I arrived at S Martins College in 1976, a gauche and unworldly boy. I was the first member of my family to go on to higher education and I was excited by the prospect. Life at home was good but who wouldn’t want the opportunity to stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions. I don’t say I made a huge success of my life but I certainly do think that my time in Lancaster was pivotal in the life I have led.
Choosing to teach
I had always wanted to be a pilot in the RAF, interviews at sixteen saw me weeded out on hayfever grounds. Perhaps then an architect, I got places to study at Leicester and Leeds but then at a very late hour I thought I might like to be a teacher. This came as news to my parents and I was a little surprised too. I went back to my old junior school, the staff were still the same, a reflection of those days I think, and asked if I could spend some time in classes. I spent a month there and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was now sure in my own mind and applied to S. Martins and was accepted.
Adapting to college life
Studies were varied and some were interesting but I must admit to being disappointed then and now. I had expected that degree work would be about creating study for yourself, take your own ideas and develop them. I was sorely disappointed to be reading so much of other people’s work and restructuring it into essays. My spirits began to sink and I don’t think that I really applied myself all the time I was there.
I got my education, got a degree so nothing lost. But living away from home for four years gave me so much more than that.
I had never been one to push myself to the fore but I found a new and greater confidence in speaking. I stood for a position on the SU and became treasurer after addressing hustings in the JCR. I became the student representative on the governing body. The latter brought me into contact with many interesting people, aside from the Principal Robert Clayton, there were bishops and headteachers from the area, contacts that would be to my benefit in years to come. When asked to speak I was listened to, probably from politeness rather than my erudite arguments, but again a boost to my confidence.
The St. Martin’s staff
There didn’t seem to be ivory towers then. I recall taking the Principal out to lunch at the Tythe Barn at Garstang, he was friendly and approachable and I am sure very busy, but he still found the time to say yes to our invitation.
Our tutorial leader Mr Timmins was a very interesting man. Some students I know found him ‘difficult’ but our tutorial group was the only one that continued to meet for all the four years of our studies . We all appreciated his sense of humour and interest in us.
I recall many of the lecturers some of whom taught me others I knew socially: Jim Garbit, Andy Smith, the chaplin Brother Gordon and Miss Wallis. The College was smaller then and there was time to know one another, a feature that is sadly missing from current society.
When I graduated my mum and dad bought the gown and trimmings. The award was given by Princess Alexandra. I kept the gown safe after, wrapped like a bridal gown. A good thing too because my wife wore it to get her law degree and my daughter, who also came to S.Martins, wore it at her graduation.
Approaching the end of the course I began to think about getting a job. A boy I was friendly with in the year above went to teach in a private school. I did a bit of research and decided to do the same. Off I went to the home counties, it might as well have been Mars.
I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. The children there were very privileged, it was Bentleys and Harrod bags, but they were children. When I took my geography group to a North Wales field centre they had never travelled on a train, although they had been all over the world. Walking in the mountains was a revelation to them. That was the one episode from two years of hell that I remember with pleasure and pride. After two years I had had enough. I quit and my wife and I moved back to Lancaster.
I applied for and got a temporary job at a state primary school outside of Kendal. Here I really began my probationary period and was properly supported by the authority. The headteacher and his wife, the deputy headteacher, were a breath of fresh air.
The head and his wife had a large house and had myself and my wife to live with them until we could get somewhere of our own. They became like another mum and dad. Sadly the head teacher, the great Lawrence Hicks died not long after his retirement. I still write to his wife Doreen in Australia. I owe them a great deal. And here comes S. Martins again. Lawrence Hicks had been a governor at the college when I was, although I didn’t recall him until it was pointed out to me.
I became interested in outdoor education and led many field trips on barges, in the mountains and at Youth Hostels. I got another job with Cumbria, a promotion with another brilliant head and staff. Under his guidance I was awarded certificates in outdoor skills and I returned to S.Martins to study for a diploma in Primary Science. I had children of my own now and was very pleased whilst there to be invited to have tea with Miss Wallis the Vice Principal ( I think she had probably retired by then) at her home. She made us all very welcome and part of the S.Martins family.
I worked at an outdoor centre in North Yorkshire for two years with inner city children from streets where they had never seen a cow or a sheep. Then I worked for the forces schools in Germany for two years. Back to Lancashire and eventually head of juniors in a large school in Lincolnshire.
I had troubles of my own that affected my work and so I left teaching. A great sadness bulooking back it was for the best. Life went on.
I still have my finals exam papers:in philosophy one question was ‘Happiness is the sole ultimate value’ Is it?
My time at S.Martins was as full and varied as you could wish. I wasn’t a great achiever but I was taught to think about things, like the above question. There was time to think then. I left feeling everything could be within my grasp. The self esteem and confidence that was engendered in me during my four years has been just as valuable as my degree. I look back at my time there with great affection. It seems impossible that I am recounting events that are forty years old.