It was September 3rd 1979 and the first day of term.I wasn’t looking forward to going back to school. I’d hated school ever since I left primary. My secondary school building was ancient and huge, a thirteen year old’s nightmare. It was my third year there, third year seniors, in the days before we decided to become like other countries and number our years straight through. So, these days it would be year nine.
It had been a good summer, full of laughter and joy. My Mum was the happiest I’d ever seen her, she was in love with my Step Dad, Desmond. He was a lovely man, he was kind, accepting and made Mum very happy. He also had three kids that came to stay some weekends, a girl and boy similar in age to me and a boy similar in age to my little brother. We all got on so well, and I even went to stay at their house a couple of times.
We’d had a great holiday in Wales, all of us together, Mum, Des and us five kids. It was a Butlins camp and us teens were able to go on the fair all day long, I loved the freedom, I loved the fun. Me and my Step Sister J had had our own t-shirts printed. I’d gone for a big yellow smiley face, I must have been way ahead of my time choosing an emoji in the days before mobiles and home computers.(Let’s not mention the Acid House revolution.) J chose a picture of the Fonz ‘Heyyyyy’ What, you don’t know who the Fonz is…oh Happy Days!
But Oh, Those Summer Nights! My walls were plastered with posters from Grease, although I didn’t really have a ‘thing’ for John Travolta like most teenagers, he seemed a little ‘old’ to me. I did love the music from the movie though, it had definitely been my soundtrack for that summer, buying the singles for 50 pence from Woolworths.
Back to School
But now Summer was over and it was time to go back to school. I had my smart bottle green skirt, white blouse and bottle green cardigan on. I had my shiny new shoes and my knee length white socks. Girls were not required to wear a tie and for that I was grateful. I felt smart, I even had a bag to carry my stuff in, I knew that as the term wore on and my bag wore out there wouldn’t be a new one. I’d end up carrying my books around in a plastic carrier.
Registration was over and we were moving to our first class when I overheard some girls bitching about me. ‘How long do you think she’ll go before she has a day off,’ ‘I bet it’s before the end of this week.’
I didn’t take much notice, I knew I had lost a lot of time from school in the previous year. I was always feigning illness so I didn’t have to go. I wanted to learn, I loved learning, I just didn’t want to go to school. Primary school had been great, one classroom, one teacher, the same faces every day. Now, it was just a jumble, a rush, so many changes, so many different faces, so many different teachers, different lessons. I’d get into a class room and didn’t want to learn, my head would be spinning. I’d have nightmares about not being able to find my timetable and getting lost in the school building. What lesson is next, I can’t remember? Where am I supposed to be? It was all too overwhelming for me, and I made it worse by going less and less. I never got used to it.
The first day back at school in 1979 was a Monday, we had a whole five days to go. I survived that day though and it was lovely coming home. Des had booked some time off work and was building us a new patio in the garden. He’d hired a cement mixer for the job and it was nearly finished. He worked so hard on our home, he was making it lovely.
Des was overweight and looked a bit like an old ‘rocker’ he had a bit of an Elvis look about him with his sideburns, but he was losing his hair. He was ten years younger than my Mum, but while they were together, I swear she looked ten years younger too.
One day Des had fallen asleep in the armchair of our living room and was snoring real loud. I think Mum must have been out somewhere and I was out with my friends. I’d come back and heard him snoring and thought it was so funny I called a couple of my friends to take a look as well. We didn’t wake him, but it gave us a giggle.
That Monday a sweaty Des had a wash down before dinner. We all ate together and then after a little television decided that an early night for all of us was a good idea. It had been a stressful, hard working day.
I woke in the dead of night to hear my Mum screaming my name. A little dazed and confused I eventually woke properly and jumped out of bed. Mum was in her bed screaming and crying. Desmond was lying dead beside her.
‘Call an ambulance’ Mum cried. While shaking and screaming at Desmond’s lifeless body.
I wanted to say ‘but he’s dead.’ But I left my logic at the bedroom door and ran down the stairs. We didn’t have a phone in the house but our neighbours over the road did. I ran across the road which had recently been pebbled, the loose stones sticking to my bare feet with the glue like tar. I knocked on the door but they didn’t answer. So I started screaming, ‘help please, call an ambulance, it’s Des, he’s sick, he needs help, please.’
He’s dead I thought, but I didn’t want to say it out loud.
The ambulance came and confirmed his death. He was taken away in a black bag. Most of the neighbours now in the street in their night time attire. Tears in their eyes, offering to make tea.
On Tuesday morning, I got up after about two hours sleep to a house full of aunties who’d come to ‘help.’ What they thought they could do I don’t know, they certainly couldn’t bring Desmond back.
Mum was still in bed, I don’t blame her. She was devastated.
I absently minded put on my school uniform and one confused aunt said there was no school for me today. But, I was 13, it was my choice, and I couldn’t help thinking what those bitchy girls had said about me having a day off before the end of the week.
I went to school. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak to anyone. I couldn’t cry.
I was in shock.
My friend, who was also a neighbour and knew what had happened spoke for me and I was sent back home. I didn’t go back to school until after Desmond’s funeral.
Rest in Peace Desmond, I’ll never forget you.
Some other things from 1979