'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.