My first teaching job was in Harlow. I left Sevenoaks in my first car, a Mini Clubman Estate and drove to Harlow where, on my first day, I met an Art teacher called Bron who asked me where I was living. I explained that the Harlow Development Corporation had allocated me a flat which I was to move into in three days time. In the meantime I was going to stay in a hotel. He refused to let me do that and insisted that I stay in his house which was literally 20 yards from the front entrance of the school. He was a very friendly and generous guy and he had a lovely family, including two sons whom I subsequently taught. He came with me to help me move my stuff into my flat and helped me buy a washing machine and sofa at a jumble sale. He did like talking and a few years later when he engaged me in a verbal headlock as I was about to go to a lesson, I walked out of the staffroom while he was in the middle of a long story and as the door closed, I could still hear him talking.
After I left Bron’s house I moved into my tiny flat in a small block of flats which was called Conyers. I lived there for 16 years. It had a hall (tiny but with a coat rack), a bathroom (with both a bath and a sink), a kitchen (literally not big enough to swing a cat around in but it had a built in larder), a living room (South facing) with double doors that opened into a bedroom (big enough for a single bed and a built in wardrobe). Here it is.
The location of Conyers was excellent. It was five minutes walk from The Willow Beauty pub, five minutes walk from the Harlow Sports centre, ten minutes walk from the railway station, ten minutes walk from Harlow town centre and ten minutes walk from The Square (where I saw Half Man Half Biscuit and Paddy play (unfortunately, not together)). It was also fifteen minutes walk from the school where I taught for 7 years.
Over time I got an unwarranted and totally unfair reputation for living like a slob and leaving underwear lying around the house. I did eventually ask Kevin’s Dad’s cleaner if she would come in and clean once a week while I was at work and on one occasion she had to leave as soon as he arrived because her son was ill and she left a note saying that she hoped I wasn’t expecting visitors. I can’t imagine what she meant. I had many guests to stay overnight and one of my friends once brought two female friends to do just that. There were no complaints (to my face). John once spent a whole week in my flat while I was on a cricket tour. He watched all of “Brideshead Revisited”. He also felt obliged to purchase a cup to drink out of which I still have. I thought my washing up was hygienic but hey ho. Paddy claims never to have spent a night in my flat but I just think he’s trying to block out an unpleasant experience. For my last ever week living in Conyers, Roo also lived there before we moved to Saffron Walden. I can confirm that the flat wasn’t big enough for two people. When I left in 1992, I bequeathed the sofa that I had bought in 1976 to the new owner.
The new owner was actually the estate agent that I had asked to sell the flat. My financial acumen was so highly tuned that I bought the flat in 1989 from Harlow Council when it was valued at £51000 and sold it three years later for £24000. In 2015 the flat was sold for £129000. Shockingly and to the disgust of most of my friends I used the fact that I had lived there for so long to buy my flat at a huge discount from Harlow Council so that in the end I made £5000 profit.
There were many times when I was living by myself in Conyers that I was convinced that this penance would be over one day. There were times when 17 seconds felt like 16 years.
On one occasion and I can’t remember how he knew where I lived, an ex pupil called Michael knocked on my door and asked if I fancied going for a pint. He had been a brilliant student and I had helped him with the Cambridge Entrance Exam. Well, to be honest, I supplied him with the questions and he worked out the answers. I prayed hard that he never asked for help. Later he applied for a job at Brays Grove School where John and I were working and regrettably he didn’t get the job. Anyway, he and I went for some beer in the Willow Beauty and possibly because I was showing off I drank 4 pints of Abbot. I’ve just carried out some important research and Abbot Ale is 5% strong. That’s too strong for me and all I remember of the evening is bidding Michael a cheery farewell and staggering back to Conyers at about 11 p.m. Before going to bed I thought I’d put on some sounds. “Seventeen Seconds” by The Cure was my current favourite so I put that on. After a bit I thought I really needed to hear it played loudly so, in consideration to my neighbours, I put on the headphones and turned the volume up to 10 while the title track came on. I have found that when I am listening to music on the headphones, I’m not very aware of how loudly I am speaking and on this occasion I was certainly not aware of how loudly I was singing along. I found that the time was just slipping away as I put the track on again and again and again and again and sung along. Once the track ended everything was quiet and cold and it seemed completely true that seventeen seconds was indeed a measure of life. “Time slips away and the light begins to fade and everything is quiet now. Feeling is gone and the picture disappears and everything is cold now. The dream had to end. The wish never came true and the girl starts to sing. Seventeen seconds. A measure of life.” After several plays of the track, everything wasn’t quiet – there was a funny noise – a ringing noise. I took the headphones off and realised that the phone was ringing. It was about 11:45 p.m. I answered the phone with a slurred “Hello”. The voice at the other end asked if that was me singing? Wittily, I replied “Singing?” because it was, to be honest, a bit of a compliment to know that someone thought that the noise I was my making could actually be called ‘singing’. “If you don’t shut the fuck up I’m going to come down and knock your fucking head off.” Ah. Whoops. The phone went dead and I went to bed.
In 16 years of living in Conyers, that was the only time I got a complaint about the noise. I have no idea who it was that complained. I really don’t understand how he got hold of my number. Maybe, as soon as my ‘singing’ started he got the Harlow phone book and went through every address until he found 19 Conyers. Unlikely but how else would he know my number?
“Seventeen Seconds” is the second album by The Cure and I was introduced to it by my good friend Percy. It’s certainly a gloomy record, full of dark soundscapes and it’s the first of four records they made that are great for dissipating any depressing mood I’m in at the time. (The others are “Faith”, “Pornography” and “Disintegration”). It’s an often misunderstood aspect of listening to dark music. Very often, at the end of listening to 40 minutes of doom, depression and despair, my mood can be entirely lifted and I can emerge with a much sunnier outlook. The music takes hold of my feelings and takes responsibility away from me. Other Cure albums are also very good. I have them all.
Here’s a review from Sputnik Music. “The album art is cold and metallic, but with a sense of mystery as to what it could actually be. The Cure transmit those kinds of feelings into their sound, with it’s icy and schizophrenic production inching the gloomy songcraft toward depression perfection. Often, when the legendary front man Robert Smith sings in his somewhat boyish squeak over the shivering guitar parts and almost too energetic bass, it reaches a stark and wavering peak of gloom and doom. The sound is vague, doomsy and suffocatingly dark, but it’s also given an almost danceable twist by its very rhythmical, downbeat and catchy undercoating. Clearly, on such tracks as “A Forest” and “Secrets”, it’s dominant mood is captured by the actual music, very dark and tense, but obscured by the mood is the pure and basic catchiness and fun of a standard pop track from the era. “M” and “Seventeen Seconds” are breathtaking and simple, surrounded by a dark aura and simultaneously coated with an almost upbeat feel. It’s kind of hard to put your finger on it, but you know when Robert Smith sings lyrics like “the reasons are clear, the faces are drawn, ready for the next attack” and “time slips away, and the light begins to fade, everything is quiet now”, you can tell he’s being sincere about them. The style that “A Forest”, “In Your House” and “Play For Today” embodies that is the most effective. Fast, energetic, true to the band’s oath to darkness and ultimately extremely enjoyable, despite the fact that it could be meant for the exact opposite kind of listening. Hell, one might even accuse these songs as being ‘fun’ “.
Exactly. Fun singalong songs, especially the title track. Next time you see me ask me to sing it to you. I may need 4 pints of Abbot first though.