A summer job at Nadins sheet metal works with Sanch followed the A levels. Sanch was considered capable on the shop floor whereas I was soon deemed to be a liability and became brew boy, sandwich and chippy getter and, most excitably, bookies runner. I have to admit this proved to be quite lucrative as I was often told to keep the change and to my shame I did on occasions stand the odd bet when I thought it was a non starter and to my immense fortune didn’t come unstuck.
This job, which involved quite a lot of overtime, including all night work, was far more lucrative and interesting than the other holiday job Sanch and I had at a factory called Luxan whose speciality was the manufacture of sanitary towels.
Finally the day came when I was to leave my parental home for the first time and catch the train to Leicester. My trunk, an essential part of an undergraduate’s equipment at that time, had already gone on to Leicester ahead of me. As Mum and Dad worked in our Grocers shop I was accompanied to Central Station by my younger brother John, who drove us, and my Aunty Nellie. As we were walking up the cobbled entrance to Central station she tripped and fell cutting her leg but more importantly laddering her tights. Just had a thought that Mike might have been with us but that seems unlikely as he would have been working at Stotts at that time, before he resigned after a fortnight and became an uncertificated teacher.
Never felt so lonely and isolated as I got into the carriage and was waved off. Luckily there was another first year Leicester undergraduate in the same carriage, Paul Fearon. He was an immensely talented footballer who had given up an apprenticeship with Manchester United to go to University. Tragically Paul’s life came to an early and tragic end whilst at University, but his company on that first day is something I will never forget, as his uncertainty too made me realise it wasn’t just me being a cry baby.
I was to live in Beaumont Hall in the village of Oadby about two miles from the main campus. A most beautiful complex situated in 16 acres of the University’s Botanical Gardens, centred round Beaumont House, a magnificent ex millionaires mansion built in 1904 which housed the dining and social facilities.
Unfortunately the immense charm of this place, which was going to be my home for the next 4 years, was not immediately apparent. My room was very pleasant and once I’d unpacked the trunk it was around 7pm. I could see nobody around, only freshers having arrived at this time, so I set out to find a pub, considering this was the best place to find other students. I walked along to the main road, tossed a coin and turned right. Two miles later and nor a pub in sight I turned round and returned back to Hall where I phoned home and bravely told everyone everything was fine and dandy. I then went to my room and literally cried myself to sleep. The next day I was to discover that if I’d turned left the students’ favourite bolt - hole was just two minutes up the road and had been packed with students in a similar position to me. Strange, it’s wasn’t like me in those days to fail to sniff out a pint of mixed, but then again it was Everards!!
Fortunately this was the only downside of my stay at Leicester and at Beaumont; I made some good friends and settled down to life at University. I can’t think why but I didn’t join the Dramatic Society, I suppose with hindsight I hadn’t yet realised the significance of those two school plays, and had not yet caught the ‘bug’. I did join the Liberal Society and the Debating Society and the latter became my main interest outside work and beer. I became the Fresher Rep and we had our own office and generous budget for outside speakers. Two of the annual highlights were the Christmas Fairy and Easter Bunny debates held at Digby Hall. Guest speakers were invited from other Universities and there were 4 speakers on each side debating nonsensical but highly humorous topics. One I remember was "The cowboys of the Wild West showed more valour than the Knights of the Round Table!"
Speakers I remember and debated against in these debates include: Gyles Brandreth, who was President of the Oxford Union, ex Tory MP, author, biographer of John Gielgud and Television celebrity; Francis Becket, son of Labour MP, John Becket, who is famed for grabbing the mace in the House of Commons in 1930 and then becoming chief propagandist for the British Union of Fascists. Francis was a brilliant orator with a lisp and was at Keele University. He became a leading journalist with the Guardian and has written biographies of his father, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Clem Attlee, Nye Bevan, Lawrence Olivier and Harold Macmillan. He used to kindly invite me to speak at Keele in my second and third years which meant I had free transport and accommodation and I could meet up with Sue Robbie or Robinson as she was then.
Hugh Walwyn James an Oxford post graduate who was probably the zaniest and most humorous speaker I ever heard, and whose death in 2002 led to one of the most important days in the struggle for LGBT equality in England and Wales. His partner Juan Mendoza was threatened with eviction when Hugh died and appealed against this. The case went to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. The Court of Appeal held unanimously that the phrase "a person who was living with the original tenant as his or her wife or husband" in the Rent Act 1977 must be read as meaning "a person who was living with the original tenant _as if they were_ his or her wife or husband," and that the phrase covers the same-sex partner of the original tenant. Juan Mendoza was therefore entitled to succeed to a tenancy of the private sector rented apartment he had shared for 18 years with the original tenant, his deceased partner Hugh Walwyn-James, on the same terms as if he were the legal spouse of the original tenant. This is seen as probably the most important day in the struggle for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender equality in England and Wales.
This was all a great experience for an Oldham lad, the first in the family to be educated past the age of 14, and the fact that I was able to compete on an equal footing with the likes of these people did great things for my confidence. However one of my best pals at the time and still one today was soon to put that confidence to the test. We came down quite early for Christmas and I was able to go to the production of The Miracle Worker at Hathershaw with two stunning performances from Sue and Anne. Mike was now teaching at Holy Rosary Primary School but told me at the play that the nun he had been standing in for was due back after Christmas so he was moving to another school.
It was a Sunday night just after New Year that I got a phone call from Mike to say that Sister Mary Berchmans who he had been supplying for at Holy Rosary had had a relapse and couldn’t return to teach at Holy Rosary. As he had already signed a contract to teach elsewhere he couldn’t return, when asked to do so by the head teacher Sister Mary Benignus.
“But I told her not to worry”, he said to me on the phone, “I have a friend who will step in for me.” You’ve guessed it, I was that friend. Remember this conversation was taking place at around 7pm on a Sunday night and the new term started the next day. I cannot repeat the expletives from me that followed. What I haven’t mentioned so far, is that whenever asked, as I frequently was, what I intended to do on leaving University, the answer was always the same, “I’ve no idea really, but the one thing I’m certain of is I don’t want to teach.”
It was at this time that I discovered for the first time that Mikes blackmailing skills were immense and he ‘persuaded’ me that doing this for him would hold him in great stead for the rest of the year, before he joined me at Leicester. Not only was I not Catholic, I had an innate fear of nuns. Don’t ask me why but I had. Over the phone Mike made me get a pen and write down the first lines of the numerous prayers I would be expected to lead in a typical school day. There was early morning prayers, grace before meals, grace after meals and end of day prayers. “Just say the first line and they’ll carry on.” he said. I certainly hoped so or I would be up the creek without the proverbial paddle. A sleepless night ensued and it was on the 409 bus down to Hathershaw, a route I’d taken for 7 years to HTHS, that I realised, for the first time, that when I was really anxious the knuckle of the third finger on my right hand starts to tingle. I can only surmise that this was the first time in my life that anxiety had played a significant part for it has happened scores of times since.
At 8.25am I was met at the school door by Head teacher Sister Mary Benignus, who had a habit of snorting down her nose mid sentence and called all men Mr. and all women Mrs. Quite often getting the two mixed up, so you learned not to get too upset when she said to me, for example, “Mrs. will you take your class up to Church for First Communion practice?” I grew to really like her and I think her me but at this moment in time I was just greeted with. “Mr. you’ll be taking Junior 3.” Whereupon she showed me my classrooms, pointed out where the staffroom was, gave me the class timetable and register and then disappeared. Already in a state of shock and mortal fear, knuckle tingling hopelessly, I saw that my first lesson was Religious Studies. I remember distinctively deciding that the only thing I felt confident of teaching was the parable of the Good Samaritan and then pathetically spent 10 minutes looking through the Old Testament for it.
By the time I’d realised it was in the New Testament and found it there was no time to meet fellow members of staff as the whistle had gone and my classroom was quickly filling up with 42 (Yes 42) nine and ten year olds [and 2 were absent]. They all filed in and stood behind their chairs looking at me expectantly and I returned the stare for what seemed an eternity, before I realised this must be the time for the first prayer so I glanced furtively at my prayer crib sheet and hesitantly began “Hail Mary full of grace the………” and just as Mike had said they followed on with the Hail Mary and about three other prayers and then all sat down. Never have I felt so relieved. Now there was only the panic of taking the register and collecting dinner money in time for Assembly. Thankfully one of the lads very kindly volunteered to help me with the Dinner Money and we made it to Assembly by the skins of our teeth. The Good Samaritan went down OK as did the arithmetic lesson, but by morning play time I was utterly exhausted and made my way to the Staff Room.
The staff made me very welcome and asked how it had gone. I said how good the class had been especially the very polite and helpful lad who’d assisted me with the Dinner Money. On my mentioning his name there was a gasp from the rest of the staff and the Deputy Head took me quietly aside and advised me to immediately check the money I had collected with the records, as in his words, “…….was a bl…y thieving, little ………”. True to his word I was £2 down and quickly learned that I would have to be far more worldly wise if I was to succeed in this job. Despite the earnest and quite basic endeavours of the Deputy the lad never admitted to the theft but kept well away from my desk for the remainder of my stay.
Think this has gone on long enough, but if of interest, there is much more to share with you about my brief sojourn at Holy Rosary and the effect it would have on the rest of my life. Just realised I’m almost getting as long winded as Vinnie.
Life after 'A' levels
by Nigel Marland
As for that Marland fellow masquerading as a communicant member of Mother Church, I only hope the millenia he serves in Purgatory, for this undoubted sacrelige, will be in my field of view from where I will be suffering for my own shortcomings.
And me longwinded? I could go on about that at some length. This might suffice,
" GET OFF MY PITCH MARLAND!"
At least I can spell sacrilege Waldron. Actually Father Buckley, the Parish Priest, told me, on my first day, that he intended, in the month I was to be at the school, to convert me to the Catholic cause. I told him it was a hopeless quest and on my final day he admitted he hadn't even touched the surface. But what a lovely fella, more of him in the next chapter. Yes Waldron you're not the only one moving towards an autobiography.