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Friday, 6 March 2009

Peter Morgan Part I

The last time I saw Peter Morgan was a week before Christmas outside Lloyds Bank. I was carrying a 5lb jar of sweets, a stocking-filler for my wife. (Big stockings) and Peter, immaculate in brown shoes, sharply creased trousers and sheepskin jacket was on his way to a pub. We spoke a few minutes, his eyes watering in a cold east wind. It was the last time I saw him.

The first time I saw him I never realized how good a friend he would be, never suspected that I would remember him years after his death.

After the summer break three schools were merging into a purpose built comprehensive in Tredegar Park. Pete Morgan would be my Head of Department. I’d heard he drank in the Albert and determined to introduce myself to him over a pint. It was not an easy encounter.

He looked up from his beer, face wreathed in blue smoke, his eyes hard in an arrogant stare that said quite plainly ‘who the fuck are you’. He still wasn’t impressed when I told him.

Then, Peter Morgan was at his prime, a hard drinking bull-shitter who loved his subject (history) and lived for those he taught, (along with rugby and beer). I still remember the names of his favourite pupils – Paul…(Okay, so I can’t remember his last name) Liz Smitheringale, Mike Panting, Debbie Waters… There were more but the list would be too long.

I remember how he rescued me from a hot-tempered remark I made to girl from Pill, a rough end of town, and smoothed things over. The one piece of advice he gave, worth more than a year of teaching practice, was ‘Sell yourself, and you sell your subject’. Common sense really, but it had to be said.

There were many who disliked Pete Morgan; some found him crude, brutal with the truth; he prided himself on being a hard man. He was in fact a vulnerable man, divorced, cut off from his children, his world resting on work, friends and Welsh Rugby.

Drink was part of the mix. It was the essential lubricant of teaching, more important than chalk. If you see old episodes of The Sweeney, or the more recent ‘Life on Mars’ you’re not just watching the police force in action but much of the teaching profession.

The ethos was similar in many respects, a care for the good guy, cheerful brutality towards the bad, the grey, or those that didn’t toe the line - or couldn’t find it. Competence, commitment, professionalism, none of these things were worn on the sleeve or displayed in certificates. It was part of the package along with the confidence you were doing something important.

Pete Morgan was in his milieu but then the seventies ended.

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