1979 and a face from the past | Dave Thomas column

We were at a small cabaret show the other night in the Woollen Mill, Farsley, near where I live.

Monday, 25th October 2021, 3:45 pm
Dave Thomas

A small cosy venue created out of an old mill. Gyles Brandreth was the attraction, once an MP, but now an entertainer, raconteur, TV and radio resident, and now appearing in the backwaters of Leeds.

Perhaps backwater is unkind; read any of the Sunday supplements and Farsley is now one of the ‘in’ places to live, stacked with delis, restaurants and even a bookshop, a real sign of civilisation.

The show hadn’t started when someone approached and spoke. “Mr Thomas, isn’t it? You taught me at St Margaret’s.” I turned to see a middle aged, but nonetheless attractive lady, facing me.

“It’s Michelle,” she said beaming. “It was 1979 when I was in your class. You used to stop the car and give me a lift to school in a morning if you saw me walking up the hill.”

“Dear God,” I said, “you’d be arrested if you did that these days.”

“My mum gave you permission,” she said which eased my embarrassment. We chatted for a few more minutes. It was a vintage year with a lot of good kids in the class.

Back at home, the next day, I looked up 1979 in my diaries to see what was going on back then.

There were petrol shortages and queues at garages because of strikes, there were food shortages and empty shelves in the shops because of strikes.

There was panic buying and stockpiling. 2021 and what has changed? It was the winter of discontent and a bad lengthy freezing winter, to boot.

At St Margaret’s Primary School, the headteacher was a decent, friendly chap we called GCT.

Unfortunately, headmastering was not really his strongpoint. 1979 was when there was a visit from the inspectors. Things weren’t quite as thorough and demanding as they are these days, but nevertheless, news of the impending inspection put the fear of God into him.

The day before they were due, I was at the blackboard teaching quadratic equations. These were smart kids. Suddenly the door burst open and in walked Mrs Speight the cleaner, with a mop and bucket with which she began to mop the classroom floor while I was teaching.

Few things surprise me but this was one that did.

“It’s for the inspector’s visit,” she said. “We’ve got to get the school spotless.”

I saw GCT later that day. He’d had kids sweeping the playground and gathering up leaves. The wind had blown them straight back in again. He himself had gone round the library with a duster, straightening and tidying.

He’d told Ted the caretaker to be in the hall polishing when the Inspectors were here.

“Perhaps you could have a couple of screwdrivers in your top pocket,” he told him “And make sure you’re here in the afternoon,” he’d said.

Ted spent most afternoons in the pub and normally didn’t appear until about 4. GCT meanwhile had given his own room a real cleaning and polished the desk.

Most headteachers had shelves filled with books in their offices. GCT’s shelves were where he displayed his collection of glass animals. They had been wiped with a damp

cloth and carefully re-arranged.

On his newly polished and gleaming desk were two new items.

There was a large blotting paper desk pad, edged with leatherette. And in the corner was a large wire basket that I had never seen before. A smart label at one end announced that this was the IN TRAY.

“What do you think?” he asked me. “I’ve asked secretary Joyce to come in while the inspector is here and put the post in the tray and a couple of important looking documents. I’ve told her to say ‘for your attention headmaster’. I’m pretty sure all this should do the trick and this bloke will leave here convinced I know what I’m doing.”

Of course, the inspector’s visit was a roaring success. GCT was cock a hoop. And my classroom floor had never been so clean. Nor in fact had my shoes, still soaking wet from the mopping they had received.