I felt completely out of my depth at Upbury Manor Secondary Modern. I had no idea how to control my class of thirty, nor did I know what aspects of English and RE were likely to be useful and interesting to my pupils. The result was a term-long riot! It did not help that I had some very attractive girls in the class who knew just how to wind me round their fingers! One day the deputy-head burst in and, without reference to me, put several pupils on detention. Of course this did not improve my reputation. For all that, I was evidently liked, because the class bought me a leaving present and signed a touching thank you card. I felt I had let them down.
Term over, I hitch-hiked to Spain to visit Mariesol with whom I had taught at the a Berlitz summer school before going to Germany. We were really keen on each other, which is no doubt why I got it all so wrong. I took her up a Welsh mountain where she broke her ankle. I offered to put her up in Watford the night before her return to Spain, and then had to cancel the arrangement because my mother said ‘no’. And now in Avila, I left a message for Mariesol at the exchange in Gavilanes saying I was coming and hitch-hiked the forty miles across the mountains, while she took a bus in the opposite direction to Avila! Staying at her house in a very conservative village was not in question, so I camped at the family allotment and promptly got sunstroke!
On my way back across France a driver who had picked me up was listening intently to the radio. He turned to me and said: ‘The Russians have invaded Czechoslovakia!’
I knew that I could always get a job at a mental hospital, so I applied to Cell Barnes Hospital in St Albans and for three months worked and lived in as an assistant male nurse. My salary was £700 a year, £300 less than I’d been earning as a teacher. Our clients would now be described as suffering from learning disabilities, but were then called ‘subnormal’. They ranged from the chronically handicapped to those who had simply been diagnosed as sociophobic. The latter did much of the work and appeared content and normal; the former were appallingly mistreated. I should have spoken out, but I didn’t.
My neighbour in the living quarters was a very shy Chinese girl from Macao called Lucia. She bought me some chop sticks and we started a tortuous relationship. Later I tried to teach her to drive, but once on the road she discovered her ‘yang’ side. After we had terrorised the whole neighbourhood I gave up on this project and she complained that I was a ‘usele boyfrie’. So that was the end of that! She emigrated to Canada and when a couple of years later I saw her passing through immigration at Heathrow she’d become a completely self-assured woman.
I considered joining the police and the army, but a cousin, who’d been a private parliamentary secretary, recommended I apply to the Civil Service. And so in December 1968 I started work as an Executive Officer at the Crown Estate Office which was at that time still based in a building opposite Horse Guards’ Parade.