You are here: Home
In 1969 an extraordinary string of coincidences led me to run away (dragging my first wife and a new baby, Sarah) and live in a country cottage between St Ives and Newquay in Cornwall, and to train as a teacher.
This really was amazing. I was rapidly losing my grip on London and commuting, to the point where I was taking more and more time off with migraines and when working would walk from the Industrial Diamond Information Bureau office in New Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street, all the way along Oxford Street to Marble Arch, up Edgware Road and along Praed Street to Paddington Station, rather than endure either the brief but claustrophobic nightmare of the rush-hour Tube (it was dire even in 1969, so how people cope now I can’t imagine) or the much slower bus. I would waste all this time even knowing that I had a 35-minute train-ride to Hayes in Middlesex and a cycle-ride home to Hayes End. If I hadn’t found an escape route, I truly believe I would have had a breakdown.
Then along came an extraordinary offer: an old friend, Harald Melvill (a minor actor and playwright) told me that his tenant, Miss Gay, was leaving his cottage near St Agnes and asked if I wanted to take it over. I knew the cottage well from the outside, having spent two holidays in the ancient caravan at the top of the garden, and was thoroughly familiar with the surroundings, and this seemed like a dream come true. At the same time my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had discovered that colleges of education were offering courses, with full grants, to mature students, and were both starting teacher-training. I investigated, and established that such a course was available at the St Luke’s College Outpost, Cornwall Technical College, between Redruth and Camborne - a mere 20-minute drive from Harald’s cottage. Fate? It was as if some power had taken control of my life and dropped a string of linked opportunities in front of me. I applied for the course, was given an interview and got a place. Even better, Cornwall County Council’s deal with St Luke’s was that, if the college would open an outpost in the Council’s shiny new technical college, it would guarantee teaching posts to the first two years’ students. I joined the second year. The course was only open to candidates with A-levels, and lasted two years rather than the three required for 18-year-olds with five O-levels.
My two years at college were a non-stop blast. I loved everything about the course except Physical Education and Religious Education. The fact that I got a distinction in Education Theory and only a pass in Education Practice probably had as much to do with the quality of my essay-writing as with anything else.
If you were there while I was - between 1969 and 1971 - please click the Contact me button.
As it turned out, I didn’t need the job-guarantee. In my second summer term I went on a half-day group visit to a special school for kids with severe learning disabilities, as they’re called now - then they were called ’the severely subnormal’ (and, believe it or not, ’mongol’ was still being used by so-called professionals, and even ’idiot’ and ’imbecile’ were heard occasionally). By the time the group left, I was ensconced in the headteacher’s office and most of the way to a job.
These kids were only given the right to education on the 1 April 1971, a couple of months before I started teaching them, and there was only one part-time qualified teacher at the school. The headteacher was unqualified and the County’s Social Services Department and the doctors held far more sway than the Education Department. I think I got the job because I didn’t faint or throw up when meeting the most severely handicapped children in the Special Care Unit, and because I had specialised in Pottery on my primary Art and Craft course.
As if Fate hadn’t smiled on me enough, the school’s governors agreed that I could start work the Monday after my course finished (21 June 1971), thus getting full pay for the six-week summer holiday. The words ’jammy’ and ’bugger’ spring to mind...
In the event, I spent much of the ’holiday’ researching, designing and building a top-loading electric kiln in the big shed which was to become the school pottery. The combination of optimism and sheer arrogance with which I approached this task, spending the school’s money on what had to be a pretty speculative project, still amazes me. Even more amazing is the fact that the thing actually worked, and served the school well for a few years. Until, in fact, we got a ’proper’ headteacher and had a safety inspection. My kiln was instantly condemned - but was replaced with a ’real’ one which comfortably reached stoneware temperatures and produced some amazing stuff.
I stayed at the Curnow School in Drump Road, Redruth, for a total of eight years, in charge of Art and Craft, senior boys’ PE (it was much more fun than at college) and the gradually growing stock of audio-visual aids, including one of the very early video-cassette recorders (a Philips Video-2000, as I recall) complete with a monochrome camera, tripod and dolly. However, I had left before the first computers arrived in schools.
If anyone with connections to the school reads this, please click the Contact me button.
In 1979 I moved to Derby to become third-in-charge of a residential special school for secondary-age boys with emotional and behavioural problems (or whatever the jargon is this month). This meant living in the school to begin with and working all hours for very little extra money. It was an extraordinary period of my life, but not one I’d care to repeat. Sadly there was no potential for developing pottery at Brookside, but - another example of being in the right place at the right time - it was there that I met my first microcomputer. My life took another dramatic turn that led by a somewhat winding route to my last career as a web developer.
Anyone who has connections with Brookside Boarding School (staff or boys) please click the Contact me button.
Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.
This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.