(An extract from Chapter 9 of ‘The Ragged Weave of Yesterday’ by Andy Christopher Miller. The verbatim extracts in italics are from the 1972 volume of my diaries)
Mon 22nd May 1972 – The school was a very pleasant building – an old village school hall with new rooms built into it …
There were four of us candidates. The girl from the coach – sensible blue suit, lacy ruffle at her neck, thinking about doing the Open University. A tall, thin, young man, thick brown suit, weak chin, stumblingly and excruciatingly polite. Me, long-haired, supercilious and cocky. A second woman, brash, no nonsense, looked like she had known her way around a punishment book or two. All of us of a similar age.
The head barrelled his way around the building on a lightning tour for the four of us
… It was designed to be open plan but the head had found it unworkable and now kept the shutters closed … The head’s class were all seated in long rows copying from textbooks in absolute silence. He asked them who had enjoyed the open plan system. No hands up. Who enjoyed it now that they were being taught? All hands up. This really put me off and as I waited to be interviewed. I wondered what I would do if I were offered the job …
If I were offered the post and then declined to accept, I would be liable for my own expenses. The train fare would make a significant dent in our monthly budget.
Who would like to be marooned forever, day in day out, with this pompous, little bigot? No hands up. Who could slip beneath the surface in this educational backwater with no hope of eventual rescue or resuscitation? All hands up.
More disconcerting was the easy banter between the head and the forward woman. Perhaps they had studied together on the same course in exerting dubious authority over small children, with self-importance and insensitivity as elective modules? They began to talk quite openly about the enjoyable time they had spent together the previous evening in the pub!
… The interview was a bit more heartening, the managers were quite a good bunch …
I am surprised that I recorded no further details about the interview itself as I am still now raising one particular incident whenever conversations take a particular drift. One of the panel of half a dozen was introduced as the local squire. Until that day, I suppose I had assumed that such characters were inventions from a certain genre of nineteenth century novel or from mechanical and predictable situation comedies. Had I been forced to recognise that the position was a real and tangible one, then I might have assumed that squires had become extinct around the time of, say, the evolution of the motor car. But here he was, not rotund with mutton chop whiskers, but a tall, lanky young man, no more than half a dozen years my senior, in an understated but large checked suit in country colours, a patterned handkerchief in his breast pocket.
I responded to each of the panels’ questions in turn, fumbling on the practicalities of teaching reading but soaring on the place of creativity in classrooms, and then it was the squire’s turn.
‘And tell me, Mr Miller, do you have any political interests?’
Political interests? I was completely thrown. Surely he does not mean do I vote in a certain direction? Perhaps he is referring to national policy making, Education Select Committees and the like? Or, maybe, the local Amersham ‘Stop the 11+’ campaign instigated by concerned and increasingly vocal parents?
‘I’m sorry. I’m not sure that I completely – that I understand what you are asking me’
‘Well, let me put it like this. If you were to move here would you be looking to start up a local Evershot Fascist Party?’
‘A local –? Start up a local –?’
I stumbled and then paused to collect my thoughts, to formulate the killer answer. But my thoughts had been despatched to some different destination.
‘No – I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be starting up a local Evershot Fascist Party’.
After the individual grillings, we four candidates sat in an intense but stifled spirit of camaraderie, awaiting the judgement. The door opened, the air thickened, a heavy silence forced itself upon the room. The head circled us at our little table, like a predator high in the sky selecting its prey.
‘We have had a lot of discussion and I have to say the governors and I came to different decisions’.
Five more careful steps around our backs
‘On this occasion, I have agreed to go with the choice of the governors …’
Three more steps.
‘… and we are offering you the post,’ he said, laying a hand theatrically on the shoulder of the other male candidate who was already flushed with embarrassment and struggling to utter any words of gratitude.
To his drinking companion of the previous evening, the head said
‘I’m sorry about all this but, if you’ll wait in my office when we’ve finished, I have a colleague in the next village who has a vacancy coming up next term and I’ll have a word with him on the phone.’
He extended his hand to the young woman with the lacy ruffle.
‘I am sure that if you wish to work in Dorset and you keep applying for vacancies, you will sooner or later be successful’.
His hand remained firmly by his side as he turned towards me.
‘Goodbye, Mr Miller!’
… On the train back. I was sitting next to the girl who had been on the coach and she talked non-stop all the way to Bournemouth. Feeling depressed, I decided to have a meal on my expenses. Sat there in the old three-piece suit with the golden evening sun on the flashing green landscape, eating steak. Bottle of wine, fruit salad, coffee and cigars. Felt much better.
Options narrowed, resolution rode in, and within hours the future was sealed
Thur 25th May 1972 – Having scuttled the idea of teaching in Dorset we thought about and decided on the West Riding of Yorkshire.
‘The Ragged Weave of Yesterday’ is available as an ebook and a paperback from Amazon and from some local bookshops