This morning I went down to Stoke Station to pick up tickets for my journey in early September to visit friends in Gloucestershire and Cardiff, taking in a concert by Leonard Cohen. Next to the station stands what is now Staffordshire University. My father taught in those buildings, featured in the photographs. When I was very young it was Stoke-on-Trent College of Technology, which in the mid 1960’s in the ‘white-hot technological’ period of Labour morphed into North Staffs Polytechnic. My father retired in 1970. I remember hearing Tony Benn on the then new Radio 1 supporting the extension to nuclear power, and being rather condescending to the people phoning in about how they liked science fiction and yet didn’t want the developments in modern technology, odd how some things stick in the mind. Polytechnics were going to revolutionise education opening it up to all without the stuffiness and prejudices of the universities, technological courses would be as valued as classics. Aren’t they still talking about the same thing now?
The older building is where I first remember visiting when he taught there. They used to hold Christmas parties for staff children in the staff room, and I remember huge blackboards covered in his neat spidery handwriting and numbers which made no sense to me then and probably not now. He taught maths and pure maths to mining, engineering and other science and technology students. He had a brilliant mind and used to beat the early computers in speed of calculation.
Later he taught on the top floor of the newer building, built when it became a Poly, I remember he always fast walked up the stairs rather than use the lift as it gave him good exercise.
The changing of names of institutions is something that features in Underpainting, the novel I am publishing here bit by bit, as is the ‘model’ for the buildings. I remember as a teenager meeting my father on the top floor and watching the trains going in and out of Stoke Station and looking down as crowds of students mulled around the college.
It’s odd how these images and sounds and colours stick inside for decades, to then be mined and polished for my writing. As I check through Underpainting before putting it on this blog, I can see how much was just waiting to be released as I wrote what was my first attempt at writing a novel, trying to prove to myself that I could carry a credible and what I hope is an entertaining story over that volume of writing. It has the faults of a first novel in that myriads of small ideas that were brewing for years spilled out onto the page, luckily it took so long to write (about 13 years!), that I got rid of the worst, like having all the chapters called after lines in A Shropshire Lad (WHAT!!).
The photographs, which are nothing special, were taken today on a warm typical English summer day at about 11.15am.