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P'ter Jan 4 2019 01:10 PM

Heading Home
Some time back I started writing a non-science fiction novel. Posting it here in instalments will help keep me writing and completing it.

P'ter Jan 4 2019 01:22 PM

Re: Heading Home
Heading Home Chapter 1

I stand by the open grave gazing down at the dirt speckled coffin. The brass plate on the lid is easily legible in the harsh summer sun:

“Elizabeth James”
6/2/1952 – 4/12/2010”

My wife’s coffin. Born that particular day, what else could she have been named? Elizabeth Regina: Vivat Regina. But MY Elizabeth is dead. A day I have known was inevitable ever since she became ill three years ago.
Friends and work colleagues have drifted away to their cars leaving me this time for my private thoughts. My jumble of thoughts that one day, perhaps, I will fight down onto paper as a poem worthy of standing witness to our seventeen years.

I can see two workers standing almost out of my line of sight, waiting to bring in the digger to backfill that frightful space, to shape the earth into a seemly shape and to arrange the wreaths in a seemly order, that all may be seemly. What a terrible word. Was her death ‘seemly’? I turn away to let them finish what those darn bacteria had started thirty-eight months ago.
Graham, head master of the High School, and my erstwhile boss, is waiting to drive me home to my bungalow where kind neighbours and colleagues had organised the wake. Would that she would wake. No I don’t; not to extend that earthly purgatory she had suffered so.

Graham opens the passenger door of the last remaining car: his. A few teenagers still mill around talking quietly. Some other are departing, cycling and walking off in dark clothing instead of their usual eye-searing clashes. One lad in a dark suit and tie is making off on a skateboard.

From among her friends a girl asks me, “Are you coming back to teach us again Sir?”

I had taught her history for two years. Elizabeth had taught her P.E. and games for one. I realise that I don’t know. “It’s too soon to decide,” I tell her.

A boy comes over and shakes my hand. Two girls, about to start their Senior Year, come and give me quick shy hugs. I get in the car and we drive away.

As he changes into third Graham says, “I know it’s too soon for you to decide, but I ... WE’D love to have you back. We still think of you as part of the team; after all you’re about the longest serving member of staff. You don’t have to come back full-time. You don’t even have to come and teach, you could make a valuable contribution as a mentor. Just add it into the equation, okay?”


At home my neighbour, one of our nurses at the local hospital, has organised a decent amount of alcohol, a decent amount of soft-drinks, a decent amount of food; all to be consumed by these decent folks. I realise that I am looking at them with a new vision that makes them all strangers despite everything I think I know about them. For so long my vision has been tunnelled, limited to that Darling suffering and gasping her way down that slope leading to that hole in the ground. Now I’m as surprised by what I see of these people, and their usually silent support, as I was the day I first put on a pair of spectacles and found that the white blob on the Town Hall was a clock. And I could read it!

A young red-headed man wanders across to me, a mug of tea in his hand; our town pharmacist. I’ve seen a lot of him recently.

“Havyer evergon backter Blightly, Mr. James? Ter visit?” He talks like a cartoon ‘Ozzy’ in a British comic.

“No. At first, when I came out here in nineteen-ninety, I always meant to but then I met Elizabeth and didn’t want to: or need to. I’ve kept in touch with my ex and daughters. Cards and letters at Christmas and birthdays, that sort of thing. I used to send money for presents. Now my daughters have Kindles and I send them e-books, and I send money or gift tokens back for the grandkids. Why?”

“I was looking online only yesterdie. Quantas’ve got some real bonza offers right now, if yer book real early.” He swallowed the rest of his tea and moved to find a refill.

My neighbourly nurse came bustling across. “Watcha drinkin Trev? Havyer eaten? Come on let’s getyer fixtup.”

There are times when it is wise to give in and go.


A couple of hours later everyone has gone, except the neighbour doing the washing up. Eventually she goes too amidst professional advice on eating. Eating! I’ve eaten far too many sandwiches and slices of cake. What my taste buds are yearning for is something cool and tart. I look in the fridge and find the remains of a fruit salad covered in cling-film. I take a spoon off the draining board, dry it and sit down to eat. But, I have no sooner sat down than I realise that I also want music. Not to make music, though that was how Elizabeth and I had got together, but to let it wash over me. For me, listening to the right piece of music at the right time is as refreshing as a good bath.

I look along the rows of C.Ds: Faure’s Requiem? Too near the knuckle as yet. Gibbons! Good old Orlando. Yes: just lose myself in the complexities of polyphony.

On the disc his Second Evening Service is followed by Palestrina’s Tu Es Petrus. Dear Petrus. I had tried so hard to be Peter for Elizabeth. Lean on me Dear, I am a rock for you. Near The End, it had somehow reversed and Elizabeth had been the rock for me. Sitting there slowly eating fruit salad, and letting the daylight slowly fade around me, I realise that the time has come: it is time to head home.

P'ter Jan 17 2019 06:26 PM

Re: Heading Home
Chapter 2

I had been born to parents who, well; mother at least, expected high achievement from their children. Raised in middle class, middle England; the middle child of three, I had drifted through education. I had not exactly lazed about, but I had not worked my socks off either. I had glided through primary and grammar school picking up reasonable exam results on the way. Judged too bright to go on to the local tech, not quite excellent enough for a top flight university, my careers master had steered me to teacher training college to study for a Cert. Ed
My three choices of college on the application forms had been formed by maternal pressure. All three were in what she regarded as ‘nice’ places. Ripon and York had been my first choice (‘such a nice collection of churches, and there’s the Minster as well’), Chichester had been second (‘such a quaint city’) and Roehampton third (such a nice area over near Richmond Park). I did not tell her that the only people who got into Roehampton had it down as their first choice. But I got my first choice and duly set off by rail preceded by my trunk, courtesy of that useful company British Road Services.

Mother’s praise of York’s churches struck me as strange. I do not think she had ever been in a ‘Church’ in her life, even as a visitor. My parents, and therefore us children, were ‘Chapel’, and Strict Chapel at that. Catholics were as good as the foreign heathen, they worshipped idols. Anglicans were not much better. Heaven, when you finally attained it, would be populated by decent chapel folk clad in white raiment singing hymns of praise to Welsh hymn tunes.

At college I joined the college choir. I did not join the Gilbert and Sullivan Society: ‘Music is not to be profaned’ (Mother, many times. London, 1947 – 95). Likewise, I had not joined the Country Dance Society: ‘God gave you a good body, but you do not need to show it off’. (Mother, op. cit) The college chapel in which the choir performed was fairly middle-of-the-road, if leaning towards the Anglican end of the spectrum. But even the Baptists felt at home there. My own theology definitely moved that way under its benign influence as college showed me just how restricted my upbringing had been.

During our first year we all tackled everything: arts, sciences, crafts, sports, humanities and education theory. Then we had to specialise, doing a ‘main’ subject and two ‘subsids’. My choices were history with P.E. and music. And so I met Elaine. She also did history and music, but she was doing craft as her other subsidiary, specifically weaving. We really met in the Autumn term for our second-year teaching practice when we were allocated to the same school. She had a little Mini, supplied by Dad, and, for six weeks, she drove us to and from school. We started to do our lesson prep together, helping each other to make teaching aids. By Christmas we had realised that we had ‘clicked’ and everyone acknowledged that we had become an established college pair.

We married, in the college chapel, the Saturday after our Valedictory ball. Most of our year had already left, so there were plenty of rooms available for our relations. Various young relatives spent thirty-six hours wandering around alternately goggle-eyed with amazement, and starry-eyed with anticipation of their own tertiary education. Our reception was held on a college lawn and, with the back seat piled with camping gear, Elaine and I left in her Mini to explore this new relationship and the rural expanses of Mid Wales.

Back at our last college Christmas we had both applied for employment with South Yorks since we had come to like the area and, in due course, after interviews and medicals we had been offered teaching posts in a newish Comprehensive, on the outskirts of Hull, formed by jamming a Secondary Modern and a Grammar together for political expediency. As a result, we could be employed there because, a year after the merger, a number of teachers were leaving. A few of the old Sec Mod staff felt that the ex-Grammar School ones looked down on them. And also going were some of the Grammar School teachers who felt either that the new school didn’t recognise their level of expertise, or who couldn’t cope with the very different relaxed work ethic.

We started married life in a council flat not far from the town centre, one of a number they reserved for ‘priority workers’. Our Cert. Ed’s were both duly ratified latish in our first year. Three years down the line and feeling secure in our posts, Elaine became pregnant, sort of semi-planned, and in due course she withdrew to complete her biological role. Spare money became somewhat rarer and when child number two was on the way in seventy-three, it was obvious that things needed to change.

In the Times Educational Supplement Elaine spotted an advertisement for a Deputy Headship. It was in Hamworthy, way down in Dorset. Not an area either of us knew, except from folk-music albums by the Yetties.
Frankly I didn’t think I stood much chance, I hadn’t even been a Head of Department or a Housemaster, but, as Elaine pointed out, I had a good track record in the school. The pupils in my fifth form history set had been achieving good grades at O-level. And none of my sixth form A-level students had got worse than a Grade B. The fact that there had only been a total of two such pupils so far wasn’t mentioned. My hard work in sports coaching probably helped too. But I think my Head must have written a reference fairly incandescent with glowing praise because I got the post. The Council offered us a variety of housing, none of it in Hamworthy. We chose a three bed-roomed council house in Wareham. It was an easy drive to work, or only two stops on the train. Just before we left, we sold Elaine’s now ancient Mini and bought a Ford Escort estate car off a colleague at work.
Once Megan, our younger daughter, started school full time, Elaine returned to teaching obtaining a post at a fee-paying convent in Wimborne Minster. It now made sense for Elaine use the car and for me to commute by train. At that time having two cars seemed an unnecessary expense. When the girls were nine and seven, they transferred to the junior part of the convent under a rarely used but very generous staff discount (not applicable to many of the staff of course) and a further, more common discount for siblings, for the reduction in administration work.

When Elaine’s salary had grown to match mine we moved out of the council house to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Sandford a few miles roughly to the north: a timber framed, double fronted dwelling in an acre of garden. Even with both of us on good salaries it took the sizable legacy left to me following the death of my father in nineteen–eighty to swing the financial deal with the bank. Elaine’s father’s death a year later enabled us to pay off most of the mortgage.

The girls grew up into teenage heart-breakers and I relaxed into middle-age. Elaine didn’t relax: her drive and ambition came to the fore and she got a headship in Dorchester. We had given in and acquired a second car a few years back to cope with the logistical nightmares of the totally different leisure activities of the two sisters. We now got a third, a little runabout, so that newly qualified seventeen year-old Sophie could drive herself and her fifteen-year-old sister to and from school.

Before long Elaine was nagging me to get a Headship also. The trigger was the advertising for a new Head for my school.
“You know it’s against the authority’s policy to promote internally.” I told her.
“Well apply elsewhere then. Come on Trevor, grow a spine.”
“It would really damage the school to have both the senior posts to fall vacant at once. It would raise all sorts of doubts and questions among the would-be candidates, and possibly even at the Ministry. I feel I owe it to the school to at least see the new Head settled.”
“Next year then. I warn you; I have every intention to see you in a headship too before long.”

Things came to a head two years later. We had a flaming row. In the end I picked up our copy of the current Times Ed. Sup. and showed her there that was only one Secondary Headship advertised that week. It was in Cumbria.
“Go for it,” she ordered.
“I know Sophie’s safely installed doing her State Registered Nurse training, but what about Megs? She’s only a year short of her A’s. It’s not fair to move her now. And, what will you do?”
“I’ll stay here with Megan. I’m up to my eyeballs in the Curriculum Development stuff; and I’m enjoying it. You go to Cumbria. It’s not as if our marriage is going anywhere any more. We’ve neither of us really bothered for ages. It’s just a habit. Except for the girls, I get more satisfaction from my work; and I intend to retire in due course with at least an O.B.E. for services to education.”

I filled in application forms, was interviewed and appointed.

I moved out: but not to Cumbria.

My new post was as Head of History at the District High School in Cunderdin, West Australia.

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