‘Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’
~Bob Dylan, 1964 ~
Arriving at work on the last Study Day, if it hadn’t been clear before, just one look at the front door was all that was needed for it to fully hit home. Finally, after two years and two months – and two Study Days as NHSG – the outer doors had been given a quick coat of teal. The times they were now ‘a-changin’, for the outer doors were green no more. So, of course, I immediately proceeded to ‘stand in the doorway’ and ‘block up the hall’ to record this moment for the blog. I don’t want this to sound like I had been in denial, because I hadn’t, but, having got to know the building so intimately while it was being refurbished, the Church High atmosphere persisted for me longer than for most. Even now the colour change still feels largely cosmetic, because, even in my 29 years, the doors had been painted different colours over the years. When I started teaching, they were light blue and in the 1990s they were royal blue before they went green.
Certainly the building did now look a lot different inside, but for me this was really just a matter of new layers and veneer having been applied. As one of the workmen said to me a long time ago, “If all the walls are still in the same place and the outside is the same, then it is still your building!” For what is history in the end? Just layer after layer of habitation and use. When I arrived at Church High, the hallway was painted a deep orange and before Miss Davies’ time as Head those very same walls were actually painted purple. And, just as peeling paint high in the Hall roof beams revealed its walls were originally painted blue, so the Victorian boot-scraper to the right of the front door tells us it was green even before it was light blue. I took the pictures below in November 2016, long after the front door had received all the requisite coats of shiny new paint, but all you had to do was look down at your feet and the history was still there. Things like this never cease to amaze – and amuse – me. And still do.
The pale green colour all the exterior furniture on the frontage was once painted was clearly a long time ago. If anyone reading remembers it, do let me know via the blog’s Facebook page as I’d be interested in a date. When the downpipe hidden by the ivy cross was finally exposed, there was evidence under the peeling layer of black that they had been green once too, as you can see below. This highly visible part of the front of the building still looked this way in May 2017 and may still do even now. It’s all very strange and is in sharp contrast to the shiny, spic-and-clinical, grey/white NHSG interiors.
But back to those old doors, once seemingly so firmly shut (though that was never quite the case, of course) now not only flung wide to the outside world, but also wedged open by a red fire-extinguisher. Health and safety, such a big thing these days and especially within GDST, was obviously not being adhered to that day within NHSG. A huge irony in light of something that was said internally at that level regarding “your friends up the road” in the early days of the merger.
But perhaps this was just an attempt at aiding the paint to dry or at least in preventing it from getting on peoples’ hands and clothing, for there was certainly an awful lot of that to come a little later on. Yes, those doors must have witnessed a lot of things over the years.
I did my MA thesis at university on the relationship between Man and the environment in Thomas Hardy’s novels, a subject which still continues to fascinate me to this day. In his autobiography published from diaries by his second wife, Florence, Hardy wrote that ‘an object or mark raised or made by man on a scene is worth ten times any such formed by unconscious Nature. Hence clouds, mists and mountains are unimportant beside the wear on a threshold, or the print of a hand.’ This idea has stuck with me. Time, history, the significance of people. So whenever I see an old artefact like the brass handle on the old front door, I can’t help musing on all the hands that will have turned it. Because as American poet Walt Whitman also once said about landscape: ‘only your immediate experience of the detail can provide the soil in your soul where the beauty of the whole can grow’
At around this time, I was told by joiner Alan Collinson of Howell Cummings, who worked on the front doors with Trevor Stapylton, that the brass letterbox in the other door was probably not original.
Was it there in the lower third of the door panelling in Miss Gurney’s time? At least from this particular photograph, it’s impossible to tell.
These are hefty old hardwood doors and security was ensured in the beginning via an equally hefty Victorian Rim Deadlock affixed to the back. Since the doors have been secured by a modern mortice lock for a long time now, I wasn’t even aware that the original key still existed, but apparently it does. Wates found it while working on the building and, as a lovely gesture, had it gold-plated and added to the beautifully-crafted box presented to NHSG on Handover Day.
Attention to little details such as this can make all the difference to a ‘happy handover’ between a contractor and a client. Particularly when the handover was as touch-and-go as this one was at the end. Did you know that the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’ is actually a variant of an earlier proverb ‘Le bon Dieu est dans le détail’ (‘the good God is in the detail’) which is generally attributed to the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Painstaking in his writing, Flaubert pursued the principle of finding ‘le mot juste’ (‘the right word’) which he considered the means to achieve quality in literary art. Perhaps it could be said that God is in the detail with regard to our front doors too. If you look closely at the hinges, there are bits still undeniably green.
Another quirky detail in the refurbishing of the Tankerville building is the whereabouts of the lockers. On the plans, there just didn’t seem to be any provision made for them at all, which wasn’t really surprising to me since virtually every spare inch (and cupboard) in the Old Building seemed to have become a little box-shaped office. So ‘no room at the inn’ meant that all the lockers had to go outside, which caused outcry amongst the girls when they heard the news. As all efforts had been focused on simply getting us back in on time, for the time being the lockers were located inside our Sports Hall. They were there for some time in the end, which felt most strange. Mrs Chipchase would not be at all pleased to see that no protective plastic covering was put down to protect the playing surface either.
For the first time during NHSG Study Days, staff were given some time to themselves in order to unpack and to get settled in. For me, this meant trying to make my desk area in the Head of Year Office feel as much like ‘home’ as I could. Not so easy when you are aware that you are basically now sitting in the Chemistry Prep Room sink! But for a long time now, Tankerville had acted in my subconscious as my very own version of the Forest of Arden where unhappy folk sought to recreate ‘The Golden World’ in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, one of my favourite plays. If you know the play, you will understand the analogy. Shakespeare was making an intertextual reference himself here, to Greek mythology, where the ‘golden age‘ was the first stage of man, an idyllic, green paradise where the world enjoyed peace, happiness, prosperity and perfect weather: ‘They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’ (Act 1, Scene 1). Of course, when they eventually get there, Arden is nothing like their imagination. That’s life. There may be no clock but ‘travellers must be content’ (Act 2, Scene 4).
This is what my work station looked like by the time term started.
In the big scheme of things, work-station décor doesn’t count for much, I know, but little things can at least help to keep you going. I have never liked plastic plants or flowers and the example sunning itself on my windowsill was particularly thread-bare, it must be said. But it was what it stood for that mattered. One little ‘victory’ in a sea of unsolicited change. For when the U6 Legacy Group and I marked our last lesson by returning to the Tankerville doorstep, we managed to sneak inside the building again – just for a few minutes. The smiles on the girls’ faces were a delight to behold. We didn’t get very far. Just into the entrance hallway, really. To mark this triumph over circumstance, we felt the need for a token of some sort. Which is how a plastic plant came to be ‘rescued’ from the Meeting Room.
It was good to be ‘Home’ again after all this time. But it was a bitter sweet feeling too. However positive the mind-set, there were a lot of ghosts there for me now. I was asked by an old Church High colleague, who left a while ago, how it felt to be back in the building. I replied “I just see you all there still”. And this did help me for a while, even if it probably sounds a bit too reminiscent of ‘The Sixth Sense’. But what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and the trick, I’ve found, is to take little ‘victories’ where you can. For instance, on this particular day the front door may have been finally painted-over, but at least it was open again. As I made my way home that night, I stopped in front of Eskdale for a few minutes. Just long enough to take a couple of photographs. Although there were now two sets of teal doors, the difference was that this set was now closed for good.
‘The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’