It didn’t feel at all right. Not from the moment I learned I had an interview, or got the brief for the twenty-five minute lesson, or sat down with head feeling like a dead hangover with no rhyme or song to try to plan the damn thing.
Perhaps I should have given up then; cancelled and not travelled to London for the day ahead, but it felt like facing fate, and trying to prove it wrong, knowing underneath I would fail but refusing to listen the the voice telling me to bail.
But my dad has terminal cancer and I hadn’t really admitted it fully. I’m still not sure I have…I think it’s coming in waves. One as I see him struggle to lift his legs onto the bed himself. Another as I realise he can’t lift his head from the pillow for long, and again when the call comes that he is in hospital, so ill. Perhaps, by going to this interview, I was running away from the intensity, trying to find myself again amongst the being-fine-feeling-fine-crying weirdness I found myself in on occasion.
The job was at a school in North London that I had wanted to apply to for a couple of years – not to escape York, or my current, amazing job, but to run to London with its bright lights and music music music, fun fun fun.
Thing is, I love my job in York so much that nowhere else will compare – or at least, I haven’t found it yet if it exists. But I wasn’t feeling this on my way down to the capital after having struggled to leech any lesson ideas out of my foggy head in the days before. It was as if this was something I had to do to prove that right now, with my father so, so ill, was not a good time for a move.
But I didn’t know that until the end of the day – I had ignored every undercurrent of discomfort until I believed I was fine.
On the day, everything felt wrong. The other candidates were lovely but my lesson felt awkward from start to quavering finish. Teaching comes as naturally as breathing to me so this was a horrible new experience. And after being put last in the day despite being the only one to have travelled from outside London; after eight hours of sitting around, with only a 25-minute lesson and 10-minute student panel interview to take up the time, the person arriving at the real interview was tired, bored and cross, and not in love with the school. That went okay, but I wasn’t feeling it, and they could tell that. My mind was really with mum and dad and brother and friends and current school.
I felt so knackered post-interview I just had to go to a place I loved so that I could chill. So I headed for St Pancras station in the centre of the city. It’s so stunning – awe-inspiring even – and as the clouds moved overhead and the sun beamed down, time stopped. I was struggling with emotion and pretty tired, knowing that the whole day had been a mistake.
Walking past the pianos in the main hall of the station, I started crying. It was Chopin that did it (a Chinese guy was casually playing an Etude) – after a very short chat to my tired father on the phone, I had realised how ill he really was. I was sobbing in the loos (conveniently situated just next to the piano area) for about fifteen minutes, and as I sat there, filled to the brim with conflicting emotions, it was clear that I had put myself through something that day which I thought wouldn’t take much strength to do, but did. But I had places to go so I redid makeup, took deep breaths and went. It was a battle but looking forward is the one thing my head has been trained to do pretty well!
My mum and dad had recommended that I go to the hotel at the station, ‘just to look’. The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is so beautifully converted from part of the station that it’s like a little oasis of calm amongst the travelling bustle of the station, and about eighty years behind the world outside. I had a gin and tonic there, wandered around and took some photos, dreamed of staying there one day and made a silent promise to myself that I would.
It’s odd, but the feelings of needing and reading family and emotions taught me much that day. I could play at being a double agent – the Ruth who is carefree and nomadic pitted against the Ruth who cried in the toilets because her father has terminal cancer – and truly, both of those Ruths are me. But that day, the Ruth who was sensitive and fragile, and who loves her family more than anything else in the world won out. It taught me so much.