North London comprehensive school, 1978
Mr Reynolds cut a dashing figure as he strode down the ground floor corridor towards the science labs; fawn needle-cord flares, two shades darker fitted cord jacket, blond afro hair and a moustache that belonged on Starsky, or Hutch, I always got them mixed up. Straight out of teachers’ college, he had been let loose on the form 4s and 5s and most of them swooned, and other heads turned, as he walked on by.
I was a reluctant 6th former; returning to school to please my parents who felt I was not ready to move into the wide world yet: this was post-compulsory education. Most of the year had been dull but next week promised to be a highlight of the calendar: the Sixth Form school disco.
As I entered the sixth form block by its double doors, I spied Mr Reynolds reaching high above his head to claim the beer bottles being passed into the common room by Mr Lucas, the PE teacher. They were not going to endure this evening without the assistance of a Newcastle Brown or two.
Most of the girls hung around the edge of the large room waiting, for what I am not sure, but it gave them all a good view of who was walking in the door. And then came Harriet. Usually dressed in a uniform blue and white striped dress, Nora Batty tights and Clarks school shoes, she was the epitome of a schoolgirl. Her tight black bun atop her head, matched with her John Lennon glasses, she was my nomination of the girl most likely to be a librarian award, but only in my head.
Tonight, she was dressed in a tight red leotard, with a shimmering skirt that moved with her as she strutted into the room: hair down, high heels, a slash of red on her lips and her brother on her arm. Edward was two years younger but their mother had insisted he come. Mr Say, Head of Sixth, had melted and allowed this. Harriet had driven them both here and was to give Mr Say a ride home. One of the few over 18s in the Sixth Form, she had her own wheels. Now, as she entered with Edward there was a rush of girls around her to check out her outfit and an orderly line of boys, that included one man; Mr Reynolds, who wanted to book a dance.
David Peterson, budding DJ, with his own deck, had promised us GOOD music. No Johhny Matthis, Yvonne Elliman or Wings, we were going to dance the night away. My classmates Elliot and Adam were too stoned to be bothered about what people might think of their dancing, but the rest of us hovered. It was not until Third World was scratched onto the line up that we all rose, as one, shouting ‘Now…’ with the record. As the circular crowd of angular, awkward teenagers missed the timing, we spotted Harriet and Mr Reynolds in the middle of the throng. Their eyes latched, mirroring each other’s moves and then they moved as one. The white in Mr Reynolds’ shirt illuminated by the UV light and the disco ball rotating above their heads sent silver sparkles from Harriet’s attire over us all. “Now! that we’ve found love what are we going to do with it?” we all sang.
It was shortly after this that I dropped out of school completely. The Caretakers Strike that closed schools for weeks across the London Borough of Haringey completed my disengagement. I slunk away from school in Wood Green to hang out in Tottenham, then Enfield and 10 years later to Melbourne. No past glances.
On a return visit to London in 1992 I happen across Mr Reynolds at a popular watering hole with teachers from the surrounding area. Minus the afro and mo. I reminded him of my name and who I was, he had seen many students since I left, and we passed a pleasant hour talking about people we knew and what they were doing now. Forever stoned Elliot had passed up a promising career as an actor to settle down with one of the Williams twins, selling home computers. A three-bedroom semi and four children had made him focus on what mattered. I wanted to ask about Harriet, but could not find the words. “Are you married?” is what came out. Mr Reynolds’ nicotine- stained fingers twitched as he dragged on his fag. Finally, “No. I missed my chance. It has gone now.”
Stereo Story #588
More Schooldays stories, including Victoria’s piece based on Joan Armatrading’s Love & Affection.