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Rediscovery and Recovery Ch. 02

Before I proceed with Chapter 2, I need to introduce you to Emily, or Em. It will be two more instalments before she returns to the story properly, but it will help you to understand the scope of my history, and where it is going. Emily Barrington - Em - my teenage best girlfriend, that is, best friend who happens to be a girl. We were both school friends and swimming team mates from the age of 10 or 11 to when I dropped out from the club at 17. As teenagers, we spent a lot of time together. Three evenings a week in the pool and one early morning session; we shared lifts with parents to the pool. We ate lunch together at school once or twice each week, discussing diets and nutrition for swimmers. We were a pair, but never a couple; when I stopped swimming to concentrate on my school work, it was Em that I missed more than anything. We still met and talked in school of course, but within the year I was off to university and in terms of our being so close, that was just about that.

***************

I was married for almost nine years, six of them very happy, three of them increasingly difficult. Throughout all of this, I taught a full generation of secondary school children, the youngest when I started having now all but finished their college and university courses. How time flies.

Just over two years after my divorce from Eve, I had an interesting conversation with my mother during one of my weekend visits. For a while, she had been suggesting I re-establish contact with my school-time friends who lived in various bits of the expanse between Exeter and Plymouth. Dartmoor is such a beautiful part of England that it's not surprising that many of my teenage-years friends returned there after college, and some of them never left. (If you don't know this part of the world, it's well worth a visit!). I had resisted, quite stubbornly, partly because I could think of very few with whom I shared any deep friendship; in fact, I could count them on one hand, and to my regret, I had not been in contact with any of them for at least ten years. The other reason for my reluctance was that I felt that my weekends down west were for my parents. I don't think I've said before, but I'm an only child and seeing Eve lose her mother made me perhaps a bit precious about the time I could find with mine. But I'd not considered moving home as the solution; that was possibly a residual reaction and resentment to my wife abandoning me in London.

One evening though - it was just after Easter, in early April, Mum just said it straight out: "Look, we'd like to see more of you, you'd like to see more of us, why don't you just look for a job nearer to us? You always said you'd move out of London someday, and I know you'll not have kids, and we'll not be grandparents, but why should that matter? We'd just love to have you closer". This was Mum asking, pleading, and it wouldn't get more direct. Dad chipped in, in mediation and compromise mode. "Doesn't have to be Devon; there'd be schools in Bristol or Bath, Taunton, or down on the South Coast in Dorset, I'm sure. You'd be an hour or two closer to us, and two hours away max in light traffic". This made some sense.

As I sat on the train back to London that Sunday afternoon, my mind was slowly, but quite assuredly made up. I called up a map of Britain on my laptop computer, and imagined a circle around my parents' home representing about an hour's journey by car or train. Bristol and Bath were actually well outside my imagined area, but within were Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay, and with Taunton just on the edge. And then, some of my favourite semi-rural Devonshire towns, Tiverton, Crediton, Tavistock. I'd be half an hour from the coast, and less still from the complete wilderness of countryside. And I started to get excited that I might, just might, be able to put my big city years behind me, to improve the quality of my existence with a change of scenery. And I'd be going home, the Prodigal Son.

I spoke to my head of department at school as soon as we started back after the Easter break; he said he'd been expecting to lose me for over two years, and that it was no surprise but "for God's sake, look for a head or deputy head of department role". It proved a good time to be looking for a move; the summer term in schools brings retirements and promotions, the annual round of recruitment from newly-qualified staff and a general, but ill-defined migration from school to school. Through the specialist advertising routes, I shortlisted six possible jobs within my first month of looking, and applied for all of them. My best guess was that three of them would go to newly-qualfied teachers (NQTs), the cheapest teacher to employ; the one head of history department of a small school might be a step too far (and in my experience, could well be earmarked for an internal promotion anyway). But sitting in between was one teacher role and one deputy head of department role, which both looked 'my job'. So without having to hand my notice in until I'd got a job elsewhere, my applications were submitted with a fearlessness which surprised me.

As suspected, I was not shortlisted for two of the most junior roles; I had phone calls from both schools explaining the situation, that as much as they valued my experience in applying, with budget cuts as they were, they could not afford my salary. I was invited to interview for the third of the junior roles, but I declined the invitation; it was the least desirable of the schools, but more significantly, an invitation arrived relating to the deputy headship. My job.

Later on in this story, we'll come to the swimming pool and I've had exciting anticipation of writing that chapter for some time. But for now, I just want to share a piece of advice with you that my father once gave me ahead of competing in a swimming gala. I competed for the town swimming club at every age group from 10 to 16 years old and I wasn't bad, as it happens (as I say, more of that later). I must have been quite young, 11 or 12 perhaps, when Dad said "take a look at the opposition, work out who the real competition is, and then feel sorry for them, because you are going to win today, not them". It didn't always work, of course, but as a way of strengthening my resolve, not to mention my self-confidence, it became something of a mantra.

I'd not been for an interview for a teaching job for many, many years, but as I arrived at the school and was introduced to the other candidates, Dad's words came back to me again. 'Work out who the competition is' - that was easy - one candidate of the four seemed far too young to be sufficiently experienced, and one other was clearly petrified of the whole set up (indeed, his communication skills amongst the adults were so poor, that I had to wonder how he ever touched base with kids; but hey, not my problem). That left the fourth candidate, who looked and sounded every bit as I did, confident, experienced, and - ah, yes - an accent which said inner-city London as well. I checked this with him, and sure enough, he was originally from North London, now teaching out near Slough. He was looking to travel down the M4/M5 motorways with his young family and didn't mind where.

In a flash, I decided to play a completely different card, which I had to trust would work to an advantage. Assuming that we were equals in terms of our experience, ability, skills, commitment and enthusiasm, all those things that tick the essential boxes, what could I do to appear stronger in this context? Answer: local knowledge; the local boy (well, to within 25 miles) coming home; someone who understands the Devon Way, the beautiful accent (which I could rediscover most weekends!). I had been one of these kids, I'm still one of them, and I felt sorry for my new acquaintance from Slough who just didn't have that, and never would.

My Dad had been right; knowing your opponents gives you an advantage over them, one which I was able to exploit, not in any deceitful way, but simply to play to my own strengths. I was offered the position of Deputy Head of History and Politics in the large, mixed comprehensive school; a salary increase which would cover the cost of a new (second-hand!) car, and the prospect of life outside London for the first time in over a decade. I accepted without a second thought and the Prodigal Son was on his way home.Before I proceed with Chapter 2, I need to introduce you to Emily, or Em. It will be two more instalments before she returns to the story properly, but it will help you to understand the scope of my history, and where it is going. Emily Barrington - Em - my teenage best girlfriend, that is, best friend who happens to be a girl. We were both school friends and swimming team mates from the age of 10 or 11 to when I dropped out from the club at 17. As teenagers, we spent a lot of time together. Three evenings a week in the pool and one early morning session; we shared lifts with parents to the pool. We ate lunch together at school once or twice each week, discussing diets and nutrition for swimmers. We were a pair, but never a couple; when I stopped swimming to concentrate on my school work, it was Em that I missed more than anything. We still met and talked in school of course, but within the year I was off to university and in terms of our being so close, that was just about that.

***************

I was married for almost nine years, six of them very happy, three of them increasingly difficult. Throughout all of this, I taught a full generation of secondary school children, the youngest when I started having now all but finished their college and university courses. How time flies.

Just over two years after my divorce from Eve, I had an interesting conversation with my mother during one of my weekend visits. For a while, she had been suggesting I re-establish contact with my school-time friends who lived in various bits of the expanse between Exeter and Plymouth. Dartmoor is such a beautiful part of England that it's not surprising that many of my teenage-years friends returned there after college, and some of them never left. (If you don't know this part of the world, it's well worth a visit!). I had resisted, quite stubbornly, partly because I could think of very few with whom I shared any deep friendship; in fact, I could count them on one hand, and to my regret, I had not been in contact with any of them for at least ten years. The other reason for my reluctance was that I felt that my weekends down west were for my parents. I don't think I've said before, but I'm an only child and seeing Eve lose her mother made me perhaps a bit precious about the time I could find with mine. But I'd not considered moving home as the solution; that was possibly a residual reaction and resentment to my wife abandoning me in London.

One evening though - it was just after Easter, in early April, Mum just said it straight out: "Look, we'd like to see more of you, you'd like to see more of us, why don't you just look for a job nearer to us? You always said you'd move out of London someday, and I know you'll not have kids, and we'll not be grandparents, but why should that matter? We'd just love to have you closer". This was Mum asking, pleading, and it wouldn't get more direct. Dad chipped in, in mediation and compromise mode. "Doesn't have to be Devon; there'd be schools in Bristol or Bath, Taunton, or down on the South Coast in Dorset, I'm sure. You'd be an hour or two closer to us, and two hours away max in light traffic". This made some sense.

As I sat on the train back to London that Sunday afternoon, my mind was slowly, but quite assuredly made up. I called up a map of Britain on my laptop computer, and imagined a circle around my parents' home representing about an hour's journey by car or train. Bristol and Bath were actually well outside my imagined area, but within were Exeter, Plymouth, Torquay, and with Taunton just on the edge. And then, some of my favourite semi-rural Devonshire towns, Tiverton, Crediton, Tavistock. I'd be half an hour from the coast, and less still from the complete wilderness of countryside. And I started to get excited that I might, just might, be able to put my big city years behind me, to improve the quality of my existence with a change of scenery. And I'd be going home, the Prodigal Son.

I spoke to my head of department at school as soon as we started back after the Easter break; he said he'd been expecting to lose me for over two years, and that it was no surprise but "for God's sake, look for a head or deputy head of department role". It proved a good time to be looking for a move; the summer term in schools brings retirements and promotions, the annual round of recruitment from newly-qualified staff and a general, but ill-defined migration from school to school. Through the specialist advertising routes, I shortlisted six possible jobs within my first month of looking, and applied for all of them. My best guess was that three of them would go to newly-qualfied teachers (NQTs), the cheapest teacher to employ; the one head of history department of a small school might be a step too far (and in my experience, could well be earmarked for an internal promotion anyway). But sitting in between was one teacher role and one deputy head of department role, which both looked 'my job'. So without having to hand my notice in until I'd got a job elsewhere, my applications were submitted with a fearlessness which surprised me.

As suspected, I was not shortlisted for two of the most junior roles; I had phone calls from both schools explaining the situation, that as much as they valued my experience in applying, with budget cuts as they were, they could not afford my salary. I was invited to interview for the third of the junior roles, but I declined the invitation; it was the least desirable of the schools, but more significantly, an invitation arrived relating to the deputy headship. My job.

Later on in this story, we'll come to the swimming pool and I've had exciting anticipation of writing that chapter for some time. But for now, I just want to share a piece of advice with you that my father once gave me ahead of competing in a swimming gala. I competed for the town swimming club at every age group from 10 to 16 years old and I wasn't bad, as it happens (as I say, more of that later). I must have been quite young, 11 or 12 perhaps, when Dad said "take a look at the opposition, work out who the real competition is, and then feel sorry for them, because you are going to win today, not them". It didn't always work, of course, but as a way of strengthening my resolve, not to mention my self-confidence, it became something of a mantra.

I'd not been for an interview for a teaching job for many, many years, but as I arrived at the school and was introduced to the other candidates, Dad's words came back to me again. 'Work out who the competition is' - that was easy - one candidate of the four seemed far too young to be sufficiently experienced, and one other was clearly petrified of the whole set up (indeed, his communication skills amongst the adults were so poor, that I had to wonder how he ever touched base with kids; but hey, not my problem). That left the fourth candidate, who looked and sounded every bit as I did, confident, experienced, and - ah, yes - an accent which said inner-city London as well. I checked this with him, and sure enough, he was originally from North London, now teaching out near Slough. He was looking to travel down the M4/M5 motorways with his young family and didn't mind where.

In a flash, I decided to play a completely different card, which I had to trust would work to an advantage. Assuming that we were equals in terms of our experience, ability, skills, commitment and enthusiasm, all those things that tick the essential boxes, what could I do to appear stronger in this context? Answer: local knowledge; the local boy (well, to within 25 miles) coming home; someone who understands the Devon Way, the beautiful accent (which I could rediscover most weekends!). I had been one of these kids, I'm still one of them, and I felt sorry for my new acquaintance from Slough who just didn't have that, and never would.

My Dad had been right; knowing your opponents gives you an advantage over them, one which I was able to exploit, not in any deceitful way, but simply to play to my own strengths. I was offered the position of Deputy Head of History and Politics in the large, mixed comprehensive school; a salary increase which would cover the cost of a new (second-hand!) car, and the prospect of life outside London for the first time in over a decade. I accepted without a second thought and the Prodigal Son was on his way home.

recovery   and   rediscovery  

Jul 17, 2018 in romance

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