The Gift Trilogy

Out Now!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Staff-room ghosts Part One

'I told you we should have tunnelled.'

“I think she’s a witch. You can see it in her eyes.” So spoke an otherwise jolly, cheroot smoking magistrate. She was referring to Pauline Broadway, who was not a witch but a strong minded free spirit who had little time for fools. Both were colleagues, one teaching Domestic Science, the other Embroidery, later called Textile Art.

But a warning: This post will be of no interest except to ghost-hunters or the inhabitants of those houses now occupying where St. Joseph’s once stood. I calculate that the staff room – a large rectangular space in green carpet tiles – now cuts across several bedrooms, bathrooms and various en-suites. If vaporous figures disturb their sleep, an occasional ghostly bell, they have only themselves to blame for buying a house on the site of a demolished school.

The earth holds its treasures in fine discrete layers, so does a school, heavy in gossip and spite, endeavour and sacrifice, joy, bullying, and great swathes of stupidity.

The staff-room was divided into ‘islands’, made from tables and surrounding chairs. At one end sat the Maths Department, and various Heads of Year. The air there was sharp in smoke and difficult to breathe. It was however near the kettle and the toilets.

At the other end of the room sat Pat Thomas, a benign French Teacher who headed up the Language Department. She wore her hair in a substantial pig-tail, strong enough to decapitate a man with one swing of her head. It was a friendly department, all mildly eccentric, and all of them women, with the exception of the Latin teacher, Frank King, a gentle, academic man with a high polished head and gold glasses. When he died of brain cancer he was replaced by - yes - a woman, Margaret Lloyd, fierce, strong minded, and perhaps the most eccentric of all. In time another man did appear in the language department, Anthony Wilkinson. He didn’t die, but went off to Peru.

Facing the Language Department, to their right, sat the R.E Department headed by Bill Glynn, an ethereal, tweed-suited figure who fought to keep Religious Education an academic subject. If you wanted a seat, this was the ‘island’ to head for. People didn’t want to be seen as ‘God-botherers’ I suppose. As a result it was a very peaceful corner, much to the chagrin of several in that department.

I sat/stood midway down with my back to the time-table, my bum on a radiator. In winter you could smell burnt trouser and lightly cooked thigh. But it was from there you could glare at the Deputy Head as he added your name to the cover list, not that it did much good.

Adjacent to the Time-table and midway down the room, was the final ‘island,’ the largest, least heterogeneous and most radical. There the Remedial Department sat, dominated at one time by Jean Lewis, Pat Ahern and Barbara Prendergast; these melded with younger members of the English Department; but the Head of English, Maggie Kreuser kept her distance. She was a ‘Jean Brodie’ figure, perhaps more sexy, quite academic and who enjoyed hard-boiled crime novels. She focused on Shakespeare and the Sixth Form and had little time for the good-natured radicalism of those who taught the least able children in the school.

Any one of them, including me, could one day be sitting in your bathroom, ethereal presences but for the most part benign.


Victoria J. E. Jones said...

As an ex-pupil of yours, its enlightening to read your memories of St Joseph's from the other side of the fence... I look forward to Part Two!... kind regards Victoria Jones

Mike Keyton said...

Thank you Victoria. How did you find the blog? Who were your contemporaries?
I hope part 2 jogs some memories

Victoria J. E. Jones said...

I found your blog in a round-about way... I was talking to my daughter about the school production of Lord of the Rings... I made alot of the costumes in order to get out of PE... it was filmed and I have always been curious to see the result... so I googled Pauline Broadway and came to your blog... I actually can't remember who was in my History class... possibly Philip Hobson and David Logan... I have fond memories of Mr Witherington... I once had a long chat with him about reggae when he was supposed to be telling me off!

Mike Keyton said...

I remember Philip Hobson and David Logan, louche boys both, though one rather disappointingly became a Liberal Democrat :)

Ref your circuitous route to this blog via Pauline Broadley - I guess we will all one day end up as flotsom on the shores of google.

I'm glad to see you're apparently doing well in Design, and appreciate your anecdote concerning Mr W. He was a nice man

paul m said...

Hi Mike
I loved your take on the staffroom.Very atmospheric.
I always fancied Mrs Kreuser. You taught me History in Father Hill's and at St Josephs and you were my form teacher at one time or another. I was quiet and swotty. Same year group as David Shewring, Adrian O Reilly, Michael Graham, James Morgan,Alison Liddy, Rita Lai.
I'm 49 today!! How old does that make you? I'm a primary school teacher in Bettws and a children's writer (three published so far)
I have no idea how I managed to get to this site.
Best Wishes
Paul Manship

Mike Keyton said...

Paul, I remember you well, along with all the names you mention. It's wonderful to think what they might be doing now. I see you're a successful author - along with another ex pupil Catherine Fisher. Keep up the good work. My 'best seller' is still on the horizon though the short stories bring in the beer money :)

paul m said...

i can fill you in on what some of your ex-pupils are doing:
david shewring - consultant orthopaedic surgeon
adrian o reilly - GP
michael graham - scientist working for UWIC (was a GP)
james morgan - eye specialist (professor)
alison liddy - did work in forensics, then head of chemistry in hartridge, lives in magor
You were probably aware that rita lai died quiet a few years ago. Were you at the funeral (St Mary's)?
Are you working on a book?
If ever you want to chat about writing etc my e-mail address is