All posts by Christine Chapman

Church High’s Last Roses Stand Tall As A New Era Dawns, 19th August 2016

When I visited Tankerville on the afternoon of August 18th, one of the last shots I captured through the fence was the main entrance.    The red roses still standing tall to the right of the door had caught my eye.  Now that the hoardings had been removed, the garden in front of the building was revealed for the first time in a very long while.  This area of the site had acted as a workers’ thoroughfare.  Wooden sleepers had been laid across the grass and, as Giuseppe’s photo below shows, the damage to the garden was beyond repair.

Behind the hoardings, what had once been the front garden had become a sorry sight.

This area would be replanted in time, of course, but, in keeping with the modern feel of the refurbishment, in a more minimalist style: grasses, ferns and that kind of thing.  No more roses anymore.  I know I’ve used this image before, but as the new era was drawing nigh, forgive me for re-reminding you of the frontage at its prime.

newcastle high school for girlsI am very fond of roses.  I’ve never been much good at growing them – they need too much time and care – but my Nana and Grandad Chapman were.  I do remember some things they told me as a little girl.  I know rose bush suckers are a bad thing and have to be removed because they suck the majority of the nutrients necessary for good growth.  This only happens with cultivated grafted roses apparently, not the older types.  I wonder if there is an equivalent for a grafted school?  From childhood experience, I also learned that roses were lovely to look at but could be painful to pick.  Have you read Colleen McCullogh’s novel ‘The Thorn Birds’?  It was a blockbuster TV mini series a couple of years before I came to Church High.  Roses were a key motif in this tale of love and pain: ‘There’s one thing you’ve forgotten about your precious roses …. they’ve got nasty hooky thorns!’

The key scene from ABC’s 1983 TV series of ‘The Thorn Birds’ starring Richard Chamberlain: ‘But he that dares not grasp the thorn/Should never crave the rose.’ (Anne Bronte)

The book’s title relates to a Celtic legend, the premise being that ‘the best is only bought at the cost of great pain.’  The inference is biblical, of course.  When something hurts me badly, I do try to remember this.  The thing about life is that we don’t get the full picture as we live it.  We feel the ebb and flow of emotions, but can’t see the end result.  When I saw Giuseppe’s images of the old building interiors nearing completion on August 19th, I felt just such a mix of joy and sadness.  Happiness at the prospect of returning ‘home’ again soon, but the changes to spaces like the Hall caused – and still do cause – me pain.

A new era for the Church High Arts & Crafts beamed School Hall as a Common-room with Deli-bar is about to begin.

I know those of you who have now spent time in the refurbished building will be familiar with its new 21st Century interiors, but for the benefit of those further afield, Giuseppe can guide you through.  Inside the buildings in the week of the 19th, the deli kitchen had been constructed at the south end of the Hall and work was now underway on the stage area at the north end.  You may remember the stage had been extended into an arc at its west-facing point?  As in the plan below, the raised seating area was now being created.

Safety rails for the raised seating area of the new 6th Form Common Room were now in the process of being installed.

The same joinery firm who worked on the stage extension also created bespoke stairs for the room created under the eaves in the original NHS building’s south gable, most recently used as an office.

These bespoke steps and the joinery work on the staging are Giuseppe’s favourite modern additions to the Old building.

As staff, we had already seen the large interactive screens that were planned for every classroom in the school as a trial one had been in situ within the Brandling Campus for the last year.  Ordering these screens was the very last thing Steven Farrell did as IT Manager for NHSG before the management decided to restructure ICT Support.

Each screen is mounted within a Learning Wall. The doors of the cupboards either side of the screen serve as whiteboards.  Every classroom has been designed to exactly the same specification, whether it be situated in the New or Old building.

Learning Wall being installed in Room 18 of the Old building.
A fully-installed New building Learning Wall.

Giuseppe’s uploaded photos also made it clear that inside the New building the Science Labs and the Main Hall were all now complete.

A second floor Laboratory looking out onto the Roof Terrace.
The south-facing first floor corridor overlooking the Hall.
The retractable tiered seating has now been fitted in the Hall.

At Noon on August 15th, Giuseppe captured a shot through the old Staffroom side window of a large removal van pulling up outside the Old building Main Entrance.  The first batch of furniture had arrived.

The first delivery of furniture arrives on site.

Its load was clearly a big consignment of work table frames.  Above, stacked in the 6th Form Library, below in old Room 8.

The white (of course!) flat-pack furniture for the staff offices had also arrived. This office is destined for the Languages and Digital Literacy Faculty, aka the old Physics Prep Room.

Although virtually everything is white now (never, ever a favourite colour of mine, sadly), it IS still the same old building beneath it all.  And readers of this blog understand this more clearly than anyone.  While visitors to the Sixth Form Library on the top floor of the Old building will notice a strangely-configured, white desk-table-cum-cabinet structure, you will all know that, underneath that laminate casing, still lie the rough-hewn wooden bell-tower support beams.

Some things just plain refuse to ‘go-away’. The initial plan was to remove the vertical timbers discovered when the partition walls of the rooms under the eaves were torn down – until they turned out to be structural. None of the renovators knew the building once had a bell-tower. The idea was to use them as a desk.

After reading this post, you will also now know that – apart from the original stage which is still under the Common Room seating area – there is one very small area of the Old building which has been left as it was, totally unchanged.  How great is that!  It may be tiny and extremely hard to get into, but a part of Old Church High really has been enshrined forever, deep within the newly-renovated building.  If you move aside one of the portable white bookcases at the north end of the Sixth Form Library, where a small set of stairs used to be, very low down in the white wall behind it you will see a tiny little door.  Readers of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ will know all about the parallel worlds that can lie behind such tiny, lockable doors in a wall.

The magic little door to the Old Church High.

Yes, a portion of the old roof-space with the only remaining king post truss is there even now, hidden away admittedly but still there for posterity.  A more imaginative architect might have considered putting a glass wall in place just there, but sadly that was not to be.

I loved this little eaves room in the Old building’s north gable roofline. Wouldn’t it have been glorious to have been able to admire it still through a modern glass partition wall?

I always try to look on the bright side of things and consider it a blessing of sorts that this little space at least has been kept intact.  I had guessed as much from my site visits, of course, but having it confirmed by Giuseppe, almost as a little photo-story, was lovely.  I didn’t need any more gifts after that, but it appeared Giuseppe had one more little present for me. You may recall his penchant for passing on any little archeo-finds the workforce came across.  Well, when I noticed two very unexpected images appear in his uploads, I kind of guessed what might next be finding its way eventually to me.

In the New Era, ‘Someone to watch over me’?

Ten Days till Handover: No More Peter Anymore, 18th August 2016

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.

The site was ‘on the move’: clearly, no more Peter anymore.

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.

The new build’s cladding shone brightly in the evening sun.

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.

It’s now possible to see the architect’s design aim for the new build walls: tree trunks and sky-light.  Ring any bells ….?

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.

Men were still at work on site, but no gate meant no gateman.

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.

Pathways were now being created between the old and new buildings bringing order to the ‘wilderness’. Plus a lamp post.

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.

Wood and Oakley architects’ plans of May 1927 (above) showing the position of an existing bicycle shed at Church High School, top right [Copyright: Tyne & Wear Archives]. The Wood and Oakley offices were then at 9, Eldon Square. The new bicycle rack (below) has been positioned against the outer wall of the 1927 extension at exactly the same spot.
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.

With tree-protection fencing now in place where there were no trees, this little tree sadly became victim to the ‘last push.’

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.

The sad strangeness of things ‘in transition’.

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.

Not ‘The Gateman’, but it was nice to see Colin Gordon again.

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.

Giuseppe’s shot of the Waites’ decamp from 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.

Waites’ building plans for the groundworks (plus bike rack!).

If this much frantic activity was going on in the grounds to ensure the handover deadline was met, one wonders what inside was like.

The front door may have been open, but the state of play inside could only be guessed at.

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.

Thank you, Peter Wilson, for your time & care.

 

‘Returning over the Nightmare Ground’: Goodbye Eslington Tower, 14th July 2016

I’ve been back at home on Tankerville Terrace for just over a year now, but still occasionally dream about the time working in Eskdale.  When I say that, I really mean bad dreams, of course.  The merger was stressful for all, but the main casualties were those of us who were moved ‘down the road’ from Church High.  I have likened the experience, many a time, to attempting to step onto one of those children’s playground roundabouts, already spinning at full tilt.  No concessions were made for us at all.  ‘We were in Central now’, as some were actually told.  It didn’t help that some ex-Central girls didn’t want to be taught by ex-Church High teachers or that some parents echoed this sentiment.  I found myself complained about more than once, in the ‘white-hot’ first term in particular.  I survived by continually reminding myself I had come from an English Department twice commended by its Board for gaining the best Lang/Lit A Level results in the country.  Why was here so different?  In these dreams, Eslington Tower was the real ‘House of Horrors.’

The Nightmare Ground for me: Eslington Tower looking as eerie at dusk (left) as the Eskdale Main Corridor did c 1910.

After I’d taught my last lesson in Eslington, I left the building with never a backward glance and no desire to return.  Ever.  Yet on July 14th 2016, once everything had fallen quiet, with my crates all packed and a camera still to hand, I mused whether I should head over there again ‘one last time’.  Just for the record?  To lay some ghosts to rest?  So I did.  A few summers ago, thanks to a friend, I shared after-show drinks with the poet Owen Shears in The Swan Theatre Bar in Stratford.  Not only did we get on really well, we found we had a favourite war poem in common too: Keith Douglas’ Vergissmeinnicht.’  So, as I headed along the rutted back lane behind Eslington Terrace one last time, it was the first three lines of this poem that echoed in my head: ‘Three weeks gone and the combatants gone/returning over the nightmare ground/we found the place again.’

I had to traipse along this dreary lane, heavy bag in one hand and laptop tucked under my other arm, numerous times each day for two years – hail, rain or shine.

My ex-Church High colleague, Kay, always referred to Eslington as ‘Fagin’s Den’, so clearly it wasn’t just me who found it a depressing place to work.  I’m sure the property was once a very fine house, but it was dark and dank, particularly at ground floor level, and more than one cleaner confided they didn’t like being in that building alone.  A make-shift Home Economics room had been created on the top floor, where Church High colleague Lynn Batchelor was based.  Lynn’s smile was the brightest thing in the building.  It helped a lot.  The ugly black fire-escape which dominated the back elevation prompted me more than once wryly to liken our existence there as being akin to ‘Westside Story – but without the singing and dancing’!

Eslington Entrance reminiscent of Fagin’s Den.

So let me show you round my teaching world for the second year in Eskdale.  Those of you who remember sunny, ivy shrouded Room 5 will see – all too clearly – why I was never at home there.  However, at the time I was grateful for the hard-won room base having had to teach my lessons for the entire first year of NHSG in 13 different classrooms, spread out across 4 separate buildings (whilst others in the department enjoyed the luxury of a dedicated teaching room). Not an ‘even’ battlefield – sorry, playfield – right from the very start.

The ‘welcoming’ main entrance of the NHSG English School.
The dark & dingy hallway: ET2 is to the left.
ET2’s door (left) opened virtually directly onto the teacher’s desk. It was always a very tight squeeze to get into the room.
I wish I had a fiver for every time I (or a pupil) tripped over or stubbed a toe on that inconveniently placed doorstop ….
…. or scraped an arm/snagged clothing on this sliding piece of jutting out plastic!  (The light fitting which fell down during one of Ruchelle Everton’s lessons was never replaced).

The only feature of the room which gave ET2 any character was the big bay window (part of the tower) to the left of the teacher’s desk.  In case I was ever in danger of forgetting the fact time in Eslington was finite, from April a ‘For Sale’ sign was always in my eye-line.

From April, I had a ‘For Sale’ sign constantly in my eye-line.

The Eslington room I found the most uncongenial was on the first floor and was used as a departmental staffroom.  The summer we moved down from Church High, I really did have high hopes for this room.  Leaf-dappled sunlight filtering in through the branches of a large tree in the garden was faintly reminiscent of Church High.  I pinned some RSC posters to a section of noticeboard in an attempt to settle in.  The writing was on the wall the day I noted random documents pinned onto these posters with drawing pins, however.  At the end of that day I went across after school and removed all my pictures.  It goes without saying that room was never a ‘home’ to me.

Department meetings were held there around an octagonal table. I never ever got used to sitting at low children’s tables.

If anything, the return walk back across to the Eskdale building was even less picturesque.  The heavy metal plated floor at the base of the fire-escape moved and clunked underfoot when you walked out onto it and to enter the main building again you had to run the gamut of the most purple-looking doorway in the whole school.  The bottom corridor always smelled strongly of disinfectant, especially in the mornings.  This made it feel more like a hospital than a school.

The view under the clunking metal fire-escape.
My very last journey back across the Eslington back-yard….
….. and the uneven, badly-rutted back-lane which was lethal during the winter because it was never salted.  Never in Gentian’s day!
I know I wasn’t alone in hating the side door.

No, going over ‘nightmare ground’ again is never an easy thing to do.  The fact it has taken me well over a month to complete this particular post clearly reinforces this too.  Sorry for the long delay.  Hopefully ‘normal service’ will be resumed again soon.  I could have skipped on, I know, and missed out this bit of the story.  But my intention has always been to print all the posts off once our tale has come ‘full circle’, have them bound into a hard-backed volume and deposit the book with Tyne & Wear Archives for filing in the transitional NCHS/NHSG archive they have already put in place.  But the delay has had one benefit though.  I can now end my post on a therapeutic note.  In the interim, workmen have moved in.  Karma.

The back of Eslington Tower has looked very different of late. Rubbish removal in progress!

On my way home from work on September 8th this year, I caught a glimpse of something red out of the corner of my left eye as I was about to cross over the back lane behind Eslington Terrace on my way to Jesmond Metro.  Curious, I made a little detour along that awkward little back lane one more time and spied the rubbish chute.  Not only is girls’ education in Jesmond finally back on Tankerville again, a new chapter is about to start for the Eskdale buildings too.  I realise this will create sadness for those who loved their time at that school.  But not for me.  And I know others who feel the same.

Eslington strip-out is well underway: I recognise that door!

Once I got round the front of the building, there were indications a full ‘strip-out’ was in progress there too.  The For Sale sign was no longer there.  The Newcastle High School for Girls sign also.  And through the window of ET2, I could see the door was off its hinges.

No NHSG signage out front anymore: time is on the move.
The door to ET2 will bother nobody anymore.
And out front a couple of weeks later again.

Doors are such symbolic things, aren’t they?  Yes, the Roman god Janus sits double-faced in the New Year doorway with good reason.  God of gates and transitions, he looks to both the past and future.  Every ending is another beginning, of course, and so life continues its cycles and circles.  How different the feelings now on spying that troublesome ET2 door through a very dusty window, to seeing Giuseppe’s photo of a Church High door on a skip two years earlier.

The first green door on a skip was a sign of the end in 2015.

There are a lot of things I understand better now than in 2014.  Back then we thought it was just the Church High history that wasn’t being given a ‘look in.’ Now I know it is just past history ‘full stop.’  That was made concrete clear walking round the front of Tankerville on September 8th.  Something caught my eye.  To the right this time.  Something low down, gold and gleaming in the dusky evening light.

Something gleaming at the base of the tree.

Even though I’d worked the truth out a long time ago, I still couldn’t quite believe it when I saw what had drawn my eye to the foot of the tree.  I’d learned the cherry tree outside my classroom window was a special little tree, planted in memory of a pupil who had died.  An attempt had been made to move it, but, instead, a cutting was ultimately taken.  Fair enough, I guess.  Some things are probably best left as they are.  But leaving the plaque behind too?  Well that left me speechless.  I’ve told them and it will no doubt be reclaimed, but that’s not the point.  Vergissmeinnicht?  Yes, truly nightmare ground.

Vergissmeinnicht is, of course, German for ‘Forget me not ….’

 

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables: Very Nearly Full-Circle Now, 14th July 2016

There’s a not very nice smell coming from the plug-hole of my kitchen sink.  I’m assuming said smell is emanating from stagnant water and rotting stuff encamped in the U-bend.  I’ve now bought a bottle of sink-unblock and intend to use it before I go to bed tonight.  If only all noxious odours were as easy to remove.  Some continue to linger, whatever you do.  I returned to work last Monday after my first summer in three years without a big cloud hanging over it or me bringing heavy boxes home for ‘safe-keeping’ having just had to empty a school.  Despite this, I’m still unbelievably tired and daren’t go near the bathroom scales.  After a year back on Tankerville Terrace, things have begun to ‘unblock’ a little, but there is still a long way to go.  On our study day, we were told of all the work done on the building over the summer as Wates’ snagging responsibility draws to a close.  This included a smell in the lift shaft with an untraceable source.  As I said, some bad smells just won’t go away.

What a difference two years can make: July 2014/May 2016.

‘Revelations: Full Circle’ is one of my favourite ‘X-Files’ episodes and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ a favourite ‘Les Miserables’ song.’  The ideas behind both were very much on my mind when I paid my final visit to the Eskdale Terrace buildings on Thursday, 14th July 2016.  As far as I can remember, that visit to Jesmond was purely to pick up those items which had journeyed with me to Eskdale from Church High that I didn’t want to risk leaving in the hands of the removal company – or was my distrust of ‘our’ folk at the other end?  Forgive me, but it was impossible to forget that two years earlier instruction had been given for crates arriving from Tankerville to be searched and anything with a Church High logo removed.  Nor that in the build up to this move, books with Church High library stamps on my bookshelf in the Eslington Tower staffroom were initially all binned.  I kicked up a big fuss and they all resurfaced.  Hence my determination now that, although no old furniture was to be allowed into the new building, those familiar framed prints, pot plants and ‘metal people’ which had all proved ‘good friends’ over a difficult two years would all travel full-circle back to Tankerville with me too.

‘Bring Him Home’:  To the amusement of Lauren & Sameena, the Dragon Tree which had travelled with me from Room 5 was given the courtesy of being repatriated – on a point of principle. Sadly neglected at Eskdale, though not intentionally, that dry plant ultimately felt like a visual symbol of ME.

For the blog, as I’d done at Tankerville, I made a last tour of the Central building with my camera.  To be honest, there was a touch of revenge in it.  A sense of Karma.  Also, I knew that no-one else would be doing it.  And it WAS going to be done!  For the record, I respect the sadness of the Central Old-Timers who loved their building – though it was shocking how few of them there turned out to be.  But, having been forced to see Tankerville with its guts ripped out, I was determined there would be some record of Eskdale in that state too.

‘Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs?’ (Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1): Eskdale Terrace Main Corridor, still painted Central’s colours, is now left to the ghosts. Above, the Staffroom door, below the door to Michael Tippett’s Office.

Not only lots of empty chairs & empty tables, but now there were also orange crates in the Central staffroom too.  Karma.

Clearly I’m going to be biased, having spent 29 years of my teaching career within Church High’s Tankerville building.  But, as one of the few who saw both buildings after the ‘countdown’ was complete, I know which one still looked – and felt – the ‘warmest.’  Still ‘alive.’  Ex Central staff have since told me, now happily settled in Tankerville, they thought I was mad at the time, but that “now they know”.  Apparently I made my dislike of Eskdale “very clear to all!”  There’s a pivotal moment in ‘Hamlet’ when, talking with his mother, he compares pictures of his father and his uncle: ‘This was your husband. Look you now, what follows.  Have you eyes?/Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed/And batten on this moor?’ (Act 3, Scene 4).  That’s how I still feel now when I look at the images below, before and after shots of the equivalent rooms in Tankerville and Eskdale.

Main Corridors at Tankerville in 2014 and Eskdale in 2016.
Social Staffrooms: Tankerville in 2014 and Eskdale in 2016.
Working Staffrooms: Tankerville in 2014 & Eskdale in 2016.
My Classroom: Tankerville (2014) & Eslington Tower (2016).

Put quite simply, working inside the ‘Purple Palace’ made me ill, something I became acutely aware of two thirds of the way through the two-years we were based there.  Which was very, very unlucky for me.  One of my coping strategies was to keep a ‘countdown’ in my diary.  Each morning on the metro, I would add and subtract one number each way.  That probably makes me sound really sad, I know, but that’s how it was.  The truth.  And we know ‘Truth Conquers All.’

My diary pages for the last full week of my time at Eskdale.

Looking at those diary pages now, the unintended irony of certain entries amuses me.  Though I never actually got there, I note the United Reformed Church on Tankerville Terrace were hosting an exhibition commemorating The Battle of the Somme that week.  I can see some analogies there: entrenchment, the sapping of spirit, a long drawn-out conflict with a criminally high list of casualties.  Hence the empty chairs at empty tables that continue to haunt me still.  And, of course, the entry ‘Celebration of Achievement’ on July 7th refers to NHSG’s final review of the year, a calendar event inherited from Central, not me surviving the 365 days I had to work in that building.  I’m amazed I didn’t spot the irony there at the time.

An achievement worthy of celebration: friendship, faith and mutual support. The Church High staff family, July 2014.

It wasn’t just all the stairs, nor the fact that the NHSG English Department, based in Eslington Tower and connected to the Main Building by a badly-surfaced back lane, ran in its little ‘out-post’ as if we were still in Central.  No, it was the ever-decreasing number of Church High colleagues which caused me the most pain.  That and the knowledge of what we’d all lost.  The memory of those who had no choice but to take the other path.  The total disregard of history.

The School Hall in July 2014, its layers of history in the process of being peeled away, bit by bit, destined for storage.

But, as the Priest says to Scully in that episode of ‘The X-Files’, “Sometimes we must come full circle to find the truth“.  An empty Eskdale on July 14th 2016 was a small victory, but it was a step in the right direction.  I know a lot of ex-Central staff still thought there was a high probability they’d be returning to Eskdale in September, that the building wouldn’t be ready.  But I was in no doubt.  Those empty chairs will always remain etched in memory, but the momentum was finally shifting.  At long last.  Newcastle High School for Girls was returning to its natural home and I didn’t have to step foot into the ‘Purple Palace’ ever again.  We were nearly ‘full-circle’ now and it would not be long before Freddie Shepherd would take possession of his building.  Freddie is, of course, both father and grandfather to Church High Old Girls. I couldn’t know it on the 14th July 2016, but a full year later, on the very last day of term once again, Eskdale would be looking very different indeed.  Left in the hands of Mother Nature even nightmare ground becomes green.

The Eskdale Terrace Main Building, now in the hands of Mr Freddie Shepherd and Mother Nature, is purple no more.

‘Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the songs of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.’

[Les Miserables]