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)
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 Shepherds 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
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 dont think we
had much in common otherwise.
He used to flirt
with me a little bit, in a harmless sort of way.
cant blame him for that.
The two teachers stood
together, watching the mourners walking into the chapel.
I wonder why he
didnt ever become a deputy head or at least move to a different
He was quite
fatherly to me when I started, I was only a young girl fresh out of college.
Perhaps he wasnt 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.
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
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 wouldnt have liked that.
Oh I dont
think he was racist, just didnt always think before he spoke. He
once called three black kids in his class the three wise
One of them
punched him apparently, but the head at the time hushed it all up. Long before
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
Did he have any
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
wed better go in.
Okay, I will just
finish my fag.
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.
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
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
didnt 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
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 wasnt 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;
werent 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
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.
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 hadnt 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
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 grocers shop Monday to Saturday and a lay-preacher for the Methodists
on Sunday; he had never retired, wouldnt 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 wont 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 Shepherds mother was dead too and apart
from a half-dozen cousins who he wouldnt 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
Did he work down
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
religion. It never meant anything to me, I stopped going after the war,
pretty much, just the odd funeral.
Shall I get you
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
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
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 Peoples
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
Vote for who you
think is best for the poor and needy. Dont 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
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
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 didnt matter Labour would always win here
anyway, and he didnt 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 couldnt take to her and suspected she
wouldnt 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
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.
His dad was a shop
owner like Mr Shepherds 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.
Conservative Delroy shouted with glee.
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.
Pippins 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
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.
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
I hope not
he said, I truly hope not.
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
Have you ever
thought of moving on; trying for another school?
Yes, it might be
I mean it
Jonathan. If you dont 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 couldnt 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
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
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
His hair is too
long and he chews gum. Why cant he smarten himself up? Nay lad, he is no
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 isnt for
But we all need
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.
you? he accosted her as she burst in amongst the tail end of his
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
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,
lets go and talk to the Head.
she said derisively, and the class laughed, all of them, even the quiet ones
who were usually too scared to cheek him.
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
Trevors 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
Mr Shepherd snorted,
She came here by
herself, apparently she was once in your class, you taught her maths, she
He gestured helplessly,
she doesnt 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 dont want you to get into
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. Hildas College, and we are very lucky to have
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
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
Well, I have been
taking that class for a few years, does Miss Browne know how we do
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.
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
cant go wrong with learning times tables.
I know, sorry I
didnt mean to tread on your toes, but I would appreciate your
Dont 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
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.
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 cant
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 isnt so far.
Therefore, whilst Mr Shepherds class wandered around the industrial
heritage of Sheffield, Miss Brownes 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
Tussauds Waxworks as well as the dinosaurs and experiments in the
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.
Miss Browne, she brings out the best in them, shes like a breath of fresh
And the applause burst
from the parents and from the Head who looked as proud as if she had been his
Mr Shepherd went to see
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
isnt 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.
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 doesnt 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 Gods
sake murmured Mr Shepherd, quietly, but so that he would be heard by at
least some of his colleagues.
Do you say
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
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
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
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
But what about
the clever ones, the ones who want something more? Maybe I can help
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.
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 Brownes 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
There werent 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. Jonathans 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
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
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
suggested it; he gave me your address, and I enjoyed doing it. You were very
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
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
cant do this, I have got someone. I didnt want to upset you. A
friend of my brothers he was working in the steelworks so didnt 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.
I was going to,
should have at the start when I started writing, and then I didnt 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 didnt 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 werent 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 didnt 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
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
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 others 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 houses 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
wouldnt have to sneak out afterwards feeling curiously sad as he cycled
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 didnt, not ever again.
I hear you bought
Yes, near to my
mum and dad, I couldnt 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?
said. Engaged arent 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.
cancer she said, of the lymph gland.
I was, yesterday, at the hospital. I was worried and when I went to see the
doctor she made me go to hospital straightaway.
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
She put the telephone
down and he lit a cigarette and then went to find his medical
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.
Shepherd. How was your weekend.
Fine. I was in
the garden, making the most of this fine weather. You?
Yes it was
lovely. I didnt 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
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
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.
and your husband?
isnt 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.
is. Think I might want seconds and maybe even thirds.
Esther, Esther my
He kissed every part of
her; the first woman he had been with, and so much of her and the beauty of
My God, it was
worth waiting for he thought, not half.
Sometimes she felt
guilty and wouldnt 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
You and Doug,
this. When was the last time?
Oh I cant
remember, last week I think. He was drunk, had too much. It was all very quick,
not like this.
Did you enjoy
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
I know you are
I just get
jealous, you know, imagining you and him.
I know, I
He never saw her again;
she survived the cancer but didnt 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 dont want to die an
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
Do you love me
appen I do.
appen I do.
He looked at the Castle
Gate school, although it wasnt 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
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
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
terms teaching-practice at a school on the other side of Sheffield, part
of a small mining community; with slag heaps everywhere, dominating the village
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 cant 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.
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
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
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
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
Yes, but nobody
my age, but it is okay.
Oh that is a
shame. We hoped youd 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
Oh mum, there is
plenty of time, it is just a case of finding the right one; I am only
Hm, your father
and I were engaged at your age, doesnt 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
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, didnt want to be a coward? What about you?
Oh teaching; I
love children. I remember my teachers and my dad, he taught me so
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
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
I just want to
get back to Sheffield; you dont realise how much you love somewhere until
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 wont be found
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