Applying for jobs. In our last term The Times Educational Supplement was a must. Jobs were short as returning servicemen, who were formerly teachers, resumed their pre- war jobs. During my own school during the war years, we never had a proper art teacher. In my last year whilst I was in the sixth form the pre war art teacher returned. He had been in a tank regiment in the Desert War, so it must have been strange for him to come back to civvies and ordinary life.
Below I haven’t seen the TES for years so it was interesting to see more up to date versions. This one is from 1998. Interesting to see that they were recommending shadow puppets to improve literacy. Today’s versions of the magazine have colour and lots of articles. It seems to be aimed at primary school teachers. In our day it was just black and white and concentrating mainly on jobs in all kinds of schools, including private schools.
At Corsham we were all writing letters to various authorities. Sometimes they were for individual jobs sometimes for a county pool, in which case you wouldn’t know where you were going to end up. My old respectable suit got plenty of wear as girls borrowed it for interviews. I went to Ilford for a job in the Essex pool, you took your folio of work done by the children you had taught on Teaching Practice and some of your own. On this occasion the interview took place in the Ilford Town Hall. There was a long anonymous looking corridor and about ten of us hopefuls from different art colleges sitting in a line clutching our portfolios. I can remember the smell of polish and disinfectant all mixed up together. We all looked a bit sheepish and nervous. I think I went in about fifth, it transpired that they only had two jobs and I didn’t like the look of either of them. I am quite proud of the fact that I have had five interviews for art jobs in my life, against stiff opposition, and have succeeded in all of them…boast over!
When I got back to Corsham one of my posher friends had been offered a job at St. Margarets Public School for Girls, founded for the girl orphans of clergymen, very C of E. She didn’t want it, so I asked if she minded me applying, she agreed and I was invited for interview. I have described elsewhere how I travelled there. The headmistress was called Miss Birney a tall gaunt figure in a tweed suit, guess what I was in one too! We had a very civilised conversation, then she said ‘Can you weave?’ so I said ‘Yes’ it wasn’t really a lie as I had done the backstrap weaving and worked on a very simple loom, she said ‘Good, because some of the girls are doing Higher School Certificate (A level) weaving)’ and she gave me the job.
St Margarets School Bushey as it is today with masses of new building . My art room was at the top of the main old building. I lived in a staff house in the road on the right just outside the exit. The grounds were extensive. St Margarets is the sister school to St Edmunds in Canterbury.
Now when I think of Corsham and what it taught us, I believe that it was having the confidence and the enthusiasm to think widely about the arts generally and the courage to find out for yourself how to tackle new areas. Whereas other colleges in those days probably gave you a much firmer training in the techniques required for one speciality, we had the starting points for many, which is the probably the most useful for a teacher. Critics of the Corsham way would probably say we are jacks of all trades and masters of none and I must admit that I do think of myself that way sometimes…I am led by an idea into the medium I use, if I see it in ceramic I go that way, if it seems to call for cloth and a machine then that’s what I do, it might even be that I see it in movement. It certainly suits me as a person. I still make music and write. Thinking of tackling new experiences I have done a course on screen writing and have written a thirty minute screen play about the Mappa Mundi that was well received.
Well of course there had to be an official organised party. We knew it wasn’t going to be in the Court, but where? Somehow, (I can’t remember exactly how) about thirty of us (all about to leave) found ourselves at the top of Pewsey Down. There was a huge bonfire already lit. Food and drink had been transported up there before we arrived. It was a fine summer evening , we sat around the fire eating and talking. Sitting on the soft downland grass we watched as the sun went down and moths began to fly around us in the gloaming. Below us we could see the water of the Kennet and Avon Canal and the sleepy village of Pewsey. I can remember it now as being bitter sweet, I was going to leave these people I knew so well, most of them I would never see again
It was time for us to leave this idyllic place and go back permanently into the real world outside. In some respects we were ready to move on but the place had marked all of us for life and almost subconsciously given us a taste for, and understanding of, the civilising effect of the arts in general. This is what prompted me to write the blog in the first place i.e. unease about the cutting back of the arts in the curriculum. I was thinking at the time about the importance of empathy in society, and knowing that empathy requires imagination…and what fosters the imagination, the Arts.
The sound that instantly takes me back to my student days is the unearthly cry of the peacocks and the shivering feathers of the male bird as he courts the females. These beautiful birds roamed freely around the grounds. We all collected their fallen feathers regardless of the fact that they are meant to be unlucky if displayed indoors.There were also the homely little guinea fowl scurrying around doing their own thing ignoring the flamboyance of the peacocks. How privileged we were to have been given this opportunity…I have always tried to honour it.