wondered why he had never talked about her to his parents and he wondered when he had gone from being a bright young thing himself to a traditional teacher, part of the old guard, and whether he could reverse this. He tried to use some of Miss Browne’s ideas in his maths lessons, but he could not get it right and soon he stopped bothering, and eventually he forgot about her, well most of the time.


The orchestra however did continue under the baton of various musical teachers, and at times was highly regarded, although it was soon forgotten that it was a Miss Browne who had started it, although a piece she had written for their first concert was still used on occasion under the impression that it was written by an obscure British composer. And within a few years even Mr Shepherd was taking his class up to London to marvel at the Natural History and Science Museums and to gawp at Buckingham Palace and try to spot the Queen silhouetted against the windows.




There weren’t many of them, not really, not ever. Even during the war he had had no sex life; he was only young and was very shy, and he was writing to Marie by then and would have felt it a betrayal even though they had not used words like “love” or anything like that. Perhaps if he had had sex with someone, then that part of his life would have been got out of the way with, and things would have been easier. Jonathan’s favourite poet, the great Philip Larkin talked about life after sex being “A brilliant break of the bank,/ A quite unlosable game.” And perhaps it would have been then.


Many of his friends had talked about it, but actually that was not much chance, and when they were in training in Shropshire the young men outnumbered the local women by at least ten to one, so that only the confident and handsome soldiers did well, whilst Jonathan dreamed of Marie, of them being married, long Sunday mornings in bed and her making him breakfast on Monday mornings and kissing him as he headed off to teach. He was glad that he had found someone to share his life with, and wanted the war to be over with so his life could start.



They walked over the hills, arm in arm and looking down into Sheffield. It smelt clean up here; the lungs of Sheffield someone had called them, whilst down below there was dirt and industry.

“I saw them bomb the city; it was on fire, all the factories and the houses. One night I lay here, my dad would have lathered me if he had found out, and I cried. Night after night it was, the Luftwaffe bombing us; they think they had it bad in London but they tried to wipe us out here, and the noise of the bombs….”

She spoke quietly, but with emotion; the war was barely over and even from up here the city looked desolate and ravaged. He had been glad to fight and after seeing what they had done to his city he had no regrets that he had fought and had probably killed some of those responsible for this.

“Thank you for writing to me, I felt quite lonely out in Libya, and it really kept me going.”

“Your dad suggested it; he gave me your address, and I enjoyed doing it. You were very brave.”

“I looked forward so much to receiving your letters, they were just so normal; about everyday things, and I kept that photograph you sent me, it went everywhere with me.”


He bent over to kiss her, and for a few seconds she let him, and he tasted cloves on her breath and the softness of those lips; he had longed to do this for so long and had known it would happen. Her thin body pushed against him for a moment, but just as he got comfortable she broke away and stood apart from him.

“I am sorry I can’t do this, I have got someone. I didn’t want to upset you. A friend of my brother’s he was working in the steelworks so didn’t get called up. John he is called; we are engaged, have been awhile, you might actually like him, he is a nice lad.  We were just waiting for the war to end before we got married.”

“Why didn’t you say?”

“I was going to, should have at the start when I started writing, and then I didn’t want to spoil it for you. Your dad was worried about you and I thought it would give you a distraction having my letters and you wrote some interesting things, quite poetic, but I didn’t realise it would get so intense. I never said I loved you, nothing like that, a lot of us write to the men out there, it was a way of helping with the war.  You weren’t the only one I wrote to, but I liked your letters the best though.”

“You should have said.  It was the thought of you that kept me going.”

She shrugged, “I am sorry, I really didn’t mean to hurt you. You are handsome and clever, you will meet someone, someone better than me.  You will be going to college soon, there will be a great many young women there looking for someone just like you.”

He walked away, leaving her standing alone, looking beautiful in a dark blue dress. He headed down into the city, all around him he could smell fire and death.



She started at Castle Gate a couple of years after he did; smartly dressed and young from Leeds. The rest of the staff were old, or seemed to be, and it was lovely to have someone a similar age to him. She was quite large; full-bosomed but sexy, with a way of dressing well with flowing dresses and a cloak that she wore all year. She would look at him through her glasses as if examining him intently, and she seemed to like what she saw.


They took to sitting together in the staff-room earnestly discussing the lads and lasses in their classes; trying to understand them and to think how best to teach them and make them better.

“They are so old-fashioned here; just sitting them down and getting them to recite their tables or poems by Kipling. It is like Victoria is still on the throne.”

He laughed; “they will soon be retired I hope and then we can take over.”

“That Mr Shaw will be here forever, he should have retired ages ago. The children all hate him. Perhaps you should apply to become head master when he goes; the school needs someone caring and modern like you.”

“I am only young, still learning my trade, but you are right I should do, I have no intention doing this forever with a bunch of old fogies.”

They laughed in happy and secret collusion.


They went to the cinema and kissed each other, not caring who saw them and later in her bedsit they lay side by side on her bed in each other’s arms although she stopped him doing everything, just artfully revealed parts of her body and caressed him so that he had to go to the house’s communal bathroom to clean himself up.  They did not speak about it, and he felt embarrassed at times, but if they got married then they could do this properly, no clothes and he wouldn’t have to sneak out afterwards feeling curiously sad as he cycled home.


He started to save up for a house; nothing fancy and not far away, and he allowed himself to dream, although he did not tell her about the house, it would be something to surprise her with when he proposed to her, he wanted to have something to offer her, property, somewhere to settle. She talked of her plans for the future, but she never mentioned him in them, there were what she would do, and they never talked of love, how they felt about each other, was it because they were comfortable that it went without saying or was it because he was just someone to be romantic with before she found “the one”?


He should have asked her to marry him early on, maybe on their way back from the cinema, just got down on one knee, in retrospect he thought that she would have said yes, was just waiting for him to pop the question, but at the time he was nervous and when he tried to bring the subject round somehow they ended up talking about something else, usually the school, and the moment passed rather to his relief. He did not even buy a ring, perhaps that was it. Perhaps if he had actually gone to the jeweller and chosen a ring then he would have had to propose. 


And then he became aware that the relationship had started to fade; only gradually, no row, but now they did not always sit together in the staffroom and she became friendly with the other teachers who in the past she had dismissed, and she talked with them and plotted as she had once done with him. They stopped going to the cinema so much, and when they did they sat stiffly, near the front, not even holding hands, their bodies far apart.  And then he walked her to her door hoping she would invite him in so that they would be back to what they had been, but she didn’t, not ever again.

“Good night Jonathan.”

“Good night Jenny.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”


“I hear you bought a house.”

“Yes, near to my mum and dad, I couldn’t leave them. Nothing big but I like it for me, a bit of privacy.”

“Did you know that I am leaving at the end of term?”

“Yes, someone said. Engaged aren’t you?”

“Yes a friend from Leeds, he got back in touch so I am going back there to make a home. We will get married this summer.”

“Good. Well take care. Back to the grindstone.”




“I’ve got cancer” she said, “of the lymph gland.”


“That’s where I was, yesterday, at the hospital. I was worried and when I went to see the doctor she made me go to hospital straightaway.”

“Is it serious?”

“I hope not. I have got to go back to hospital tomorrow and I will have an operation and they will attach something to my leg. Doug is going to take time off work to spend time with me. He is upstairs, so I had better go. I will let you know how it goes.”

She put the telephone down and he lit a cigarette and then went to find his medical encyclopaedia.


Inevitably he met her at Castle Gate, how else was he to meet women at his age?  She was the new secretary; early forties like him, pretty with blonde hair always up, to show the pale skin of her forehead and her green eyes.  She smiled at him as he came in each morning; her voice Yorkshire, but posh.

“Good morning Shepherd. How was your weekend.”

“Fine. I was in the garden, making the most of this fine weather.  You?”

“Yes it was lovely. I didn’t do much; Doug away, times like this I miss the kids. I read mostly, and did a crossword.”

He had given up on women, not sure why, perhaps he had just become used to not having someone romantic in his life, the thought of change was too much for him, he was settled, lovely house, parents around the corner and the pub. Being a teacher he needed time at home to mark and to plan lessons, although the long summer holiday did stretch out ahead of him. For the first time he was not looking forward to that endless holiday. Was he lonely? He pushed the thought aside and thought about Esther and wondered what she would look like with her hair down.


He had a car by then, a Morris Minor and as he drove out of the school he saw her with her long legs and light jacket.

“Do you want a lift?”

“Oh thank you. It will save me the bus fare.”

He was so conscious of her as he drove. Her legs occasionally brushing next to his, and her perfume, something sophisticated and arousing.

“Am I going far out of your way?”

“It is okay; it is a lovely evening for a drive.”

That first evening he dropped her outside her house, and she gave him a peck on the cheek, and as she walked into her house she looked back at him and caught him gazing at her lustfully, she winked before going inside.


The next morning at school it was as if they had a big secret and she smiled at him with great amusement and patted him on the arm.

“Do you want a lift after school?”

“Aye ‘appen I do” she said mocking his accent.

“Show me your house?” she commanded as they drove away from the school and without a word he headed there and once inside she kissed him strong and passionately, before taking him upstairs and taking off her dress.

“I miss this.”

“Don’t you and your husband?”

“When he isn’t at work, or too tired, or off with his mates, or there is something good on television. Oh yes a right love nest is our house.”


And later.

“Is this okay?”

“’appen it is. Think I might want seconds and maybe even thirds.”

“Esther, Esther my love.”

He kissed every part of her; the first woman he had been with, and so much of her and the beauty of her.

“My God, it was worth waiting for” he thought, “not half”.


Sometimes she felt guilty and wouldn’t see him, and sometimes Doug was on leave from work or her kids were staying for a few days.  And at times he got jealous and tried to hurt her.

“So when was the last time you did it?”

“What do you mean?”

“You and Doug, this. When was the last time?”

“Oh I can’t remember, last week I think. He was drunk, had too much. It was all very quick, not like this.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“No, well a little bit, not like with you, with you it is special.”

He lay on the bed and imagined them together; his heart felt tight and then he got up and walked down into the kitchen where he had left his cigarettes, and started to smoke, she padded downstairs moments later and held him from behind.

“I am sorry Esther.”

“I know you are love.”

“I just get jealous, you know, imagining you and him.”

“I know, I know.”


He never saw her again; she survived the cancer but didn’t come back, resigning from her job, Doug coming in to collect her few possessions that she had left; he was a thin looking man, clearly pale with worry, and Mr Shepherd felt guilty for the first time, which helped him get over her. After that she telephoned on occasion, but the conversations were shorter and shorter.

“It has made me realise that my life might end. I was lucky. I don’t want to die an adulteress.”

“You were not that; if he had treated you better.”

“No, I was and I should have been more patient. I need to concentrate on my family. I will miss you and I will miss the school, but I need my family now.”


Nobody knew; he had no friends to tell, nobody that close and he could not tell his parents that he had had an affair with a married woman; for almost a year. He felt shamed and embarrassed and at night he remembered her naked astride him; bending down to kiss him.

“Do you love me Esther?”

“’appen I do. ‘appen I do.”



First Day

He looked at the Castle Gate school, although it wasn’t the school he had attended as a lad, he had often gone past it, but now his heart was lurching within him; the building looked grey in the light September rain, he was nervous, but this was where he belonged, he could feel it, the first day of his working life. As he made his way to the entrance he saw a couple of elderly looking men heading in and they smiled at him as he followed them. One of them stopped.

“Are you the new teacher?”

“Yes, Mr Shepherd, Jonathan. Pleased to meet you.”

“I am Peter, one of your new colleagues, I am pleased to meet you. I am sure you will be happy here.”

“So am I.”


He had enjoyed teacher training, most of the students were young men from the war, eager to get on with their lives; they had survived and were confident. Jonathan did a term’s teaching-practice at a school on the other side of Sheffield, part of a small mining community; with slag heaps everywhere, dominating the village of Willaston.

“They will all end up down the mines”, the head a Mrs Robinson told him, “we just try to teach them some basics, how to read and write and maybe a little bit of culture, but I can’t help but think that it is wasted.”

“That is a shame, there seem to be some bright kids amongst them.”

Mrs Robinson smiled at him, “I am sure there are, but we will always need coal. The world is changing, but not that much.”

Jonathan smiled down at his class as they solemnly looked up at him, he was probably younger than some of their brothers and sisters; he imagined them in a few years time, trudging down the mines and then a bath in a steel tub in the evening, whilst the girls would be worn down by children and washing, that spark of imagination dulled by the quotidian tasks, perhaps they would look back to their childhood with nostalgia and longing.

“Right,” he said, “subtraction.”


School did not start for another day, but they talked in the staffroom, planning the year ahead and catching up with each other; the walls grey and smelling of cigarettes and coffee. Mr Shaw, the Headmaster introduced him, and as the rest of the staff deferentially asked him about the war, and about his parents, who some of them knew; he realised that he would be much closer in age to his pupils than to these teachers most of whom were older than his father. And yet already he felt at home, accepted, as if these old teachers were in awe of his youth and his recent experiences in North Africa. He could do this, become part of this institution and help build up a better generation to help rebuild the country and their city so badly damaged by the Germans.


Mr Shaw showed him to his classroom.

“You will be taking the third years Mr Shepherd, they are a friendly bunch and did well last year. Plenty of potential, and I am sure you will enjoy teaching them, and they you.”

“Thank you.” And he looked round the empty classroom, austere but with potential, and for a moment it was as if it was full of children, talking quietly, eager to learn and to become adults, better than their parents. He sat down at the chair, which wobbled slightly as he did so, and he tapped on the desk, Mr Shaw smiled and left him to it.  He paced around the classroom, humming something under his breath, and then he lit a cigarette and stood against the far wall, lost in the moment and ever so happy, perhaps for the first time in his life.


He sat at the kitchen table with his mum after his first day; his dad was still at the shop and would be in shortly.

“I think I will like it. I am the youngest, youngest by far, but they all seem friendly, and my class is supposed to be a good one.”

“Are there any women teachers?”

“Yes, but nobody my age, but it is okay.”

“Oh that is a shame. We hoped you’d meet someone, settle down, be happy, it was a shame that there was nobody at college, and there are some lovely girls at chapel, you ought to go, they are all eager to meet you, you are quite a catch.”

“Oh mum, there is plenty of time, it is just a case of finding the right one; I am only young.”

“Hm, your father and I were engaged at your age, doesn’t do any harm to look or all the good ones will be taken. But I am glad you are happy, we both are. That is all we want, that is all any parent wants.  When you have children you will know.”



Libyan Desert

“What will you do when this is over?”

“Work for my dad; he owns a factory in Halifax. He could have saved me from this, but I wanted to fight, didn’t want to be a coward? What about you?”

“Oh teaching; I love children. I remember my teachers and my dad, he taught me so much.”

“You could always just have children. Teaching sounds a bit dull, and I hated school why would you want to go back there? I was always in trouble, was glad to leave.”

Jonathan laughed, “nah. But yes I hope I have children as well, but there are worst ways to spend your life than being a teacher, much worse, and hopefully I will be better than the ones you remember.”


They smoked together, and Jonathan felt calm; they were winning now, the Germans in retreat and he was thinking about the future, the first time that he had allowed himself to.

“I just want to get back to Sheffield; you don’t realise how much you love somewhere until you move.”

His friend laughed, “not me, I look forward to leaving Halifax; work for my dad a couple of years, save up a bit of money, then London for me. Seeing people die makes you realise how life can end so quickly. I am making the most of my life; girls and money. They are there waiting for me and I won’t be found wanting”.

“Supper with me mam and dad, a drink in the pub and watching The Wednesday on the terraces; that is what is important. I will find someone, have children and hopefully the world will be better, and we need to get rid of this government; Churchill and his cronies.   Maybe I am not ambitious, but I know what I want and it is back home in Sheffield.”


The two young men finished their cigarettes and headed to the mess tent to get some tea, enjoying the heat of the evening sun as it started to descend into the darkness ahead of them. Faraway the Germans were retreating and the war was coming to an end.




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