There are no letters from this year.
I started work in Granby Street School and struggled. Nothing had prepared me for this. The school was seventy percent black or mixed race and, so I was told, the other thirty percent were Irish. My predecessor had been stabbed and on my first day my form class took bets in front of me as to how many days I would last.Most of them seemed to be on probation. Three times that year I handed in my notice and the principal wisely steered me back into the fray, insisting that it didn’t matter if I didn’t teach anything, I just had to get through the year or I would never teach again. I cried most nights. One day on lunch duty I foolishly cornered a boy who had stood and sent his bench crashing backwards. He did pick it up but then kicked it so that it skidded across the room lengthways and embedded itself into the plaster. After punching me he ran out of the school.
At home things were not good either. Alex got a job at Plesssey and like me came home tired. His work interfered with his reading and most of the time at home he had his head in a book. He had soon settled into the hubby role, sitting at the table or by the fire in the evenings reading and saying,’ Huh huh,’ automatically when I tried to initiate conversation. One day when I was more insistent he threw his supper at the wall opposite; I watched the egg and beans sliding down and knew that that the marriage was over. I had also grown tired of all the anarchist talk. Alex had gathered a group of acolytes around him and the weekly anarchist meetings were in our flat. I thought it was all nonsense…talk of Molotov cocktails, The Little Red Book , the proletariat…all cloak and dagger nonsense. And I was sick of ‘The Lord of the Rings ‘,’Alex’s favourite book. I think he favoured Gandalf. Anyway, Jenny was going out and having fun.
Back then it seemed to me that Jenny had it all…warmth, intelligence, an imaginative and creative mind (I still think this). Shortly after arriving in Liverpool she was well in with the in crowd…the art college lecturers and poets who gathered at The Phil or O’Connors. That’s where I wanted to be.
Eventually I asked Alex to leave. I said I needed time on my own to reflect. In retrospect …well, I knew so little. I felt stifled. Alex wasn’t a bad man; he left and moved to Arran where he got a job with his logging friends. I said I would let him know once I had decided. I think I was a coward and kept putting off the inevitable. The following week I forgot about the anarchist meeting and when I arrived home one evening there they all were, sitting on the floor in my living room. I played a Stones record at full volume and one by one they left!
I was anxious to make up for lost time. Jenny and I went out a lot. Most teaching days I was groggy after the night before but the classes were beginning to regard me with a little grudging respect. At Easter we had moved to the brand new Paddington Comprehensive, the first school to move in. Before we moved we were asked to clear out our classrooms as much as possible. Granby Street had boasted the first school swimming pool in Liverpool. It had long since been boarded over but there was a hole in the middle of the wooden floor through which we posted old textbooks. If you lay down and squinted you could just make out a huge pyramid of books down there. Walking past the school bins one day on my way home I saw some beautiful Japanese prints lying on the top of one of them and took them home. Two years later my new flat mate Sonia invited her classics lecturer around for supper and we used my room for the meal. He saw the prints drawing -pinned to the wall and insisted I take them down immediately,’They are nineteenth century originals.’
In the new school it was difficult to run your hand along any wooden surface without a splinter and right from the start doors wouldn’t close properly etc. It was a hot summer term and the school was mostly glass. Room after specialist room was closed off as the pupils wreaked havoc. One day they wrenched off a continuous hand rail from a stair well several floors high. Us teachers were warned never to get into the lift with pupils. One day my class was all quiet innocence and a boy humbly asked me to explain about sex. He said that they were all confused. I responded sympathetically and suggested they asked me questions. And they did and I answered as sincerely as I could until asked ,’What is a vaginia?’ followed by the inevitable burst of sniggering. We completed the term in one corridor of baking classrooms…but I completed it, my form class gave me a round of applause and I became a fully qualified teacher!
Then following summer is rather a blur but one weekend I met Jason in The Phil.. He was a research student from King’s College, London and we were both smitten. I kept writing to Alex that I needed more time and kept putting off my visit to The Isle of Arran. Towards the end of the summer I hitched down to London to stay with Jason. London to me was a whirl of sophistication. We joined The Grosvener Square march and ate in a very posh restaurant. But time was passing so I made my way to Earl Shilton on my way to Arran. I arrived a few moments after the house had been burgled. Because I left for Arran the next day the police were convinced that I was the culprit. Later someone admitted to that and numerous other burglaries in the village.
On Arran I said I needed more time and anyway, Alex seemed to be well settled. In the bar of The Brodick Hotel I met his latest acolyte, a young man who hung onto Big Alex’s every word and I felt weary and hopeless. But Arran is beautiful and I found a job at Arran Knitwear to tide me over. I returned to Liverpool saying I needed more time!
Back in Liverpool I started work at Lawrence Road Secondary School for Girls. Here I was the school’s only art teacher. Well away from the main school I had two prefabs and a staff-room all to myself. I loved it. My social life had improved enormously and one night in September I opened the door at No 16 and there stood Bridget, the woman who would have such a profound influence on my life and become a lifelong friend.
Bridget was an imposing six feet tall and in addition to her waist length black hair she wore an enormous black policeman’s cape. She was looking for a room and I had one to spare. It was settled straight away and she moved in almost immediately. Sadly she had to rush home to London because her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. We kept in touch. At half term Jason invited me down to London where he was about to give a talk at the LSE. I arranged to visit Bridget and her mother on the morning of the talk. When I got there I was mesmerised by both the flat and the occupants ( the singer Arthur Brown was in the kitchen making marmalade…very stoned , holding jars up to the light and being amazed by the colour), time passed and I never made it to the talk. The following excerpt from Bridget’s obituary gives some idea as to what that flat was like.
‘My friend Bridget Crampton, who has died aged 65, grew up in a council flat in Chelsea, south-west London, with her divorced mother, Mary. As a teenager, I loved visiting and sharing in their unusual bohemian existence amidst a stream of hopeful jazzmen, egotistical painters, drunken actors and poets who called, or stayed a while, sleeping makeshift. Biddy shared her mother’s delight in the buzz of these visitors, even though home comforts were rough and ready as a result.’ ( Vaughan Melzer)
Mary, Bridget’s mother worked hard as a nurse but played hard. The day I visited she sat shrunken and cheerful amidst the chaos….the entire flat was crammed with paintings, antique furniture and artefacts all juxtaposed in lively and playful ways. The South American dance troupe who were staying were out rehearsing. Jason would not forgive me.
I had promised to give Alex my answer at Christmas during my next visit to Arran. Out in Liverpool one night just before this visit I met Dave, the poet! This really was the death knell because once on Arran I couldn’t wait to get back to Liverpool. I told Alex that our marriage was over. I don’t think he was very surprised or disappointed.
In the meantime Bridget’s mother had died and Bridget had moved much of the contents of the London flat up to Liverpool. Fortunately the ceilings were high because chests of drawers were stacked on top of one another. Having much to learn about boundaries I went into her room, tidied then went out. When I returned her room was chaos again and she sat cross-legged in front of a marvellously decorated Christmas tree. I loved her mess, her threads (she was studying weaving at the art college) , her cats, her handful of this or that cooking…there was so much to learn.