Wednesday, 10 December 2008
He squatted at the foot of my bed with a knife in his hands. “I’m going to kill you,” he said. I stared at him, still half asleep, and he stared back through pale eyes. It was Gareth, white faced and smelling of tobacco. He had lank greasy hair and a straggly moustache and he was moving closer, the knife pointing straight at my head.
It was the only bad thing about Aberystwyth; the only exciting thing.
Gareth was a frightening person, even more so when he was high, and I bunched up on the other end of the bed, cluching a pillow and ready to pounce, do anything really to avoid getting stabbed. I remember feeling puzzled and uneasy, scared too, but somehow not yet ready to believe I might actually die. There are some blessings in having a healthy ego. I wish I could remember how I talked him down from wherever he was. I do vaguely remember him walking off with two bottles of beer as payment for not killing me…for now. That was understood. I’m still waiting.
The incident took place in the attic bedroom in 19 Custom House Street run by the vibrant and hospitable Mrs Abrahams. She made great breakfasts.
Directly outside was the Castle Inn and you went to sleep to the sounds of their jukebox – usually Hawkwind’s Silver Machine, or Buffy Saint Marie’s Soldier Blue, Credence Clearwater sometimes, and invariably House of the Rising Sun, which seems to have dominated every jukebox in the country for almost twenty years.
But Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth was so intensely boring. You walked. You drank. You sheltered from the rain. Summer was nice.
The only other flicker of excitement involved a promotional event by a beer company called Watney’s trying to foist their foul ‘Red Barrel’ on to the Students Union, a midnight walk with Dick Skinner and sundry others where we got ambushed by sheep, and two five star eccentrics who prepared us for a career in teaching.
Of course there weren’t enough schools for teaching practise in Aberystwyth so me and another were farmed out to Milford Haven where we boarded with a very nice piano teacher who claimed to have taught the daughter of Tony Curtis.
Because of my catering background the school, Milford Central offered me History and some teaching in Cookery, which thoroughly baffled Dr. Trot when he came to assess my lessons. It was like a scene from St. Trinian’s the girls grinning like maniacs, tossing pancakes like Frisbees. Doctor Trot was deaf, knew little about cooking but the girls had nice smiles, offered him pancakes, and the lesson went well.
Milford Central was a warm and friendly school, its discipline, like much of the 1970’s, based on cheerful brutality. There was only one cane in the school and it was passed from classroom to classroom as and when needed. When a child was sent for the cane he or she had to knock on every classroom door until it was found. It was a bit like ‘Find the Lady’. By the time victim had located it the entire school knew, so with pain came also an element of public humiliation.
After Milford came a sixth form college in Oswestry where I was taken under the wing of Bob Strachan and inflicted economic history on those taking A level. At Owestry I boarded with Sandra who undercooked sour bacon. I almost looked forward to getting back to Aberystwyth – even if it meant Gareth.