Up until December of 1977, I had never even heard of Dinnington - a mining village in the South Yorkshire heartland. It was then that I spotted an advertisement in "The Times Educational Supplement" for an English teacher to join the staff of Dinnington Comprehensive School. I was invited for interview and soon found myself facing an interview panel of eight people. They were like The Spanish Inquisition.
The Chair of Governors was also a deputy at the local coal mine. He listened intently to my responses as I fielded questions from the rest of the panel and then at the end of the grilling the headteacher asked him if he had any questions. Half sneering at me, he growled, "Aye, I've just one question for thee lad. Are ye courtin'?"
I sensed the subtext immediately. He didn't want any of those gay pufta fellows coming into his South Yorkshire pit village to corrupt young boys. Notching my voice down a few octaves and scratching my testicles for good measure I reassured him that I was a red-blooded heterosexual but without going into graphic detail. It was only years later that I surmised he might actually have been angling for a date! However, he wasn't my type.
After my successful interview, the Head of English introduced me to a bachelor History teacher called Bob who lived on his own in the nearby village of Carlton in Lindrick. Apparently, Bob had helped several new teachers out by providing temporary accommodation and with Christmas right ahead of us, this seemed like the best option. Bob was in his late thirties, with receding ginger hair and gold-rimmed spectacles. Little did I know at that point that rumours were rife amongst the pupil population that he was a "perv" who was far too interested in male pupils. Maybe that was why he ran one of the school football teams. And it wasn't long before they latched on to the fact that I was living with him. Perhaps I was also a "perv". Not really what you want when you're battling to establish yourself in a new school.
My "classroom" was really a secondhand hut that wouldn't have looked out of place in a refugee camp. It was situated well away from the rest of the English classrooms beyond a tarmac playground next to Throapham Woods. The window frames were rotting and there were just two small convector heaters to combat the January chill. But I didn't really mind. In those far off days there was no OFSTED and no real curriculum. I was trusted to deliver an English diet that would engage the children and there was nobody looking over my shoulder.
That autumn I took one of my classes out into Throapham Woods. Silently, we made observational notes about the trees, the birdlife, the smell of fallen leaves etc.. More notes were made in late December 1978 and yet more in the springtime and the summer. It was only then that I allowed them to begin their descriptive writing tasks - drawing inspiration and ideas from their notes. The resulting pieces of writing were fantastic - based not on vague thinking but on detailed observation. You could do things like that in those days. And by then I was living in Sheffield and Bob had been promoted to a school in Lincolnshire.
During my weeks with him I ascertained that he probably was a bit of a "perv" - for I had to field several phone calls from boys - including one who said that he was "in love" with Bob. And two or three times, I heard Bob talking in hushed tones to these lads as I sat in the lounge marking exercise books.
I have many memories of Dinnington. Getting snogged at a Christmas party in The Lordens Hotel by two rampant members of the female PE staff who took my breath away. Visiting the parents of a truanting boy and finding they kept rabbits in the sideboard in their living room. Mark Needham filling his pockets and school bag with pieces of waste coal from the slag heap before catching the bus home. Taking my seven Year 11 special needs lads in my Hillman Avenger to the museum in Doncaster - a town that none of them had ever visited before. Punting on the River Cam during a marvellous conference - "English for Average and Less Able Pupils". Writing and directing a musical play based on "The Gresford Disaster". Getting locked in the toilets of a nightclub in Worksop following a boozy male teachers' night out. Singing my heart out in the chorus of "The Mikado" while dressed as a Japanese courtier. That was Dinnington - once upon a time.
And I was back in Dinnington yesterday. The coal mine and its associated slag heap have gone and so has my temporary hut to the rear of the school campus. The Lordens Hotel is all closed up and falling into disrepair. Thirty six years have drifted by and times have changed but Dinnington remains an isolated settlement just far enough from Sheffield and Rotherham and Doncaster to be a law unto itself - discrete and separate. Another world. I am sure that there are still many people who live and die in Dinnington and hardly ever leave it and the echo of the pithead siren still haunts its avenues and alleyways.