It must have been thirty years ago. Isobel and I had moved back up north from London and we were living in a room at the top of an old house in Sheffield. Issy had stated her medical course at Sheffield and, after a period without a job, I had managed to get a job as a temporary lecturer at a college on the far side of Doncaster. We were seriously poor - no job, no grant, no house, no car - so it was a blessing when I was offered a little extra teaching on Friday evenings at Rotherham Technical College. It was to cover someone who was off ill and it was teaching O level Economic History (a subject I had never studied, never mind taught, before). But the extra few pounds it offered would mean that we might be able to go out occasionally and even buy the odd tray of Yorkshire Parkin to keep our spirits up. In the ten days or so between being offered the job and starting I hit the economic history books with a vengeance and decided that practically all of the syllabus could be taught by walking down the canal towpath between Rotherham and Sheffield. My lesson preparation was immaculate and I did the towpath walk on several occasions making notes on the building which I passed : each of which perfectly illustrated some particular aspect of the developing industrial revolution. My chosen perambulatory approach to teaching would have the added advantage that I could finish the lessons increasingly closer to Sheffield and thus save myself considerable time on my journey home.
Things began to go wrong when I was given some extra teaching at Doncaster on Friday afternoon which now meant that I had a very limited time frame to get from Doncaster to Rotherham. I studied the timetables closely and decided the best option was to travel by bus and so, on the first Friday, I sprinted like a madman from College to Doncaster Bus Station in order to make the necessary bus. Alas, my calculations had not taken into account the Friday tea-time traffic and by the time the bus pulled into Rotherham Bus Station it was already twenty minutes after the class should have started. A further complication was that I had concentrated so much on researching the South Yorkshire canal I had neglected to check the location of Rotherham Technical College. I sprinted around the strange town asking for directions and was eventually pointed by some helpful citizen in the direction of Thomas Rotherham College which turned out to be the wrong building entirely. When I eventually found the Tech it was 40 minutes after the class should have started and the students, with commendable enterprise, had all gone home.
In the following few days I was told - politely but firmly - that I need not turn up on the following week : my services were no longer required. I was left with empty pockets, a set of unused teaching notes on economic history and a frightening memory, one which took a long time to fade away. I thought it was long gone, but last night whilst I was asleep, I relived every long minute of that Friday evening journey from Doncaster to Rotherham. And as I sprinted around the final corning and up the steps to the main entrance of the old Tech building, clutching my Roneo hand-outs, I finally woke up. Never to arrive, never to teach economic history.