Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Chapter 14 After Kevin


 Chapter 14  After Kevin

Kevin was murdered when I was 21. He was 19.

I was only half alive for a very long time.

I went off to London, having drawn back from suicide.

My old school friend Helen was living in W 9. in a house her father

owned and I was able to take a very small room there. She and her

boyfriend John lived in a large room and kindly asked me out about 100

times before I was able to go anywhere and they kindly tolerated my

blank misery without complaint.

At college I managed to cope.

Eventually I even started to feel some attraction for a dark striking 

looking man on my teaching course who also came from Derbyshire. I

was excited when he offered me a ticket for a Frank Zappa concert at

The Rainbow and very disappointed when I found our seats were in a

whole row of students from college from the Institute of Education so

he hadn’t really asked me out.

Zappa was dragged of the stage by a jealous bloke in the audience who

thought Zappa was staring at his girlfriend. Frank’s leg was broken and

the concert ended early.

Shortly afterwards Max asked me round for a meal. More excitement, a

long journey south of the river and then there was Max’s flat mate, not

going out, a tough looking chap with short hair.

I asked Max back and he came a day late and pretended he wasn’t

hungry as I’d eaten his half for lunch. He didn’t seem hungry for love

either. Maybe he was shy, maybe he was homosexual. I was too

embarassed to find out.

A bit like earlier and later instances of unrequited desire this served to

show I was still alive and likely to make a new relationship sometime,

but kept me safe from actually starting one.

I started to make a film about how my walks with the dog helped me

throughout my grief, a film to be finished 30 years later, when the voice 

over I recorded sounded as if it had just happened so vividly was the

experience evoked in me by watching the film.

It wasn’t until, after 30 years of troubled relationships, of toiling as a

teacher and art therapist as well as continuing to work as an artist, that,

more settled in the luxury of having a loving husband, I was able to

finish the film, ‘Morning Walk ‘ and to see it at Cornwall film festival and

the Cambridge super 8 festival amd could receive the respect of an

audience moved by its reality and poetry. It shows how life can insist on

continuing in the face of meaningless violence and painful sorrow.

Teaching was not easy for me, but in a way I was immune to

noticing how difficult it was and I couldn’t see what else to do.

  Just at the time when I should have been a struggling artist in London,

perhaps on the government self employed scheme, I put my head down

and my nose was shooting sparks from the daily grind, trying to keep

youths in order and busy.

  We hadn’t learnt anything about how to maintain discipline. One day I

left a class in tears and went to the toilet to smoke, a habit I’d picked up

late from a young man who knew my landlady and slept with my friend

Boo, who was twice his age. He ill treated her and stole her car and he

smoked sobranies which were all different bright colours in a nice box. 

When I came back from the toilet, just before the bell, the fifth form boys

in Dagenham realised and one called out, ‘She’s been for a fag in the

loo.’  They ‘d thought I’d gone for the Head and had tidied up the room

and picked up all the bits of charcoal they’d been throwing.

After that it was just a little easier. Danny took a liking to me and asked

me to go to Dagenham Roundhouse with him. I declined but wrote on

his art report ‘shows interest and tries hard’.

  Three boys I sent out to the second year head came back looking

pained with their hands under their arms. I sought him out at the break

and complained that I hadn’t wanted him to cane them. ‘What boys?’ he

replied. They’d fooled me, but were now found out. It was a few years

before caning was abolished and the existence of physical punishment

made it more difficult to maintain order for those of us that didn’t use it. I

found myself twisting an occasional ear and tapping painfully on

someone’s head to get their attention, in ways that appalled me later.

 When I left a girl in my class went out without permission and came

back with their present for me, a box of chocolates. I was appreciated in

some small way - I’d arrived there wondering why they collected me in a

car from the station at Dagenham East and left realising they wanted to

whisk me to the interview before I got a chance to take in what the 

neighbourhood was like, that is that it was a bleak, cheerless area.

I’d got through the probationary year, I ‘d moved several times, always

having to prioritise choosing a place near unfenced park land so I could

take my dog for a walk before and after work.

 My new post was at a Catholic school, a Comprehensive. It was o.k.

that I wasn’t one if I didn’t make an issue of it.
Boo, my friend with the young Cypriot lover, had given up art teaching

by this time. She had a private income from her grandfather’s efforts to

lay water pipes throughout India ao she could give up one occupation

and try another. She lived in a lovely little house near Hampstead Heath

and she’d been a hat maker. Older than me, she was a sort of lively

sister. She described herself as ‘lower middle class’ but to me she was

aristocracy. She knitted her mother a dishcloth for Christmas, she’d

heard there was a way of paying for a house not all at once, she thought

of going to Paris for the weekend to choose spectacles and had no idea

what stopped me going too. She had a lover who was a workman who

popped in now and then.

When the inspector came to see her teach, Boo held her head in her

hands and shouted ‘I can’t teach with you in the room’, and therefore

she failed.

I was another world to her, and we got on very well, lots of laughs, art,

parties, dope, and yet I kept my feet sufficiently on the ground and

earned my own living. It didn’t occur to me not to. My parents postwar

devotion to work and duty left its mark.

One day on teaching practice I went to the first school near the

heath feeling ill. A girl came up behind me and suddenly dug me

in the ribs from behind and I swung round without thinking and hit her on

the head. She said, ‘you’ll get the sack for doing that’. I went in tears to

the headmistress, after apologizing to the child.  The head sat me down

with a steadying sherry and told me not to worry. She took in her stride

that I had come to work with six shades of eye make up and my hair in a

dozen plaits flying round my head and that I went and drank in the pub

opposite every lunchtime.

The Catholic school that I went to work in after the year in

Dagenham,was in East Finchley, nice because that’s where the

Northern line emerges from underground. I stayed there 19 years,

teaching art, pottery, art history and my beloved film-making weeks in

the summer activity period.

 Boo remained my best friend for years, entangling herself with more

highly unsuitable men than even I found, until she converted to 

Christianity,  found her previous associates were all in league with the

devil, and was lost to us. Before this she came round one day and gave

me a painting of her mother, saying that she wanted to destroy it. At

first I insisted I would just look after it for her, but after many years I sold  

it. It was by William Scott, and to my surprise it made £4,000, more

money than I had ever had. A science teacher overheard me talking to

Christies’ on the phone and thought it was one of my works.

 If only.


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