All posts by Christine Chapman

‘And The First Shall Be Last’: How To Install A School Gate the Wates’ Way, 22nd August 2016

I learned recently that one of the last fundraising projects my friend Richard Berg Rust worked on in his role as Development Director for Hughes Hall, Cambridge was the commissioning of a large set of ornamental gates for the college.  You may recall that I like gates and find the symbolism incorporated into ironmongery fascinating.  Since the oldest Cambridge colleges all had famous gateways, such as Newnham College’s grand Pfeiffer Arch, it was felt Hughes Hall, the newest college admitted to the University, needed their own.  In the same way the chrysanthemum is associated with old Church High, the marsh marigold is the oldest symbol of Hughes Hall.  Alan Dawson’s preferred design for the gates used the flower in such a way that a new marsh marigold can be added whenever a student from a hitherto unrepresented country matriculates at Hughes.  Only after Richard’s death did I learn Hughes Hall was actually founded in 1885 as the Cambridge Training College for Women to train female graduates for the teaching profession.  Not only is 1885 the same year Church High was formed, the buildings are so similar too.  Amazing.  Such a lot we could have talked about there.

The Cambridge Training College for Women, built in 1885.

I don’t remember anyone ever talking about what the new school gates would look like.  Other than noticing a reference to Davison Fencing in Giuseppe’s photographs, I didn’t give it any thought at all.  Clearly an entrance to the New building grounds would be needed, but that was the last thing on my mind when I decided to visit the site on my way home from the Archives on Monday 22nd August.  It had been another lovely sunny day and once again everything on Tankerville Terrace seemed very quiet that late on in the afternoon.

A cotton wool cloud sails over the 1889 North Gable end.

Further along the street, the presence of a very large lorry with its engine running indicated there was work still going on in the New building grounds.  But it was only when I spotted the crane that I realised what was actually going on – and how lucky my timing was.

What could that red crane arm be lifting?

God does seem to have been very kind to me during this process.  Call it Fate or Lady Luck if you prefer, but, not for the first time, I found myself in exactly the right place at the right time.  Consequently, in the same way I had turned the corner as the old carpark gates were being fork-lifted away, I skirted the lorry just in time to photograph a set of new entrance gates being winched into place.

The new gates being lifted into place by a very long crane arm.

I’ve always been very careful not to get in the way when I’ve visited the site with my camera and it became second nature to always stay the ‘safe side’ of my guide or, when I’ve been a bit cheeky to get a particular shot, never put myself at risk.  That’s what the high vis jackets, the hard hat and boots are for, of course.  And Wates take site safety very seriously indeed.  But goggles and heavy gloves do not make using a camera at all easy, so they usually ended up ‘going the journey’ as my friend/helper kindly turned a blind eye.  Because of this, I’m quite proud of a lot of the photos I’ve taken all around the site over the full year and a half of the renovation work.  So there was no way I was going to stay across the other side of the road now.

I venture a little closer to capture my first shot of the gate.

From this position, with my lens pressed through a hole in the fence, I am the only person who was there to take you step-by-step through the process of installing a set of large steel gates the Wates’ way.  The first step, once the gates were lowered into position, was to ensure they were both completely level.  Enter Spirit Level Man.

By now, I had edged in as close as I dared considering I had just turned up at a crucial stage of the work.  These gates, which would be one of the first things anyone about to enter the new school’s grounds would see, were the last major item to be installed on site.  And I was there to record it happening.  From the moment I arrived, I could see how important this job must be as Project Manager Nick White (far right) was in attendance, personally overseeing the work.

By this point, Nick White had looked up and noticed I was there.  He didn’t say anything.  Just concentrated on the important job in hand.

Through every stage of this process, Nick has never been less than warm, gracious, extremely helpful and most professional whenever I met him.  Wates have a company philosophy which welcomes and embraces the ‘client’ throughout the job, so it is second nature to their workforce to be open, informative and always willing to help.  I know they found it a bit ‘strange’ that our build had an unspoken expectation of very restricted access and they were ‘caught out’ by this occasionally.  Hence the ‘site-shut-down’ to staff, for which I later received an apology from the member of NHSG staff involved.  Only once did Nick ask me to come back another time, even though I had already been kitted out and allocated Connal as a guide.  I didn’t mind.  I could see the strain etched on his face at that point.  And they did hit problems.  Especially in the run-in to the hand-over.  Privately, a number of guys told me they couldn’t see it being ready in time for us and, afterwards, I was told that Nick, “Did very well for a Young-un”.  That he, “Held it together well.”  A manly compliment.  When Nick looked up, he was probably thinking, “Is Christine, officially allowed here now or not?”  And I can’t blame him for that.  At times he’ll have been told I was and on other occasions I wasn’t.  But as the guys conferred, I decided this was my time to edge forward.

As it was, I did now have School’s permission to be on site and since there was no boundary fence left to speak of anyway, I took this opportunity to step over the rubble to take up a reverse viewpoint.

Against the backdrop of Tankerville Terrace, the ornate features of the gates were a lot easier to see.  Each carpark gate featured a large seahorse emblem, of course, courtesy of GMC Fabrication Services.

Not wanting to push it too far, I didn’t stay there very long.  The gates may have still been held up by support chains, but I could see this was a really stressful process and I didn’t want to distract anyone.  There was one of the Wates’ supervisors I didn’t recognise.  Peter had said the last time I saw him “There was a new boss on the job.” And that he was a strict one too.  In the photo below taken from Tankerville Terrace again, he is the guy standing on the left.  I made a point of introducing myself before I went home that day.  Initially a little bemused by me, Ken Fikson was to become my last site-friend.

Ken Fikson (left) was brought in for the final ground works.

It must have been approaching 5.00 pm by that point and, pleased with what I had accomplished, I turned away to head off for home.  In order to do that, I had to make my way around the lorry again.

I decided to take one more photograph from a different angle and, as I framed the shot, it dawned on me it was still carrying half its load.

Clearly not just one gate was being delivered today, but two!

Of course.  What was being put into position was a set of gates for car access and a smaller pedestrian gate had yet to be unloaded.  I wondered whether they would manage to get this done that night.  On the way home, my mind began to muse on purpose-built gates and later that evening I realised it wasn’t actually as long ago as I thought that one had been commissioned for the Tankerville site.  Does the image below ring any bells with anyone from Church High?

Where on Church High’s site is this and when was it created?

This little pedestrian gate is still in the grounds of Westward House.  It was created to allow access to the School Pond and, I guess, also to prevent the unwary or the simply curious from falling into it too.  The beautiful, metal dragon-fly motif mounted onto the front of the gate was designed by one of Church High’s Junior School pupils, Alex Levett, who I remember well from her time in Senior School.  The pond and its newly-installed gate were officially opened by Miss Patricia Davies in her last term as Head Mistress of Church High, the Autumn term of 1995.  Katherine Craig (LV) wrote the article for the School magazine: ‘In the Autumn term, all pond-skill participants, Form Captains and numerous teachers gathered for the official opening of the School Pond.  Miss Davies and Alex Levett, who designed the dragon-fly on the gate, cut the ribbon and many photos were taken.  The pond was looked at and complimented until the rain came down.  Everyone hurried to Miss Davies’ room where drinks and pond-cake were enjoyed by all.’

Miss Davies and girls (including the designer, Alex Levett) celebrating the opening of the School Pond in 1995.

I am still in contact with Miss Davies, my first Head Mistress and someone from whom I learned a great deal.  She has been helping me with the early stages of the history of Church High’s last years.  She was very saddened, as I was, at the news that GDST will soon be selling Tankerville House, an iconic property which has been in Church High’s land portfolio since 1927.  Westward House is to be retained, however, so at least Alex’s little dragon-fly gate is still safe for a while.  Because a dragon-fly is often seen as a symbol of Hope.

Have you ever come across a tiny book called ‘Water Bugs and Dragonflies’, I wonder?  I was given a copy by my Vicar after my mother died and I am very fond of it indeed.  Intended to help explain death to young children, it can also be used to minister to other losses, of course.  The story begins: ‘Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs.  They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun.’  At the end of the tale, the writer provides the reader with the following prayer: ‘Thank you, God, for the miracle that makes shiny dragonflies out of water bugs.  Please remember …….. who has left the pond we live in.  Give him/her a good life too in a wonderful new world of sun and air. And then remember me, and let me someday be with him/her.  Amen.’  This feels quite apt as we near Tankerville re-opening as a brand new school.  Where would your pond be?

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 ….’