Sunday, July 06, 2008

"But my Dears, Good Things ALWAYS Come In Threes""

I was reminded of someone this morning.
She was a tweedy pompously-spoken elderly London teacher called Tilly . Her hair was gunmetal grey; a clumsy tortoise shell slide slithered across perfect straightness. Her breath was foggy, misted....but once, I remember, it smelt of roses. Tilly's lips were wide and full, purply pink, like a certain variety of plum I cannot name. Her hips were like boulders in her sturdy sensible skirt.

It was rumoured that Tilly's origins were aristocratic. Her father had been knighted and her mother had been A Beauty, vaguely related to Windsors. Tilly kept her mother's photo ( pretty debutante in white dress) in her ancient briefcase. It lay with her college scarf, her Quink ink, a confiscated toy. Sometimes, Tilly stared at this photo and we fell into respectful silence in the staffroom.

Tilly smelt of cats and beeswax polish and Coty talc....and after a bad morning, just occassionally...gin. It was a varied mix. She had curly gingery whiskers tickling her chin; her fingernails were golden brown, the colour of the Head's tobacco. Tilly's voice reminded me of recordings of long-dead poets ( the vowels of Tennyson) and over the years, I've listened for similar tones but rarely heard them. She wore olive green, usually ample cardigan or masculine jacket and her shoes were highly polished "brogues"which squeaked on parquet floors and staffroom lino.
We heard her coming. And Tilly's cheeks had rosy apples hanging there.

Every lunchtime Tilly sat in same place at long table in staffroom. She was a big woman who ate delicately, carving her carrots, placing peas precisely on fork, and like careful child in lonely Nursery, she saved the best till last. Other teachers ( me) slopped in tatty armchair, hid in stockroom (smoking/kipping/scoffing Mars) or huddled (moaning) with mates.... nattering about Heads, head lice, or the desire to Head Off exotic places, other schools ..

Tilly, however, spouted Wisdom at our staffroom table:
Hearing of someone's broken love affair, she muttered: " Time Will Tell, my Dears....but Never Trust A Man Whose Eyebrows Meet In The Middle"
And once, detesting the "Buy Now Pay Later" culture, Tilly said: "Everything Comes To He Who Waits" so we nodded sagely, crackling our crisps. Then she added : " ..Even A Donkey Ride at Bridlington " .
And then, of course, we dare not catch another's eye....
AND Tilly's phrase became The Secret School Motto. It was a Masonic Sign...on meeting each other (at parties, on platforms, on planes, in precincts) numerous teachers over numerous years...

BUT TODAY I woke suddenly ( as you do) with another phrase on my lips. It was a Tilly phrase, uttered in long-ago staffroom... when skinny women in mini skirts teased older pipe-smoking bushy-bearded men...when piles of red-inked marking lay beneath cigarette packets and on top of Cuppa soups....and when Tilly once sat, upright at table, eating her greens (as Nanny always told her) ...Tilly, watching us all as usual, with pale perceptive eyes.

THEN someone in the staffroom announced his engagement. We cheered. Someone else told of a stunning new job.
" Good Things, my Dears" said Tilly " Come In Threes" so we looked at each other and we wondered and waited. What good thing was next??...then Tilly spoke in a slow hushed voice: " 3 fine and very good things came once for me. "
So we held our breath and listened. And the apples in Tilly's cheeks gleamed:
" Three things came: 1945 ( The End of War) English degree at St Hilda's, Oxford....then best of all came my dearest Vivian..."

We stayed silent. Tilly was miles away.We remained still. Then we marked books and we sipped tea and we unwrapped Kitkats as quietly as possible. And afterwards, Tilly often mentioned War and Oxford.
But she never mentioned Vivian again.

I've had 3 Good Things in 3 days and THAT'S WHY why I woke uttering Tilly's phrase...remembering Tilly's moving words that day in staffroom.
On Thursday: A visit to Chester Mystery Plays on Cathedral Green This is a 5 yearly spectacle...fabulous music by Matt Baker plus vigorous involvement of talented Cestrians of all ages. See website re bookings/details.
On Friday: A visit to Carnforth Railway Station, made famous through Noel Coward's " Brief Encounter" ( for meeting of Society of Authors as guest of Clare: . This included talk by novelist James Friel who has adapted classic/contemporary novels/plays for radio and also leads writing courses at LJMU and Arvon.
AND On Saturday: Dinner with close friends at the excellent Sheldrakes by the water on the Wirral peninsula ( see )

But now it's Sunday afternoon and it's a drowsy day and the cats are sleeping and the garden is quiet and I've been thinking...about the End of War, about an Oxford college....
AND I've been thinking about Tilly and her beloved Vivian...


Blogger Kay said...

Brilliant! Loved reading this Jan. SUch wonderful writing.

10:42 am  
Blogger KatW said...

Fantastic, evocative description of Tilly. I think you should write a book based on her. Sounds like you have been having a richly cultural few days. Kat :-)

11:49 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Wonderful - vintage Jan!

6:21 am  
Blogger Caroline said...

Lovely post! I'd never heard of Sheldrakes and now want to eat there.

And you have unretired!? Fabulous!
I'd love to come and visit your group again :)


7:01 pm  
Blogger hughdunit said...

Some great descriptions … “Her hips were like boulders in her sturdy sensible skirt.…brogues which squeaked on parquet floors and staffroom lino. We heard her coming.”

A few deft brush strokes and the whole painting comes alive. Good stuff.

8:32 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

Wonderfully evocative and visual- I can just see her.

12:53 pm  
Blogger herhimnbryn said...

Wondeful reading Jan. Had me hooked throughout, so much so I forgot to re-light the fire on this cold morning. Better go and do so!

Thanks for the comment at my place.

11:17 pm  
Blogger Minx said...

This one warmed my cockles. Rich, descriptive writing is a rarity today. Lovely, Jan, thanks.

6:57 pm  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

what a wonderful story, and how well you write it.

8:41 pm  
Blogger Jon M said...

Just came up for air! How did I miss this post? Brilliant! My first teaching post was at a girl's school that had 'gone comp' there were a couple of Tilly variants there, a little lost but still full of fire and wisdom. Sheldrakes! You must have driven past my house...well sort the place!

9:37 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Thanks everyone for commenting. It's appreciated.
I am basically lazy, but you inspire me so thanks again...

8:16 am  
Anonymous marly said...

Laziness is the mother of dreams...

I suppose that line could end with Tilly.

This is very pleasing and feels wonderfully meaningful and accurate.

Also I love the tweaked proverbs.

And I like to think of you and Clare having an outing!

8:11 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

LOvely hearing from you again Marly.
Im sure you've been writing super stuff.
Still think your blog is one of the bestest!

6:51 pm  
Anonymous marly said...

Ah, that's very sweet of you to say, Jan! I'm in abeyance, though: you know how summers are with three, and I find that I don't have the heart to do everything. Aporia is needful... And I see you're having a break as well.

The weird thing is that I'm writing a long blank verse poem. I'm on the 25th page. It's as though I'm struggling to find the thing that publishers want the least! And I think that's probably it.

2:42 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home