Despite having gained ‘permission’ to visit the site again over the summer break, once settled back into my home routine ‘over-the-water’, it seemed best to leave be for a while. However hard-won the victory, I was tired, needed the rest, so listened to my body – for once. Had I done so recently, I wouldn’t be in the state I’m in now, I know. But my Mam used to say that “God’s timing is always right” so we shall just have to wait and see. As it turned out, in the summer of 2016 the time at home was needed to say ‘goodbye’ to Sassy, my old-lady cat, a loyal companion for the previous 19 and a half years. I spent some time in the Archives too, which was where I’d been on Thursday August 18th when I felt the urge to check on Tankerville. It was a sunny afternoon and the site looked beautiful from afar, but as I got closer, all had changed. The hoardings were down, the gates gone and, to the right, Peter’s cabin was now just a blue, metal box.
Whilst the scenes of upheaval were a shock to the system, it was hardly surprising since the handover date was less than two weeks away. The new building’s cladding looked super shiny in the sunlight and I assumed its interiors must have been fully completed by now.
In close up, the panels now showed an interesting graduation of colour in keeping with how long each had been in place. A bit of a mismatch at the moment, but eventually all would darken to bronze.
Considering I’d been waiting two years for Tankerville to be brought back to life again, it was strange how mixed my feelings were that evening. I’d become very fond of my knights-in-shining-armour within the work-force. The sense of camaraderie that had evolved over time had almost had a Church High feel to it. Peter & Co were good, kind folk. Salt of the earth. They’d seen me laugh and seen me cry. Listened to my sadnesses, shared the stories, absorbed some of the history. My visits, and those of many others who came to the gates to watch, gave them a sense of being part of something special. The blog helped greatly there, of course. From the architect who told me, “Oh we know this is the loved school …..” to the guy who commented, “If it’s the same outside, it’s still your building no matter what happens inside,” it always felt like we were all on the same side. The doors of the Church High building would soon be open once more and that was as it should be. However, something else was going to be lost in the process. Again. But those red walls retain a lot.
No big metal gate or teal green hoardings in place now meant my view of what was going on in the grounds was relatively unfettered, of course. However, it didn’t feel half as much fun that way. The best way I can think of to describe it is as if I had been in a long drawn-out game of tug-of-war but there was no longer anyone pulling on the other end of the rope. I now think the tension on that metaphorical rope was actually the main thing keeping me going. Now it was clear that the final groundworks were in full swing. The paths were being laid, though I don’t know if Eddie ever returned.
The habit for ‘snapping’ new features was so well-ingrained by then that even something as menial as a bicycle rack still caught the eye. A year later on, I almost discarded the shot preparing photos for this post until it dawned on me that the rack had been placed in virtually the exact same spot as Church High’s 1927 bicycle shed. Bicycling was, of course, really popular at that time and it was no doubt a great inconvenience to many when the shed was displaced to allow the building of the school’s first extension to create a Science Lab. The 1927 plans in Tyne & Wear Archives show the bicycle shed top right. The new rack is situated a little to the right again. It’s amazing how many things have simply travelled full-circle with this merger.
My eye for irony hadn’t been lost either. In some places the tree-protection fences (virtually the first things put in place on the site way back in 2015) were still in evidence, though clearly not where they could have been of any help to one little tree during the ‘last push.’ I guess that now made it two trees sadly lost in the process.
Passing the old Church High side carpark gates on my way back to the Metro, I noticed that all of the colourful site workers cabins had also now gone. A school yard once again, but strangely bereft of life.
Just as I was turning to go, a figure in reflective clothing suddenly came out of the side door and walked towards me. As he opened the gates to speak to me, my thoughts turned to Peter once again. But it wasn’t him, of course. It was my old friend, Colin Gordon. He told me that Peter was long gone, onto another job. And a good job too.
Yes, not all of my new friends had gone. And Giuseppe was still there too, even if our contact was only via the photographs he was still uploading into the Cloud. This was his view of the side yard.
Despite the eerie silence of the site in the process of decamp that evening, an ex-Church High colleague driving down Tankerville Terrace at that time had described it as a veritable tumult of activity. Giuseppe’s photographs show the grinding toil of the heavy groundworks going on during that week. It looks noisy – and smelly too.
But the last words of this post must focus on Peter, to whom I owe a great deal. As do you all. I did eventually meet up with him again. Only once. His new job was in Scotland but he sent me a text when he was back in the area. He met me at The Sage after the morning Prizegiving rehearsal in September 2016 and took me out for lunch. Nothing fancy. That wouldn’t have suited either of us. But it does make me smile that we ended up at ‘The Centre for Life’. So very Peter! He told me all about his new job and what gave me the most pleasure was that he gained it simply for being Himself. Unbeknownst to him, he’d been observed being reliable, cheerful, managing things with ease and, above all, having time for people. His new employer wanted him for ‘who he was’. This fact gives me hope.