Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


The school where I taught had very good facilities for the staff. There was a staff room full of desks, one per teacher, built in rows with shelf space above and below, in which one could work when not in the classroom. There was also a common room with comfortable chairs, where one could work from one's lap in more spread out fashion, but which was mostly used during morning break and the lunch hour for people to relax and chat over cups of coffee, everything punctuated by calls from outside that Annabel so-and-so wished to see Mrs so-and-so.

I used to sit in the smokers' corner, at the far end of this vast double-sized room, a privilege which disappeared not long after I left. Here I would drink my coffee, smoke and organise my lessons for the day from a big hard A4 folder on my lap. There were a couple of very senior members of staff who sat in the same area, and although I did not know them well it was an interesting place to sit. Also the geography was different to the more clique-oriented chair arrangements through the rest of the room, with people coming and going because of the smoking designation. Sometimes (non-smoking) friends would sit there and chat, but other times it was possible just to get on with some work and not have to be part of a group, which suited me fine.

One day a senior colleague nearby began talking to those around about her life story. She was a very unassuming, very lovely person whom everyone including the girls respected and liked, and this day, completely surprisingly, her photograph had been in a major national newspaper. This was because she was with someone more notable (but still not particularly notable, there wasn't much news around at the time) when they were pictured. I am changing all the details here because the conversation was relatively private, being among colleagues, and I wouldn't feel right about revealing her identity. I shall call her Margaret.

So, Margaret spoke about how she knew this papparazi-worthy person, from a very mundane connection, and this led onto something else and something else, and more and more people were being drawn into listening, because the life of which Margaret spoke was so far from the assumptions one would normally make about an ordinary-looking middle-aged schoolteacher. There were several marriages, one involving a conversion to Islam and one to a millionaire American businessman. The millionaire businessman was later on, and the marriage had collapsed as the financial empire grew. But the interesting one was the Islamic marriage.

Margaret had married her Islamic husband in England, but after a few years he decided to divorce her and at the same time return home to his country of birth. When he did this, he took her three small daughters with him. In his country divorced fathers always had ownership of the children, so there was nothing Margaret could do except accept the situation. However, this was all a long time ago, and since then her daughters had grown up and they had established a good ongoing relationship.

While they were growing up, the girls had not been allowed any contact with their mother, but Margaret said whenever she went on holiday, or just from time to time anyway, she would send them a postcard of where she was, with some writing on the back. She didn't know if they ever got these postcards, and never heard anything back, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Years later, Margaret was able to visit them in their home. I think this was when they were teenagers. She said it was a bit strange because they didn't really know her, but in their bedroom there was something surprising.

Every one of Margaret's postcards had been saved and stuck up on the wall. The entire collection was there, I don't remember how big it was but in my head there is a picture of hundreds of small pictures lined up in rows to make one huge diverse collage.

After that I expect the conversation turned to reminiscences about wedding arrangements, which was always a popular subject in our staffroom, as there was generally at least one younger female teacher getting married. Not many male teachers tend to work in girls' schools.


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