Cloakroom Duty

An updated and expanded version of The Conductor will appear in Paul’s book Tales From Badgers Crossing (coming spring 2022 from Greenteeth Press), so for now this has been taken down. Details of how to buy and/or pre-order a copy will be posted soon.

For now, you can still read the notes on the inspiration behind this tale below.

And don’t forget, there are still plenty of other stories on this site for you to enjoy.

Notes On This Story

This story is dedicated to Lodge Park’s Class of 1991 who all had to endure cloakroom duty at one point throughout the school year 1988/89.

Although the characters and situations are largely fictional, this story is partially based on a day I spent with Helen Theobald doing cloakroom duty at my own secondary school in the autumn of 1988. Of all the people I’ve spoken to, nobody else had this at their school. Basically, we had to sit there all day, one boy and one girl, and watch the coats, keep the cloakroom clean and tidy, and challenge anyone out of lessons when they shouldn’t be. Although our day was more mundane than the one Paul and Helen of the story spent together, we did come away from it feeling that we’d got to know each other better.

This story was written after a discussion with the real Helen on Facebook, where our stint in the cloakroom was briefly touched upon. I had hoped to finish it in time for my school reunion (Lodge Park Class of 1991) but sadly, the story was not behaving itself and refused to be written until a few weeks after the gathering. I wrote about it in a blog post a few weeks ago.

The song I originally wanted to use was Whispering Grass (by The Inkspots and Don Estelle & Windsor Davies), which scares the hell out of me for some reason. But it’s still under copyright, so after reading a list of public domain songs “When You Were Sweet Sixteen” leapt out from the page at me. Davey Arthur & The Fureys version had been a song my mum liked listening to.

I remember it being on LP of Irish love songs called Green Velvet which she got for Christmas the same year my brothers and I got Masters of the Universe toys! Acts like Daniel O’Donnell, The Dubliners, The Fureys and Foster & Allen were very popular in the 80s when this story is set, so something like that seemed a good fit.

Here’s a video of the song in question. It was originally, written in 1898 by an Irish American immigrant called James Thornton, who worked out of the New York songwriting collective known as Tin Pan Alley.

The story is set on Thursday 24th November 1988. It would have been around the same time, when Helen and I were in the early part of our third year (now called Year Nine), that we did our cloakroom duty. The tape Paul is listening to on his Walkman is Now That’s What I Call Music 13. The Only Way Is Up by Yazz & The Plastic Population is the opening track on that album. It was released on the Monday of the same week the story is set.

The full timetable for third years on a Thursday in form 3FW in 1988/89 is as follows:

08:50 – Registration: Mr Barrett
09:10 – Geography: Mrs Bashki
10:10 – English: Mr Drummond
11:10 – Break
11:30 – History: Miss Green
12:30 – Lunch
13:30 – Double Games: Mr Foster (Boys) and Miss Baxter (Girls)
15:30 – Home

For some reason I did an entire week’s timetable, which if anyone is interested in seeing, I’ll post it up here.

Mr Drummond is based on my real life third-year English teacher Mr Douglas (who was also Scottish). It’s Mr Douglas who first got me interested in the ins and outs of the English language – particularly the use of the apostrophe. Mr Foster is based on the real PE teacher Mr Walker (who really did deliver the two speeches about running you until you were sick and learning the rules of rugby).

I wrote this story using my own Writer’s Guide and utilised the pre-existing location of Barrow Wood Secondary School as the setting. Mrs Bashki, a newly qualified geography teacher in 1988 is the head of the school in 2018.

It was quite a task keeping track of who was sitting and who was standing, and whether the coat was on the hook, on the floor or in someone’s hand!

Eagle-eyed Badger Fans might recognise Tim and Claire from my other story The Grey Path.